Hours after warning North Korea that it will meet “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if its leader, Kim Jong Un, continued to provoke the United States, President Donald Trump said the U.S. nuclear arsenal is “stronger than ever before.”
“My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.
He did not order the modernization of the nuclear arsenal. President Barack Obama did that in 2014, despite calling for a “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons” just five years earlier.
The plan, expected to cost $400 billion through 2024, would upgrade nuclear weapon production facilities, refurbish warheads and build new submarines, bombers and ground-based missiles. It will likely cost more than $1 trillion over the next 30 years, according to outside estimates.
Because the sprawling nuclear enterprise will take so long to rebuild, the arsenal is more or less at the same level of strength than when Trump took office seven months ago.
Trump did launch a top-to-bottom Nuclear Posture Review to determine what the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security strategy should be, just like each of his recent predecessors did when they took office.
The review has not yet been completed, and it wasn’t Trump’s first order. The directive was issued a week after Trump took office, and was preceded by more than a dozen orders on other topics.
The U.S. nuclear weapons strategy rests on a triad of delivery systems — bombers, submarines and land-based missiles — developed early in the Cold War. The three legs of the triad were designed to ensure that even in a massive surprise attack, at least one leg would survive to deliver a retaliatory strike.
In addition to the review of the nuclear force, the White House has also proposed a $1.4 billion budget increase for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nuclear weapons enterprise. That money has yet to be allocated.
It’s unclear what Trump meant when he said that the nuclear arsenal is stronger than before. The Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau has written at length on the deteriorating state of various aspects of the nuclear enterprise.
In addition, the U.S. military is limited in how many weapons can be deployed under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed in 2010. That agreement requires Russia and the U.S. to reduce deployed intercontinental missiles to 700 and the overall number of warheads to 1,550, each by 2018.
Russia and the U.S. currently meet those limits, according to the latest data released by the State Department.