by Rod D. Martin
January 16, 2017
Every time Donald Trump says anything about defense, I get a thousand emails telling me he’s either a warmonger who wants to nuke the world or bought-and-paid-for by the Russians and selling us into slavery.
This weekend was no different. Trump announced a willingness to bargain away America’s sanctions on Russia in exchange for deep reductions in nuclear forces. And lots of my friends immediately wigged out.
The immediate accusation was that Trump had flip-flopped, promising a huge nuclear buildup and now going the other direction “to help Putin.” But I actually don’t remember Trump saying he wanted to expand U.S. nuclear forces before the kerfuffle in December (maybe he did, but I don’t remember it). Nuclear forces, being largely unusable, don’t help us a lot beyond a certain point.
I personally wouldn’t mind having 8,000 of every kind of nuke, but they’re a cheap and easy chip to bargain away, so long as you don’t go too far (as Obama, the Nuclear Freeze Movement, CMD and Michael Foot have all at some point sought to do).
I do however remember Trump saying he wants to modernize our nuclear forces, which is badly needed. And threatening a willingness to have an arms race — from which Putin immediately backed down — is a pretty classic Trump negotiating move. And a Reagan move, actually.
Now all that said, Trump has repeatedly said he wants to launch the biggest naval buildup in decades. And a much bigger Army and Marine Corps. And 100 more combat aircraft for the Air Force.
Now I understand that the Democrat-NeverTrump Axis is vigilantly looking for Trump to go have sex with Putin on live TV in Red Square, when he’s not doubling down on Obamacare and appointing Lawrence Tribe to the Supreme Court. I get it. And I understand why they’d be concerned, given my own Trump skepticism throughout the primaries (and even after).
I literally last night watched a Fox News documentary on Dwight D. Eisenhower in which the man who defeated the Nazis was adamant about the need to reduce nuclear forces. Nixon sought to reduce nuclear forces, signing SALT I. Reagan actually proposed and pulled off the Zero Option, negotiating the IMF Treaty and later START I. Both Bushes sought to reduce nuclear forces.
Trump’s view — consistent with his statements over many years — is not exactly unorthodox for Republican Presidents.
And I remind you of the reason: fewer nukes make missile defense easier, more warheads (and decoys) could overwhelm a missile defense system, and aside from a worst case scenario with battlefield nukes used to hold the Fulda Gap, nukes are largely unusable.
So you need enough to deter aggression. And ideally you need more than anyone else. But what you really need is unstoppable conventional forces, forces which are the real threat to Russian interests, regardless of Russia’s perception of this.
And lo and behold, that’s exactly what Trump’s building.
It’s worth noting at this point that the same people now upset that Trump wants a strategic arms treaty were in an uproar just this past October when Putin exited the New START treaty, which agreement was supported by George H.W. Bush, every living Republican Secretary of State, and people like Robert Kagan. (Just to be clear, I agreed with the Heritage Foundation that New START had serious flaws, but I just want to make clear that the treaty was well supported by mainstream Republican security professionals).
Trump’s position, while we don’t know the details, seems to be in line with the general direction of New START, is likely to be more advantageous to the U.S. (considering who’s on his security team), and “re-starts” a process to which our side has been committed for decades.
As to NATO and Trump’s periodic declarations of its obsolescence, yes, as with Boeing on Air Force One and Lockheed Martin on the F-35, Trump is threatening to take their cookie. And as with those companies — more F-35s for less money, a new Air Force One at a cheaper price — he’ll get the increased spending he wants out of them because they can’t afford the alternative, an alternative no previous President had to guts (or, to be fair, the historical opportunity) to realistically threaten.
So to sum up: Trump will bargain away nuclear forces we don’t need and can’t use, thus thwarting an aggressive Russian nuclear buildup, while increasing our conventional forces substantially and forcing our NATO allies to quit freeloading and do likewise.
NeverTrumpers need to avoid letting confirmation bias blind them to what’s really happening. Trump’s moves on defense so far are remarkable, and not least because they are getting the results an entire generation of Republican professional leadership could not, right before our eyes.
If that changes, I’ll gladly say so. But given the predictive batting average of Trump’s Republican opponents so far, I’m not holding my breath.
— This article also appeared at The Daily Caller.