President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday called for the United States to expand its nuclear arsenal, after Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country's nuclear potential needs fortifying, in what would reverse decades of efforts to reduce the number and size of the two countries' nuclear weapons.
In a tweet that offered no details, Trump said, "The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes."
Trump's tweet came shortly after Putin, during a defense ministry meeting, talked tough on nuclear weapons.
"We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems," Putin said.
Russia and the United States have worked for decades at first limiting, and then reducing, the number and strength of nuclear arms they produced and maintained under a Cold War strategy of deterrence known as "mutually assured destruction." Both Republican and Democratic presidents have pursued the policy of nuclear reduction, said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
Currently, the United States has just under 5,000 warheads in its active arsenal, and more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads, a number that fluctuates. Under the New START Treaty, the main strategic arms treaty in place, both the U.S. and Russia must deploy no more than 1,550 strategic by February of 2018. Both countries are on track to meet that limit, which will remain in force until 2021, when they can decide to extend the agreement for another five years.
Since President George H.W. Bush's administration, it has been U.S. policy not to build new nuclear warheads. Under President Obama, the policy has been not to pursue warheads with new military capabilities.
It has been estimated that modernizing the aging nuclear arsenal will cost $1 trillion over 20 years, said
"If Donald Trump is concerned about the rising costs of the F-35, he will be shocked by the skyrocketing costs of the current plan to modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal," Kimball said. "Trump and his people need to explain the basis of his cryptic tweet. What does he mean by expand, and at what cost?"