Imagine this: the globe as you know it caught up in a third World War.
Although at first glance this seems quite foolish, a second look at international politics and rising tensions points to possible warfare. In fact, considerable strains amongst nuclear powers and the possible mutation of already existing smaller conflicts could very well lead to an all-encompassing war, and one much more dangerous than ever existed in the Cold War period.
In fact, according to BBC, we are just two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock – the closest we have been to an all-out nuclear apocalypse since 1953 when the US decided to pursue the hydrogen bomb.
Most tend to emphasize the United States, Russia, and China as the main protagonists in nuclear conflict. However, tensions between all nine nuclear powers threaten global peace and security.
To date, the world’s nuclear forces include the USA, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. Although Kim Jong-Un’s regime has been at the forefront of recent talks of a nuclear war against the United States, North Korean nuclear proliferation is not just a threat to Trump’s America.
In fact, North Korean nuclear activity poses a threat on already burgeoning border clashes between India and Pakistan. New Delhi demanded that China and Pakistan be held “responsible for the rise of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and wants the linkages between North Korea and China and Pakistan to be probed by the international community”. The India-Pakistan border presents a possible nuclear stand-off, and is an increasingly alarming threat comprised of “an explosive mix of nuclear weapons, terrorism and hair-trigger war plans”.
The world has become an entirely interconnected community. Our globe is characterized by networks of connections which capitalize on pre-existing threats and security dilemmas – expanding them to the international level.
In the midst of such heightened and worldwide tensions, one would expect a newly elected leader to assume a policy of cooperation and composure. But, sadly, it seems that President Donald Trump has done just the opposite, possibly exacerbating already tense relationships between world superpowers.
Adding Fuel to the Fire
The American President has been fairly transparent with his nationalist ‘America First’ agenda. Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” seems to have, “at the expense of the international community” written between the lines.
Trump’s isolationist policy means that American politics are driven almost completely by nationalist interest, with no regard to shared international values.
In fact, the current administration’s recently released National Security Strategy (NSS) is in two controversial ways very different to past strategies: (1) “it calls out Russia and China as revisionist powers seeking to challenge US primacy”, and (2) it downgrades issues of great importance to US democratic allies, such as climate change as a threat to security.
Most frightening, Trump has in no way reaffirmed the past administrations goal for a United States free of nuclear weapons. Actually, the NSS emphasizes the enhancement of missile defense. Specifically, the report states that “the United States is deploying a layered missile defense system focused on North Korea and Iran to defend our homeland against missile attacks”. This would enable not only the use of defensive capabilities to ward off an attack, but also offensive strikes to prevent missile threats prior to launch.
In a recent Department of Defense document, the Trump administration called “for adding “low-yield” nuclear weapons to the US arsenal in order to counter Russia, Iran, North Korea, and other countries.” Known as the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), this January 2018 document calls for a more diverse set of nuclear capabilities which would allow for more tailored deterrence strategies.
But, what exactly are low-yield nuclear weapons?
These are small, with great precision, rapidity, and reduced radioactivity. In theory, low-yield weapons are strategically sound. But they have one major drawback – they lower the threshold for nuclear war.
The NPR emphasizes nuclear weapons purely as a deterrence strategy. But, low-yield weapons do not qualify under this category. Their size, precision, and speed mean they are most valuable for offensive strikes, and not as a preventive strategy.
What is most ironic in the Nuclear Posture Review is that whilst Trump calls for an increase in the production of nuclear weaponry, he also emphasizes enhanced counter-proliferation measures.
The NPR expressly states that Trump “emphasized both the long-term goal of eliminating nuclear weapons and the requirement that the United States have modern, flexible, and resilient nuclear capabilities that are safe and secure until such a time as nuclear weapons can prudently be eliminated from the world”. But, how can nuclear weapons ever be eliminated if the world’s hegemon keeps provoking other states in building more nuclear weapons?
Additionally, the Trump administration emphasizes that its ultimate goal is to support non-proliferation measures. The NPR emphasizes that the United States will continue efforts to minimize the number of nuclear weapons states by maintaining credible nuclear deterrence. The USA also supports the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in order to enhance international efforts to impose costs on those who build nuclear weapons outside the measures of the treaty.
Specifically, the NPT’s main “objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament”.
It is true that the NPT does emphasize that states can engage in the research and creation of nuclear weapons for “peaceful” activities. But, to what extent can this be applied to the Trump administration?
The NPR emphasizes the return of great power competition between the United States, Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. Specifically, it emphasizes that potential adversaries have not reduced the role of nuclear weapons in their security strategies or the number of existing weapons since 2010. Thus, the Trump administration calls for an increase in nuclear weapons.
This might seem logical. But, consider this: what is the nature of the message that the Trump administration is sending to adversaries? Increasing nuclear weaponry does not pass along a message of peace, or of international cooperation. Rather, it symbolizes that the United States is ready for war.
Although the USA has attempted to pit bolstering the nuclear sector as a deterrence strategy, it would not be surprising if it was simply a way to boost their offensive capabilities.
So, what’s at stake for the international community?
Well, world order for one. Trump’s isolationist policies and his direct and dangerous comments suggesting possible nuclear war only ignites the flames already engulfing modern international relations.
Trump has called for “ an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all”. Such statements have made the international community greatly uneasy. But this unease has been capitalized by the emergence of the NPR and the NSS, which call for an increase in nuclear weapons, a bolstered defense, and most dangerously, a strengthened offense.
From the National Security Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review, as well as simply his poor temper and lack of diplomacy, it has become clear that Trump is becoming not only an isolationist, but a militarist leader. The President seems to resort almost instantly to the threat of violence as a means to alleviate international tensions. In the NSS, he pits the United States against Russia and China, emphasising a clash of civilisations. Most dangerously, he calls for an increase in the production of low-yield nuclear weaponry.
The Trump administration is riddled with contradictions. Promoting counter-proliferation whilst augmenting nuclear offensive capabilities; indicating seemingly isolationist policies whilst accentuating a clear readiness to use American nuclear arsenal as defensive and offensive strategy; and underlining US primacy in the international community whilst refusing to be an actor within the global hierarchy.
The 2017 NSS and the 2018 NPR are antagonistic policies which point to Trump’s complete lack of consistency and integrity in foreign policy. The administration’s carelessness and hypocrisy regarding nuclear proliferation has led the world incredibly close to a nuclear apocalypse.
His lack of tact and poor disposition have served only to provoke the United States’ allies, and his inability to pacify global intensions points to one conclusion:
Trump does not possess the requisite intellect to be head of state, and even less as a global leader. He would do well to remember that his nationalist militarist agenda will affect more than America.
Pauline Crepy is in the second year of a Political Science and Latin American Studies degree at McGill University, who aims to relay her passion for development and global cooperation. Pauline can be contacted at email@example.com.