US president-elect Donald Trump's tweet on strengthening and expansion of country's nuclear arsenal is indicating a major policy change as against the Obama Administration which had pushed for reduction and ultimately elimination of nuclear weapons.
"The US must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes," Trump said in a tweet yesterday.
The Washington Post described this as a major national security policy shift, while the strong nuclear non-proliferation lobby in the US expressed their alarm over such a statement coming from the incoming president.
"It is dangerous for the President-elect to use just 140 characters and announce a major change in US. Nuclear weapons policy, which is nuanced, complex, and affects every single person on this planet," said John Tierney, executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and a former 18-year Member of Congress.
Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a bipartisan consensus that there should be a reduction in the reliance on nuclear weapons in US defence policy and a decrease in the overall stockpile of nuclear warheads, he said.
"Calling for an expanded nuclear arsenal shatters that consensus, would likely place the US in violation of a key arms control treaty with Russia, and would almost surely lead to a new nuclear arms race," Tierney said.
With more than 7,000 warheads, currently the US has the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons, followed by Russia, United Kingdom, France and China.
"Building more nuclear weapons or increasing nuclear explosive power sends a message to the rest of the world that nonproliferation is no longer a key goal of the United States," the lawmaker said.
"It would also increase the chances of a catastrophic nuclear accident or exchange. The potential consequences of changing US nuclear weapons policy so drastically are simply unimaginable," Tierney said.
Trump's statement on nuclear weapons came a day after he met top generals from the Pentagon. Among them included Air Force Lt Gen Jack Weinstein, deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration.
Current plans already call for spending USD 1 trillion over the next three decades to modernize and maintain the US nuclear arsenal.
The Pentagon has expressed concern about being able to afford.
Senator Al Franken from Minnesota said Trump's tweet is "a direct departure" from decades of bipartisan efforts to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security policy.
As Americans look to Trump to move the country forward, "I urge him to rethink his position on nukes for the safety of our nation," Franken said.
The Obama Administration reiterated its position of
trying to have a world without nuclear weapons.
"The approach that this administration has taken to trying to get us on a path to a world without nuclear weapons," State Department Spokesman John Kirby told reporters at his daily news conference.
"We have achieved progress that we believe on a number of fronts: first, reducing our stockpile and our launchers through New START; number two, diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in our security strategy; and number three, securing the Iran deal, as I just spoke to a few minutes ago with Lauren about stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons, particularly through that deal," he said.
The US, he observed, is always looking at additional ways to achieve progress on the President's path forward to maintaining a credible deterrent.
"Nobody's walked away from the fact that you need a credible deterrent for the US, including a credible nuclear deterrent. As a matter of fact, we have and continue to review plans for appropriate modernisation of that nuclear deterrent," Kirby said.
Nuclear weapons, he argued, is "absolutely a vital pillar in our national security strategy," but the Obama Administration has taken a view of focusing on other national security implements and tools, as well reducing the stockpile, and again, really trying to get after proliferation.
"Can a single tweet ramp up an arm's race?" asked Joseph Cirincione president of Plougshares Fund. If President (elect) Trump means what he says, this could be the end of the arms control process that reduced 80 per cent of our Cold War arsenal," he said.
In a statement, Trump spokesman Jason Miller clarified that the president-elect was referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation and the critical need to prevent it - particularly to and among terrorist organizations and unstable and rogue regimes.
"He has also emphasised the need to improve and modernise our deterrent capability as a vital way to pursue peace through strength," he said.
However, Mother Jones said that this may be Trump's "most frightening and dangerous tweet yet.
"In just 118 characters, Trump seemed to be reversing decades of bipartisan policy aimed at stopping the spread of nuclear weapons around the world. For decades, the US has worked with Russia, the other major nuclear power, to reduce both nations' nuclear arsenals," it said.