WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the U.S. drastically increase its nuclear arsenal follows a presidential campaign in which he made a number of contradictory statements about weapons of mass destruction.
As a candidate, he called nuclear proliferation the “single biggest threat” facing the world while also suggesting Japan and South Korea should obtain nuclear weapons as a defense. During one debate he ruled out a “first strike” but in the same breath said he would not take anything off the table.
His desire to increase the country’s nuclear capabilities nearly tenfold, voiced during a meeting with top national security leaders in July, came as North Korea continued to escalate nuclear tensions with more weapons tests.
As a candidate and as president, Trump has been fairly consistent in calling for the modernization of the country’s nuclear weapons.
Here’s how Trump has talked about nuclear weapons since launching his presidential run and entering the White House.
Trump Claims to Have Ordered the Modernization of the Country’s Nuclear Weapons
As a Candidate, He Criticized the Country’s Nuclear Arsenal as Outdated
- “We have nuclear arsenals which are in very terrible shape. They don’t even know if they work.” — Interview with The New York Times, July 21, 2016
Trump Has Given A Variety of Answers on Using Nuclear Weapons
- “I would certainly not do first strike. I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over. At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can’t take anything off the table.” — Presidential Debate, Sept. 26, 2016
- “I don’t want to rule out anything. I will be the last to use nuclear weapons. It’s a horror to use nuclear weapons. The power of weaponry today is the single greatest problem that our world has.” — TODAY, April 28, 2016
- “I will do everything within my power never to be in a position where we have to use nuclear power because that’s a whole different ballgame.” — Interview with The New York Times, July 21, 2016
- “Nuclear should be off the table, but would there be a time when it would be used? Possibly. Possibly. … I would be the last one to use the nuclear weapons. Because that’s sort of like the end of the ballgame. … I’m not going to use nukes, but I’m not taking any cards off the table.” — Town Hall with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, March 30, 2016
- “Well, it is an absolute last stance. And, you know, I use the word unpredictable. You want to be unpredictable.” — Interview on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” Jan. 3, 2016
- “It is highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely that I would ever be using them.” —Interview with GQ, Nov. 23, 2015
He Has Called Nuclear Proliferation the “Greatest Threat” Facing the U.S.
- “Biggest problem, to me, in the world, is nuclear, and proliferation.” — Interview with The New York Times, March 26, 2016
- “Our single biggest problem we have is nuclear weapons, you know, countries with them.” — Town Hall on Fox News, March 3, 2016
- “The biggest problem this world has today is not President Obama with global warming, which is inconceivable, this is what he’s saying. The biggest problem we have is nuclear — nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. That’s in my opinion, that is the single biggest problem that our country faces right now.” — Republican Presidential Debate, Dec. 15, 2015
But He Has Also Suggested Japan, South Korea and Even Saudi Arabia Should Have Them
- “As far as Japan and other countries, we are being ripped off by everybody in the — we’re defending other countries. We are spending a fortune doing it. They have the bargain of the century. All I said is, we have to renegotiate these agreements, because our country cannot afford to defend Saudi Arabia, Japan, Germany, South Korea and many other places. We cannot continue to afford — she took that as saying nuclear weapons.” — Presidential Debate, Oct. 19, 2016
CNN’s WOLF BLITZER: But — but you’re ready to let Japan and South Korea become nuclear powers?
TRUMP: I am prepared to — if they’re not going to take care of us properly, we cannot afford to be the military and the police for the world. We are, right now, the police for the entire world. We are policing the entire world.
You know, when people look at our military and they say, “Oh, wow, that’s fantastic,” they have many, many times — you know, we spend many times what any other country spends on the military. But it’s not really for us. We’re defending other countries.
So all I’m saying is this: They have to pay.
And you know what? I’m prepared to walk, and if they have to defend themselves against North Korea, where you have a maniac over there, in my opinion, if they don’t — if they don’t take care of us properly, if they don’t respect us enough to take care of us properly, then you know what’s going to have to happen, Wolf?
It’s very simple. They’re going to have to defend themselves.
— Interview on CNN, May, 4, 2016
CNN’s ANDERSON COOPER: So you have no problem with Japan and South Korea having nuclear weapons?
TRUMP: At some point we have to say, you know what, we’re better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea, we’re better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start to protect itself, we have …
COOPER: Saudi Arabia, nuclear weapons?
TRUMP: Saudi Arabia, absolutely.
COOPER: You would be fine with them having nuclear weapons?
TRUMP: No, not nuclear weapons, but they have to protect themselves or they have to pay us.
Here’s the thing, with Japan, they have to pay us or we have to let them protect themselves.
COOPER: So if you said, Japan, yes, it’s fine, you get nuclear weapons, South Korea, you as well, and Saudi Arabia says we want them, too?
TRUMP: Can I be honest with you? It’s going to happen anyway. It’s going to happen anyway. It’s only a question of time. They’re going to start having them or we have to get rid of them entirely. But you have so many countries already, China, Pakistan, you have so many countries, Russia, you have so many countries right now that have them.
Now, wouldn’t you rather in a certain sense have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons? And they do have them. They absolutely have them. They can’t — they have no carrier system yet but they will very soon.
Wouldn’t you rather have Japan, perhaps, they’re over there, they’re very close, they’re very fearful of North Korea, and we’re supposed to protect.
— CNN Town Hall, March 29, 2016
Trump Even Said He Would Not Take Using a Nuclear Bomb in Europe Off the Table
- “Europe is a big place. I’m not going to take cards off the table. We have nuclear capability. Now, our capability is going down rapidly because of what we’re doing. It’s in bad shape. The equipment is not properly maintained. There are all lot of talk about that. And that’s a bad thing, not a good thing. The last person to use nuclear would be Donald Trump. That’s the way I feel. I think it is a horrible thing. The thought of it is horrible. But I don’t want to take anything off the table. We have to negotiate. There will be times maybe when we’re going to be in a very deep, very difficult, very horrible negotiation. The last person — I’m not going to take it off the table. And I said it yesterday. And I stay with it.” — Interview on Fox News, March 31, 2016