Saturday, 24 December 2016

The New Nuclear World – Of Putin, Trump and the Power of a Tweet

Earlier this Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed the need for Russia to “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems.” U.S. President-elect Donald Trump responded (at least it appeared to be a response to Putin's statement) with the following tweet:

the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

The world reacted with disbelief. Putin and Trump? Aren't they supposed to be on good terms? Did the President-elect of the United States just start a new nuclear arms race with a tweet?! If there is any reason to take away the President-elect's mobile devices for a while, this is one. Did he intend to be provocative? Did he mean to send a message to the world that America is strong and won't be bullied and will never back down? Or was he simply emphasising the need to modernize and maintain America's existing nuclear capabilities?

The fact that the tweet is so ambiguous about such a sensitive matter affecting world peace and security is extremely troubling. Is this a foretaste of things to come? I view President Putin as a reasonably sensible leader. Strong, authoritarian and certainly not to everyone's taste, but he's no Kim Jung-Il. What happens down the line if the US President engages in loose or ambiguous exchanges with a more volatile nuclear regime? Isn't this the very thing the Clinton Campaign warned America about?

Trump reportedly gave further colour to his tweet in a telephone conversation with MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski:

Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

There's no need going on about the US 2016 elections anymore. They are past, Trump is President-elect and he will become the 45th President of the United States. The world must wish him well and work with him for all our sakes, or the consequences could be very dire indeed. My generation has been very lucky, in not having seen any major global conflict - yet. However, such conflicts are not necessarily consigned to the history books; it would not be the first time that millions have been led to their doom on the back of a leader's avoidable mistakes.

This is where we must look to those who surround the President-elect; those who are more diplomatic, who have more experience of the reality of world affairs beyond the cold hard world of business-driven brinkmanship. This is where the team around Trump will need to step in, to bring out the best in the man, and keep the worst at bay.

I wish them well. I wish us all well.

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