Politics & Government

Trump had a plan to work with Russia to cut back nukes in 1987. Might he try it now?

Face masks depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump hang for sale at a souvenir street shop in St.Petersburg, Russia, Friday, Dec. 23, 2016.
Face masks depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump hang for sale at a souvenir street shop in St.Petersburg, Russia, Friday, Dec. 23, 2016. AP

Donald Trump had a plan to help rid the world of nuclear weapons long before he ran for president.

In 1987, reporter Ron Rosenbaum interviewed Trump about his plan. It was for a story that was published in Manhattan,inc. Rosenbaum has written about why and how the interview came to be on Slate and republished the magazine story in its entirety on the site.

Now that Trump is the president-elect and no longer just a New York City real estate developer or reality television star, his thoughts on nuclear weapons take on a greater importance.

Earlier this week, he tweeted that U.S. must “greatly expand its nuclear capabilities.”

On Friday, “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinnski reported that Trump said, “let it be an arms race because we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

In August, before the election, “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough reported that Trump asked a foreign policy expert – three times during an hour-long briefing – why the U.S. couldn’t use nuclear weapons .

Nine countries are reported to have nuclear weapons. Russia (7,300 total inventory, according to the Federation of American Scientists) and the United States (7,000 total inventory) possess by far the most. France, China, the United Kingdom, Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea also have nuclear weapons.

Since the 1980s, the U.S. has worked with Russia to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear warheads. President Barack Obama signed the New START treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) with Russia in 2010 to reduce the number of nuclear weapons deployed by each country and cut the number of delivery vehicles for those weapons.

Nuclear proliferation was a problem private citizen Trump was concerned with in the late-1980s, according to Rosenbaum. This was before the Soviet Union had broken up.

The following is excerpted from Rosenbaum’s piece on Slate:

“Most of those [pre-nuclear] countries are in one form or another dominated by the U.S. and the Soviet Union,” Trump says. “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,” Trump said. “You think Pakistan would just fold? We wouldn’t have to offer them anything in return?”

“Maybe we should offer them something. I’m saying you start off as nicely as possible. You apply as much pressure as necessary until you achieve the goal. You start off telling them, ‘Let’s get rid of it.’ If that doesn’t work you then start cutting off aid. And more aid and then more. You do whatever is necessary so these people will have riots in the street, so they can’t get water. So they can’t get Band-Aids, so they can’t get food. Because that’s the only thing that’s going to do it — the people, the riots.”

Trump goes on to say the same tactics can be used with France and other nations.

The world has certainly changed in many ways since 1987, notably the breakup of the Soviet Union that left the United States as the world’s lone superpower.

Trump’s most recent statements about nuclear weapons came soon after Russian President Vladimir Putin told Russians that “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,” according to a translation by Agence France-Presse.

Trump has been accused by many, including Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and several Republicans, of being too close and friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia hacked in the DNC and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails to help Trump win the election.

Some of Trump’s Cabinet picks, including Rex Tillerson, his choice for Secretary of State, are considered friendly with Putin. Trump spoke with Putin twice in the two weeks after he won the Nov. 8 election.

Sarah Kendzior, writing for Quartz, explores the topic of nuclear weapons in-depth in a piece published Friday. She writes that “Trump and Putin aren’t heading to war with each other — they’re heading to war together.”