John Noonan, a prominent Republican national security expert and former nuclear launch officer, has penned a powerful op-ed for the Los Angeles times excoriating Donald Trump for his frightening embrace of nuclear power. In the article, titled “Take it from me: Trump can’t be president,” Noonan writes that the duties of controlling weapons of mass destruction are “simply too grave to entrust to a man who has exhibited sociopathic and chronically narcissistic behavior throughout his checkered career.” The piece comes in the wake of an letter released yesterday by 50 GOP military experts claiming that Trump would be “the most reckless president in American history.”
As Noonan poignantly explains and as every rational person understands, “the very point of nuclear weapons is that they are never used,” and it is this policy of deterrence that has guided nuclear policy around the world since World War II. With his toxic mix of militaristic chauvinism and schoolyard bully aggression, however, Trump appears to reject the consensus of deterrence in favor of destruction.
Having spent five years of my life as a Minuteman III launch officer, and a year as an instructor teaching young officers how to run that weapon system, I’m equipped to answer the Trump campaign’s question. The very point of nuclear weapons is that they are never used. We have them to dissuade hostile powers from attacking us, and vice versa.
During my years in the Air Force, I worked over 300 nuclear “alerts”—24-hour shifts 100 feet below the Wyoming tundra. I sat at my post believing, through both the Bush and Obama administrations, that the president was fundamentally rational and would never ask me to do my terrible duty. Not unless the country was in the direst of national emergencies.
With Trump as president, the young men and women who are assigned to our nuclear forces will have no such assurances.
I am a Republican and I have long worked in Republican politics. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I believe my party’s nominee for president is mentally unfit to assume this heavy responsibility.
Trump cannot be trusted with weapons that can kill millions. He cannot be handed the nuclear “football” – a briefcase containing the war plans and codes for our nuclear forces—and be made responsible for its contents.
By far the most terrifying evidence of Trump’s affinity for nukes came when MSNBC reported last week that during a private national security briefing he asked three separate times about using nuclear weapons, at one point saying “If we have them, why can’t we use them?” The Trump campaign has of course dismissed the story but it differs very little from the opinions Trump frequently voices. He has frequently suggested dropping nukes on ISIS and other terrorist groups – a policy that makes no tactical sense and would kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people – and is fond of saying that he would not “take any option off the table” in wartime.
Trump’s nuclear views were laid plain last year in an interview with his spokeswoman Katrina Pierson on Fox News. In that exchange she asked, “Why have nuclear weapons if you’re afraid to use them?” and then went on to argue that Trump’s trigger-happiness was a sign of strength and a reason to elect him. She went so far as to describe dropping nukes as “fixing problems,” which is the sort of dangerous over-simplification of complex issues that has defined Trump’s campaign and that makes him so likely to see nuclear weapons as a quick-fix “solution.” Indeed despite all of his nuclear proclivity, as with so many issues Trump does not appear to actually know anything about America’s nuclear powers, as he made clear with a bizarre rambling answer to a question about the nuclear triad in a debate last year.
And Trump’s love of nuclear weapons is not even limited to the United States. He has openly called for developing nuclear weapons programs in Japan and South Korea as a counterweight to China’s arsenal. He’s advocated developing a nuclear program for the brutal theocratic dictatorship of Saudi Arabia, even as he fear-mongers about the “catastrophe” of a nuclear Iran. All of this of course goes against the nation’s stated aim of working to eradicate nuclear weapons, but to Trump not wanting to murder hundreds of thousands of innocent people is “weak.” Indeed as Noonan so clearly argues, that Trump appears to have no qualms about such mass extinction should alone disqualify him from the presidency.
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.