Trump and Putin: The worst case scenario
By Sarah Kendzior
Dec 23 2016
On Dec. 22, president-elect Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin both announced that they intend to increase their respective countries’ nuclear arsenals. Their use of language eerily paralleled each other. “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” Trump tweeted. “Russia should fortify its military nuclear potential and develop missiles that can penetrate any missile-defense system,” Putin said at a defense ministry meeting.
The joint statements set off speculation that the United States and Russia are planning an increase in nuclear capacity that is in stark contrast to standard anti-proliferation policy.
This is an erroneous interpretation. Trump and Putin aren’t heading to war with each other—they’re heading to war together. Trump is a vociferous defender and admirer of Putin and is suspected by multiple intelligence experts of being assisted and even co-opted by the Kremlin. Russian interference in the US election has been affirmed by multiple US intelligence agencies and has led to calls for a congressional investigation. Rather than engaging in an arms race against each other, Trump and Putin are possibly teaming up as nuclear partners against shared targets.
Sound fantastical? It’s not: Trump has been obsessed with nuclear weapons for several decades, and has expressed his desire to coordinate with Russia on nuclear policy since the 1980s. In 1984 Trump, backed by Roy Cohn, the political operative who advised Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon, proclaimed his goal of negotiating nuclear deals with the Soviets: “It would take an hour-and-a-half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles,” Trump said. “I think I know most of it anyway. You’re talking about just getting updated on a situation… You know who really wants me to do this? Roy… I’d do it in a second.”
This rhetoric mirrors Trump’s current rejection of expert advice and conviction that his instinct is enough to guide policy. (“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things,” he said in March 2016 when asked whom he consults on foreign affairs.) During the 2016 US presidential campaign, Trump refused to look at intelligence briefings or collaborate with anyone outside his inner circle. This advisory team is comprised of corporate raiders, warmongers, and white supremacists, some of whom—like his nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, or national security advisor, Michael Flynn—are personally tied to Putin as well.
In 1987, Trump made his goal of Russian collaboration on nuclear power explicit: The Soviet Union and the US should partner to form a nuclear superpower with the intention of intimidating other countries into dropping their own nuclear plans.
“Most of those [pre-nuclear] countries are in one form or another dominated by the US and the Soviet Union,” Trump told journalist Roy Rosenbaum. “Between those two nations you have the power to dominate any of those countries. So we should use our power of economic retaliation and they use their powers of retaliation, and between the two of us we will prevent the problem from happening. It would have been better having done something five years ago. But I believe even a country such as Pakistan would have to do something now. Five years from now they’ll laugh.”