Will Trump Be Another Republican Nuclear Weapons Disarmer?

By Hans M. Kristensen

Republicans love nuclear weapons reductions, as long as they’re not proposed by a Democratic president.

That is the lesson from decades of US nuclear weapons and arms control management.

If that trend continues, then we can expect the new Donald Trump administration to reduce the US nuclear weapons arsenal more than the Obama administration did.

What? I know, it sounds strange but the record is very clear: During the post-Cold War era, Republication administrations have – by far – reduced the US nuclear weapons stockpile more than Democratic administrations (see graph below).

Click graph to see full size

Even if we don’t count numbers of weapons (because arsenals have gotten smaller) but only look at by how much the nuclear stockpile was reduced, the history is clear: Republican presidents disarm more than Democrats (see graph below).

Click graph to see full size

It’s somewhat of a mystery. Because Democratic presidents are generally seen to be more likely to propose nuclear weapons reductions. President Obama did so repeatedly. But when Democratic presidents have proposed reductions, the Republican opposition has normally objected forcefully. Yet Republican lawmakers won’t oppose reductions if they are proporsed by a Republican president.

Conversely, Democratic lawmakers will not opposed Republican reductions and nor will they oppose reductions proposed by a Democratic president.

As a result, if the Republicans control both the White House and Congress, as they do now after the 2016 election, the chance of significant reductions of nuclear weapons seems more likely.

Whether Donald Trump will continue the Republication tradition remains to be seen. US-Russian relations are different today than when the Bush administrations did their reductions. But both countries have far more nuclear weapons than they need for national security. And Trump would be strangely out of tune with long-held Republican policy and practice if he does not order a substantial reduction of the US nuclear weapons stockpile.

Perhaps he should use that legacy to try to reach an agreement with Russia to continue to reduce US and Russia nuclear arsenals to the benefit of both countries.

Further reading: Status of World Nuclear Forces

This publication was made possible by a grant from the New Land Foundation and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

4 thoughts on “Will Trump Be Another Republican Nuclear Weapons Disarmer?

  1. Thank you for this. Perhaps President Trump will also make some cuts to delivery systems. In the Pacific Northwest we have seen the seamless advancement of the Trident missile program, starting with the arrival and deployment of the C-4 SLBM at Bangor during the Reagan administration and later full support of the Bush and Clinton administrations, and the arrival and deployment of the D-5 SLBM in 2002 during the George W. Bush administration and later full support of the Obama administration. The Navy has continuously upgraded Trident missiles and submarines with the exception of a delay in upgrading infrastructure for the D-5 missile at Bangor in the 1990s and cuts in the total number of U.S. SSBNs from 18 to 14 submarines in the 2000s. The ongoing life extension program for the D-5 SLBM is expected to extend the life of the missiles to 2042.

    The upcoming Ohio replacement submarine (or Columbia-class submarine) will be in service until around 2080, and if successful, will complete 100 years of SSBN submarine deployment at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. Cuts to the $100 billion Ohio replacement program would be welcome.

  2. However, the caveat is President-elect Trump isn’t a Republican. All I’m suggesting is that he is just as likely to dump New START and add ten thousand new nuclear warheads to the American arsenal as he is reducing one. Historical data is useless trying to predict the future on this issue. Like the world, we will just have to wait and see.

    Frank Shuler

  3. Hans,

    I think you may be right, but if and only if he does not choose John Bolton as Secretary of State or DepSec. You’ll remember is undying hatred of all arms control measures when he was Under SecState (T) and unconfirmed UN ambassador.

    Bolton even withheld intelligence on Iraq from Colin Powell and got away with it.

    I just finished rereading David Hoffman’s book Dead Hand; it’s fascinating for the insights into Reagan and his hatred of nuclear weapons.

  4. If trump reduces our nuclear weapon stock pile then we will still be a superpower but Russia might see this as an opportunity to develop more nuclear weapons in secret. this does however reduce the risk of our nuclear weapons being stolen.

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