Ominous red haze with the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion that is the harbinger of nuclear devastation and human death.
Photo courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office

PODCAST: What You Need to Know about Donald Trump’s New Nuclear Weapons Policy

You’ve may of the Doomsday Clock. This is a rubric created by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists at the dawn of the nuclear age to demonstrate how close humanity is to nuclear annihilation. Midnight symbolizes doomsday — and the closer the clock moves to midnight, the closer we are to nuclear war.

Well, on January 25th, the scientists behind the nuclear clock moved it a tic closer — to two minutes before midnight. This is the closest the clock has been to the doomsday scenario since 1953. They cited the impetuousness of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un as their rational. But adding to the growing concern over the possible use of nuclear weapons is also a new nuclear weapons policy that is being rolled out by the Trump administration.

The world caught a glimpse of what this policy might be when a draft of a document called the Nuclear Posture Review was leaked to the press.  The nuclear posture review is a document that tends to be released in the early stages of an administration to set its over all nuclear weapons policy. And here, you will probably not be surprised to learn that Trump’s nuclear policy review is likely to deviate from his predecessors in important ways.

On the line with me to discuss the Trump administration’s emerging approach to nuclear weapons, nuclear deterrence and other key nuclear policy issues is Tom Countryman. He was a career diplomat who served for decades in various postings at the State Department and around the world. He most recently served as the Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation until the very early days of the Trump administration. He is now the chair of the board of the Arms Control Association.

Countryman does a very good job explaining what is the same–and what is so different about Donald Trump’s approach to the bomb. And in so doing, I think he offers some important insights into how some of the underlying logic of nuclear policy planners might rest on some faulty assumptions.

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