How did Trump learn to love ‘the bomb’?

Thomas A. Loftus (Ambassador to Norway, 1993-1997)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Loftus’ May 4, 2016 op-ed in the Cap Times.

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In the film “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” there is a scene near the end as bombs have been launched and Armageddon is looming where U.S. President Merkin Muffley, in a meeting with Russian Ambassador de Sadesky, learns that Russia has been building a “doomsday machine.”

The Russian ambassador says: “Our doomsday scheme cost us just a small fraction of what we’ve been spending on defense in a single year. … We learned that your country was working along similar lines and were afraid of a doomsday gap.” The U.S. president incredulously responds: “This is preposterous. I’ve never approved anything like that.” Ambassador de Sadesky says: “Our source was The New York Times.”

In an interview on foreign policy with the NYT in March, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested that in order for the U.S. to save money on defense, perhaps Japan and South Korea should become nuclear powers and defend themselves.

In his recent foreign policy speech Trump elaborated: “The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense — and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves.”

At the end of World War II, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, representing the victorious Allies, wrote a new constitution for Japan, still in force today, that prohibits Japan from re-arming.

Japan does not have a military, it has a “Self-Defense Force.” The United States by treaty is responsible for the defense of Japan and South Korea. It is called a mutual defense treaty. Even suggesting Japan become a nuclear power is destabilizing and a particular threat to China. It is also a threat to the consensus that governs Japan: After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan will never embrace nuclear weapons.

Ronald Reagan is the philosophical father of the nuclear weapons policy of both the Democrats and the Republicans. In his 1984 Inaugural Address he said, “We seek the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons.” He would return throughout his presidency to this strong belief that nuclear weapons can never be used and should be eliminated.

In his last year in office in 1988, on the 20th anniversary of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, he wrote this to Congress: “My central arms control objective has been to reduce, and ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons. … I intend to continue my pursuit of the goal with a profound sense of personal commitment.”

I met President Reagan three times during my tenure as Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly. He was most gracious and could he wear a suit! But I did not fully grasp the importance of his words and actions on nuclear arms until I became the U.S. ambassador to Norway, a NATO member. I was invited to visit the Arctic Ocean port of Murmansk, in Russia, just across the Norwegian border. Here is where nuclear war is not abstract. The Murmansk area is the home of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, with intercontinental ballistic missiles and a nuclear submarine fleet equipped with nuclear-tipped missiles under their command.

The United States is target No. 1.

And on a visit to Iceland I stood in the room in the house in Reykjavik where on Oct. 12, 1986, President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the head of the Soviet Union, met at a summit. In this meeting the two leaders proposed eliminating all nuclear weapons within a decade. It did not happen, but we now know from the historical record that Reagan was sincere and Gorbachev was ready.

All presidents since Reagan have embraced some updated version of his stated policy. President Obama has been tireless in seeking to reduce nuclear weapons and the Iran agreement is a great step forward.

There are other very troubling statements in the new Trump doctrine, especially his ambiguity about whether he would use tactical nuclear weapons as president and what he means in stating our nuclear weapons arsenal needs “renewal.”

The security of Japan and South Korea, and Europe through NATO, are investments in stability proven right by history, and remain the best strategy to ensure the security of the United States.

If you say it in the New York Times, expect it to be taken seriously. Trump should re-evaluate his rhetoric on nuclear weapons and take to heart the Reagan policy on the issue.

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