On July 16, 1945, Kenneth Bainbridge, a physicist on the Manhattan project and director of the Trinity nuclear test, witnessed the first atomic weapon ever built turn several square miles of New Mexico into glass. As the explosion gradually faded, he commented to Robert Oppenheimer, “Now we are all sons of bitches.”
And he was right. The specter of nuclear war haunted the world for the next 50 years, hair triggers and diplomacy the only barriers between humanity and annihilation.
Dozens of accidents, mistakes, and near-misses marred the complex command and control organizations of both 20th century superpowers. Looking back on the disasters that occurred, and the catastrophes barely ducked, it’s a wonder human society survived the Cold War.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, much of the world breathed a sigh of relief. No longer were 70,000 nuclear weapons armed and pointed at some populated point on the globe.
Well actually, they still are, though the total numbers of these horrific devices have thankfully dropped by some 85 percent since the global peak in 1986. There are still enough armed nuclear weapons distributed among a handful of countries to pretty much wipe out the human population of the earth. The official American policy of being constantly prepared to vaporize the Soviet Union may be defunct, but we still have quite a few multi-megaton devices ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Now it’s 2016. Three men remain with a serious shot at securing the Republican nomination for President. Should any of them successfully reach the White House, they would be in charge of around 4500 nuclear warheads (though figures as high as 7600 have been quoted), which is nearly half of the total global arsenal.
Think about that for a moment. The President of the United States has the power and authority to obliterate every global urban area of half a million people or more 4 times over. There is no other person on the planet with the capacity for ending so many lives all at once.
So, one would think that among the qualifications of Leader of the Free World, a candidate should possess a steady temperament, extensive knowledge of nuclear weapons tactics and foreign policy, and a knack for diplomacy. Those traits would seem to be very obvious prerequisites for commanding the most powerful military on earth, as well as controlling the triggers of the most powerful weapons in human history.
Having gotten that preamble out of the way, the three serious candidates remaining on the Republican side have all demonstrated that they lack one or more of those prerequisites for running half the world’s nukes.
Current frontrunner Donald Trump was asked during a debate what he would do to maintain America’s nuclear arsenal, specifically referring to the “nuclear triad” of air, sea, and land based nuclear weapons operated for the sake of redundant deterrence. Trump responded with a stuttering stump speech about the need for a trustworthy leader, an exaggerated claim of his initial opposition to the Iraq War, and then a general statement about the power of nuclear weapons. So, questioner Hugh Hewitt reiterated his initial query on the triad. And Trump fumbled again. “I think – I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”
Yep, that’s right. The leading candidate for the job of American President had no idea what the nuclear triad is, nor did he have any apparent knowledge of the command and control of the US nuclear arsenal. This is completely unacceptable, and downright frightening.
Meanwhile, in the same debate, Marco Rubio demonstrated that he does know what the nuclear triad is, and his basic command of nuclear weapons policy is at least a level above Trump.
However, he has given in to fearmongering rhetoric that should give any of his supporters pause. He has repeatedly uttered misleading claims that the United States is the only nuclear power not in the process of “modernizing” its weapons. He has falsely stated that military spending as a whole is being “eviscerated,” and he forgets that the United States currently spends more on the military than the next 7 highest spenders combined.
But most disturbing was his lack of care and nuance in answering a question about mutually assured destruction. Instead of acknowledging the dangers of a MAD policy, and carefully considering statements by frothing leftists like Colin Powell and Ronald Reagan (that nuclear weapons can never be used by any power), he simply stated that MAD is an appropriate deterrence in preventing nuclear war.
Finally, we come to Ted Cruz. In many ways, Senator Cruz has been fairly reasonable in discussing the folly of nation building, and the dangers of inserting the US military into “trouble spots” around the globe. However, he has also repeatedly stated his willingness to “carpet bomb” ISIS targets, and has made the same rather scary joke about “sand glowing in the dark.” This has been seen as an oblique reference to using nuclear weapons on Middle Eastern targets, a point that he has not categorically denied. Indeed, even if we don’t bring nukes into the conversation, Cruz advocates a policy that would almost certainly result in tens of thousands, and likely hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.
Three candidates, all with glaring weaknesses in their proposed nuclear weapons policy.
Just for a moment, forget that Trump has a long history of changing his positions, lying about the trade deficits, of tax rates, the economy, and healthcare. Forget his pandering to racists and nativists. Forget his misogynistic statements. Ignore his pledge to use torture on terror suspects, and his pledge to murder the families of terror suspects.
Forget that Cruz has pledged to commit war crimes, to withdraw from carefully negotiated treaties, and that his tax plan would all but guarantee a long economic recession and a huge spike in the national debt. Forget his denial of global warming, and his passionate rejection of the separation of church and state.
Also please disregard Marco Rubio’s shakiness under pressure, his surface-level command of the issues, his insistence on climate change inaction, and his absolutism on topics like abortion and firearm ownership.
All of these blatant disqualifying points – just throw ‘em out, for the sake of this discussion. All three men are still wholly unelectable due to their positions on and ignorance of, nuclear weapons.
If the American people elect one of these three people to the office of the President, we would all be sons of bitches.