Don't be fooled by his North Korea summit. Trump is still bringing the world closer to a nuclear crisis.
Twelve months ago, Donald Trump rang in the new year by reminding the world that he could, at any moment, start a nuclear war just as easily as he sends a misguided tweet. It was only the second day of 2018 when Trump bragged about the size and power of his “nuclear button” compared to Kim Jong Un’s, raising the specter of an apocalyptic war.
Since then, Donald Trump’s personal relationship with the North Korean dictator has been transformed — but the threat of nuclear conflict has only grown, thanks to the failed foreign policy adventures of Trump and his war hawk advisers Mike Pompeo and John Bolton.
Trump's dangerous bromance with Kim Jong Un
In 2018, Trump abandoned his earlier threats of “fire and fury” against the North Korean regime for handshakes and photo ops. Trump started blindly trusting Kim, even declaring, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” after his meeting with Kim in June.
While Trump did a victory lap, however, Kim’s government ramped up its production of nuclear weapons. Intelligence agencies believe North Korea is hiding at least 16 ballistic missile bases which could be used to launch ICBMs carrying nuclear bombs across the Pacific Ocean to hit targets virtually anywhere in the United States.
There has been no progress toward the disarmament Trump claims to have negotiated.
Yet Trump advisers like his new North Korean envoy, Stephen Biegun, keep repeating Trump’s lie (or delusion) that Kim promised to give up his nukes — even though the actual text of the agreement between the two men says no such thing.
Trump’s newfound bromance with Kim might seem less terrifying than his previous threats to “totally destroy” North Korea, but it could actually worsen the threat of a future war.
Trump cannot fake disarmament forever, and North Korea has now begun threatening to resume testing nuclear weapons if it does not get sanctions relief from the U.S.
If and when Trump’s diplomatic efforts with North Korea collapse, Trump may see war with his nuclear-armed opponent as the only alternative.
Trump is unlikely to be dissuaded from such a dangerous conflict by his radical new national security adviser, John Bolton, who joined the administration this spring. Bolton has argued that an American first strike against North Korea would be “perfectly legitimate.”
Walking away from a good deal in Iran
Since joining the White House, John Bolton also helped Donald Trump raise the odds of a nuclear conflict in the Middle East by trashing the Iranian Nuclear Deal.
Before the deal, Iran appeared to be on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons it could use to threaten, or even attack, Israel or American forces in the Middle East.
Unlike Trump’s fake nuclear deal with North Korea, this one was actually working. Trump walked away from it anyway.
Former CIA Director John Brennan called Trump's decision both “foolish” and “dangerous.”
Not only does killing the deal raise the possibility that Iran will restart its quest for nuclear weapons, it also undermines the administration’s efforts to cut a real nuclear deal of its own with North Korea.
Meanwhile, Bolton and Trump have spent the second half of 2018 threatening Iran, further increasing the odds the Iranian regime will try to secure nuclear weapons to defend itself.
Courting disaster in Russia and beyond
Frighteningly, the Iranian Nuclear Deal is not even the only nuclear deal Trump and Bolton managed to tear up in 2018.
At Bolton’s direction, Trump also announced the United States would exit the landmark Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). The decades-old treaty, which banned nuclear missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, was designed to decrease the odds of a nuclear war breaking out in Europe.
By walking away from the INF, Trump has recklessly introduced the chance that both Russia and the U.S. could redeploy these weapons across Europe in 2019 and beyond.
And if all of that is not enough to keep you up way past midnight this New Year's Eve, consider this: This year, the Trump administration quietly announced its intent to make it even easier for Donald Trump, possibly the most impulsive and unstable president in American history, to use nuclear weapons.
The Pentagon’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review recommends the U.S. create a new class of “low-yield” nuclear weapons. The smaller nuclear weapons it proposes could be used in a wider range of conflicts than the current arsenal.
According to the Pentagon's 2018 report, our existing nuclear bombs are too big and destructive to be used in a conflict against Russia or China without immediately triggering global nuclear war.
But that's been the whole point of U.S. nuclear policy before Trump: Making the consequences of using nuclear weapons so terrible that no country would dare to use them in a first strike, or ever. It's not actually a good thing to make it easier for a president to decide to use the most destructive weapons ever created.
Nobody actually knows how Russia or China would react to a "small" nuke landing at their doorstep. But it's really not worth finding out.
Taken together, Trump’s 2018 foreign policy looks like it could kick off the type of destructive worldwide conflict that was unthinkable prior to his presidency.
That’s the bad news, but there is a silver lining: Democrats in the House are ready to put the brakes on Trump’s out-of-control nuclear policy when they take control next month. They plan to block funding for Trump's so-called mini-nukes, and could even introduce reforms that would block any president from using nuclear weapons without congressional authorization.
Donald Trump spent 2018 making the world a more dangerous place. In 2019, Democrats have the chance to make it safe again.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.