Forty-seven years of nonproliferation can be undone in one tweet: "The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes." That twit came from President Elect Trump. Apparently for the former game show host making America Great Again means returning to a time when another Republican was in office: Richard Nixon. The Treaty on Nuclear Nonproliferation was written in 1968 and ratified in 1970. To wit, "the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals."
Maybe America wasn't so great in 1970. What we call our nuclear stockpile was hovering around twenty-six thousand warheads. By 1975, that number had increased by a thousand. For fans of Mutually Assured Destruction, that was a golden year for the United States. It took the former Soviet Union another five years to catch up to, and then another five to surpass us.
In 1990, something happened. Something many might find to be happy news. The United States' nuclear arsenal had decreased by more than half. The Russkies had only eliminated two thousand nuclear weapons. Thousands of these bombs would kill millions, turning vast regions of the planet's surface into wasteland. Fast forward to 2014, with the Cold War officially over and then some, the U.S. and Russia have about seven thousand nuclear weapons apiece. How terrifying is that?
It would seem that this is not terrifying enough for our incipient president. “Let it be an arms race, because we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all,” Trump said last Friday morning on Morning Joe. And just who wins an arms race? We were on our way to winning the race to disarmament, though it seems like that may be on hold for the foreseeable future. The President Elect's newly appointed counsel, Kellyanne Conway, tried to soften the blow: “In the world in which we live, which is not perfect, in fact, it’s very dangerous and very uncertain, I hope we can all agree, military might has been one of the ways to deter people from doing bad things." Thanks, now I feel better.
What about the other side? Vladimir Putin says, “If anyone is unleashing an arms race, it’s not us. We will never spend resources on an arms race that we can’t afford.” Comforted now? Sleep tight, America. We'll be great again soon.