"My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before."-President Trump, in a tweet, Aug. 9, 2017
As part of his saber-rattling with North Korea, President Trump made this claim about the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Readers wanted to know: Can the nuclear arsenal be modernized so quickly?
In a word, no.
Let's deconstruct the president's statement.
It was his "first order" he said as a President. He may be confused about this. In his first national security memorandum, issued seven days after he became president, the president called for "rebuilding the U.S. Armed Forces." The order included a call to "initiate a new Nuclear Posture Review to ensure that the United States nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies."
So it was not his first order, but it was his first national-security order.
A NPR is something that a new administration does when it takes power. The last one was completed in 2010, under Barack Obama, so it would make sense for Trump to order a new one.
But just because a president orders a study, it doesn't mean everything changes right away. Then the Pentagon has to implement the new policies - and Congress would have to approve a budget that reflected those new priorities.
"As it was the day before inauguration day the nuclear arsenal is the same," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. It consists of about 1,750 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on intercontinental missles, submarines and strategic bombers Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), and Strategic Bombers and 180 tactical nuclear on European bases.
A nuclear-weapons modernization was launched by Obama already and effort that the Congressional Budget Office estimates will cost $400 billion between 2015 and 2024 - and $1 trillion over 30 years. Kimball said that Trump's initial budget proposal for nuclear weapons was essentially a "cut and paste" of what Obama had proposed.
Whether the United States is postured correctly for nuclear threats key focus of a NPR, and experts interviewed by Defense News believed enough had changed in the world since 2010 (such as Russia's incursion in Ukraine) to merit new approaches.
Trump indeed gave an order to launch a Nuclear Posture Review, but that is standard procedure for a new administration. But he's kidding himself - or misleading Americans - that much has changed in the nuclear arsenal since he took office 200 days ago.