WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s tweet Wednesday that America’s nuclear arsenal is “now stronger and more powerful than ever before” is debatable.
While the U.S. has daunting nuclear power, the Pentagon’s program has been beset with morale, training, discipline and resource problems. And the modernization effort that started under former President Barack Obama hasn’t been altered by the Trump administration. His claim of the credit is entirely unjustified.
Here’s a look at Trump’s statements and how they hold up:
TRUMP: “My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before.”
THE FACTS: Trump did order a new review of the U.S. nuclear posture, in an executive order in January. The order said the review should ensure America’s nuclear deterrent is robust, ready and tailored to address 21st century threats.
But the review isn’t complete. There have been no significant changes in America’s nuclear power as a result.
While Obama pledged billions of dollars to modernizing the arsenal, the program is in its early stages.
It is aimed at all three elements of the nuclear triad: Air Force bombers and Navy submarines capable of launching nuclear bombs and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Today’s force is largely the same as the one Trump inherited on Jan. 20. The primary difference is there are actually fewer ICBMs now after a planned reduction that was directed by Obama.
Trump also initially proposed a 2018 budget that would cut $340 million from missile defense programs intended to deter a potential strike by North Korea, Iran or other countries. Congress has been taking steps to safeguard some of that funding.
Trump’s statement about overall nuclear strength is debatable.
The Associated Press documented a range of problems in the Minuteman 3 missile force starting in 2013, including numerous morale, training, discipline and leadership shortfalls that have beset the nuclear force in recent years, especially among those who operate, maintain and protect the weapons.
The Air Force began implementing what it calls a “force improvement plan” to boost morale, increase resources and attempt to eliminate the stigma that had become attached to the nuclear missile career field, which many saw as a dead end and much less rewarding than being a pilot.
Last year, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the Pentagon would invest $108 billion over the next five years, saying the department was committed to correcting decades of short-changing the nuclear force. The funding would be used to sustain and improve the force and for developing a new generation of weapons.
There also are questions about missile defense.
Some experts argue the current strategy for shooting down ICBM-range missiles, like those North Korea is trying to perfect, is overly expensive and inadequate. Instead of the silo-based interceptors being used, some argue a more fruitful approach would be to destroy or disable such missiles before they can be launched, possibly by cyberattack.