Trump ‘has no conception of the risk of nuclear war’, warn experts

Dr William Potter, director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California, was talking as he launched a new book, Once and Future Partners: The United States, Russia and Nuclear Non-Proliferation, published by the International Institute for Strategic Affairs think tank.

And while he said Mr Trump’s recent meeting with Russian opposite number was “useful”, he stressed that what was really needed was cooperation at a diplomatic level.

Dr Potter, who co-edited the 296-page book with senior research associate Sarah Bidgood, told “The importance of personal relations in promoting collaborative non-proliferation policy certainly extends to presidents.

“But based on his actions to date, there is little to suggest that Mr Trump has any conception of the risks of nuclear war, the dangers of nuclear weapons spread, or how US-Russian cooperation can be employed to mitigate these threats. 

“While it certainly is useful for the presidents of the United States and Russia to discuss nuclear issues, what is sorely needed is a return to the kind of routine high-level interactions between officials from Washington and Moscow to discuss contemporary proliferation challenges as was the case during much of the 1970s and 1980s.

“Ironically, this US-Soviet cooperation between ideological and military rivals persisted during some of the most frigid moments of the Cold War and across both Democratic and Republican administrations. 

“Nothing of the sort is present today and there is no indication that the recent summit in Helsinki will change this situation.”

Dr Potter also lamented Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Joint Plan of Comprehensive Action (JPCA) agreement, ratified by the administration of Presidential predecessor Barack Obama alongside other world leaders as a way of deterring Iran from trying to develop nuclear weapons.

He explained: “The cooperation between the United States and the Russian Federation in the negotiation of the JCPOA was a good, if relatively rare, example of how in recent years Washington and Moscow could put aside many differences to promote an accord that served both countries’ security interests.

“The unilateral disavowal of the JCPOA by Mr Trump suggests the low importance the current US administration places on cooperation with both its traditional allies, who continue to strongly support the JCPOA, or the value of cooperating with Russia on concrete matters, as both countries would appear to benefit from continued implementation of the accord.

“Our new book is intended to demonstrate that it was possible for the two principal Cold War rivals to cooperate closely on an issue—nuclear non-proliferation—even when they disagreed on most other foreign policy matters. 

“We explain how this proved possible in the past and why it should continue to be in both sides’ interests to so again if we are to avoid another Cuban Missile-like Crisis, whose ending might be different the second time around.” 

The book is published at the end of a week which has seen Mr Trump lash out at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in an all-capital-letters tweet, apparently in response to Mr Rouhani’s warnings that a conflict between his country and the US would be “the mother of all wars”.

Mr Trump wrote: “To Iranian President Rouhani: never, ever, threatens the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.

“We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence & death. Be cautious.”

Mr Trump raised eyebrows during the 2016 Presidential election campaign when he appeared to suggest that Japan should have nuclear weapons because North Korea had them.

In a further illustration of the tensions which characterise international relations at the moment, Iranian-backed, Yemen-based Houthi rebels on Wednesday launched a rocket attack on two Saudi Arabian oil tankers in the Red Sea’s Bab Al-Mandeb strait, prompting the Saudis to temporarily suspend oil exports along the busy route.