MIT professor emeritus and progressive icon Noam Chomsky says the prospect of a President Donald Trump with access to the nuclear launch codes should terrify anyone who cares about the future of humanity.
That’s partially because nobody, perhaps including Trump himself, has any clue what he’d do with that power.
“Trump’s expressed views tell us nothing,” Chomsky told The Huffington Post, referencing the GOP presidential candidate’s wildly inconsistent claims on various policy issues. “But the idea that someone with such personal characteristics could have his finger on the button should terrify people who care about the future.”
The Huffington Post interviewed Chomsky before Wednesday’s news that Trump was reportedly unaware of ― or unconcerned with ― the concept of mutually assured destruction, and had repeatedly asked an unnamed foreign policy expert why the U.S. can’t use its nuclear arsenal.
This mindset directly undercuts a key principle of nuclear deterrence, which holds that governments with nukes won’t actually use them because doing so would ensure catastrophic retaliation and possibly end the human race.
Trump’s campaign has since denied the claims that MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough initially made about this conversation. But they are consistent with what many experts see as Trump’s history of making deeply troubling remarks about nuclear arms.
Chomsky cited a chilling piece by Bruce Blair, a nuclear safety expert and scholar at Princeton University, who earlier this year outlined what it might be like with Trump’s finger on “the button.”
With thousands of warheads at its disposal, the office of the United States presidency is now a “nuclear monarchy,” explains Blair. The commander in chief has “virtually unlimited power to rain down nuclear weapons on any adversarial regime and country at any time” which could extinguish “hundreds of millions of lives” in just a few hours.
There’s also the possibility of that proverbial 3 a.m. call giving notice that a nuclear strike is imminent, writes Blair. With just 30 minutes to deal with missiles launched from Russia or China (and 12 minutes or less for missiles launched from submarines in the Atlantic Ocean), the president must have the brainpower and steadiness to confront such a crisis.
We now have to ask if Trump is fit to manage any of these frighteningly real scenarios.
Chomsky says no. Not just no, but hell no. “Trump and the [party] are loud and clear: We must race to the precipice as quickly as possible,” he said. “That alone is enough to disqualify them from holding any office, and it’s just for starters.”
The idea that someone with such personal characteristics could have his finger on the button should terrify people who care about the future. Noam Chomsky
Maybe that’s no surprise coming from Chomsky, who has previously said the GOP poses “literally a serious danger to human survival” due to the party’s denial of climate change. But nonpartisan nuclear experts, as well as Trump’s conservative critics, have voiced similar concerns.
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden expressed discomfort on Wednesday about Trump’s ability to muster the “speed and decisiveness” needed to determine whether to use nuclear weapons. For that reason and others, Hayden, a Republican, said he couldn’t picture himself voting for Trump.
John Noonan, a Republican national security expert who advised former GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, expressed profound alarm over the prospect of a nuclear-armed Trump.
Nuclear weapons experts have also expressed anxiety over the possibility of a possible President Trump, citing his recent remarks.
“Widespread, bipartisan concerns about Trump’s personality and character, coupled with some irresponsible and uninformed statements he has made about the inevitability and desirability of proliferation and the role and purpose of nuclear weapons, are real cause for worry,” Kingston Reif, director of disarmament and threat reduction policy for Arms Control Association, told HuffPost.
In March, Trump refused to rule out using tactical nuclear weapons in the war against the self-described Islamic State. He later sounded unconcerned by the use of nuclear weaponry, going so far as to ask why the U.S. had nuclear weapons if it couldn’t use them. Trump also wouldn’t rule out using nuclear weapons in Europe.
“Questions about Trump’s fitness to be commander in chief are an illustration that deterrence is not foolproof,” Reif said. “Cooler heads may not always prevail.”
Though Trump’s list of public spats and embarrassing feuds appears to have no end in sight, the onetime reality television star has responded to detractors by saying he has “one of the best temperaments.” And while Trump has said it’s “highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely” that he would ever use nuclear weapons, he’s also made a point of keeping his options open.
Nukes and hotheadedness simply don’t mix, and the constant questions about Trump’s disposition should be a wake-up call to voters, said former Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
“It is imperative that the next president is tempered enough to carefully manage and navigate a potential nuclear crisis situation,” Tierney added. “The world’s safety and security literally weighs in the balance.”