President Trump boasted on Wednesday that he had made U.S. nuclear weapons more powerful.
In a pair of tweets sent out the day after he threatened North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, the president claimed that the U.S. arsenal is “far stronger and more powerful” than ever before.
“My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal,” he wrote. “It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before. Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!”
But nuclear weapons experts said that the President’s claims are spurious on several levels.
Kingston Reif, director of disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, said that it’s true that Trump authorized a review of nuclear strategy and capability after taking office, but the review likely won’t be complete until the end of the year or even later.
“Nothing has changed in the capability or power of the nuclear arsenal since President Trump took the Oval Office,” he said.
The order, which was also not the first Trump signed, is also typical for most new presidents at the beginning of their terms, Reif said.
Any recent upgrades to the arsenal are the result of Obama-era initiatives that authorized $1 trillion in nuclear spending over the next 30 years. And even those plans, added Reif, “are still in their infancy.”
Furthermore, experts say it’s almost impossible that any initiative of the Trump Administration could already be having noticeable impact on the arsenal.
“These are things that take a lot of time,” said Ariane Tabatabai, a senior associate with the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Nuclear initiatives require extensive approval and can be very costly and slow moving. “You don’t just initiate a modernization plan,” she said.
While Reif says that the United States currently possesses a nuclear arsenal that’s more than adequate for defense needs—boasting some 4,000 nuclear warheads, close to half of which are currently deployed at various bases—it’s also not true that the arsenal is “stronger and more powerful than ever before.” In fact, the arsenal has significantly shrunk since the height of the Cold War.
“I think this reflects that the President is not well-informed about the capacity of the US nuclear arsenal and its capabilities,” said Reif, who called the tweets “reckless posturing.” “That’s concerning, in my view.”