Bruce Blair writes: I was the former nuclear missile launch officer who in October appeared in a TV advertisement for Hillary Clinton, saying: “The thought of Donald Trump with nuclear weapons scares me to death. It should scare everyone.” The ad featured various quotes from Trump’s campaign rallies and interviews, in which he says, among other things: “I would bomb the shit out of ’em,” “I wanna be unpredictable,” and “I love war.” As I walked through a nuclear missile launch center in the ad, I explained that “self-control may be all that keeps these missiles from firing.”
We will see all of our fears—and the new president-elect’s self-control—put to the test over the next four years. When Trump takes the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2017, there will be no shortage of combustible tensions around the globe. And Trump will need to make some critical decisions quickly — including whether he truly wants, as he suggested during the campaign, a world in which there are even more nuclear powers than we have today.
These tensions are present even now and show no signs of easing. For starters, U.S.-led NATO and Russian military forces are shadow boxing with increasing intensity. The mutual intimidation is steadily escalating, and Trump’s soft commitment to NATO’s defense has not helped. Rather than assuaging the Russians, it has only stoked insecurity in Europe and perhaps tempted Russia to intervene in the Baltic states. In other words, appeasement only makes matters more unstable.
In East Asia, meanwhile, a mercurial and belligerent leader of North Korea will soon be able to brandish nuclear-armed missiles to credibly threaten South Korea, Japan and the U.S. homeland with nuclear devastation. The timeline for this threat to materialize is very short — months or a low number of years. (Trump himself mentioned the threat in his “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday.) Kim Jong Un’s provocations combined with Trump’s soft-pedaling of the U.S. defense commitment in Asia have put the entire region on edge and provoked South Korea to consider acquiring a nuclear arsenal in self defense.
There are other crises brewing as well, including in the South China Sea and the Middle East. As China lays claim to nearly all of this sea in part to create safe bastions for its new fleet of ballistic missile submarines, the U.S. has intensified its air, sea, and undersea surveillance and anti-submarine warfare operations, increasing the chances of hostile encounters. In the Middle East, U.S. and Russian forces are operating in very close and not-so-friendly quarters in the Syrian theater, and the specter of a region going nuclear looms larger than ever as Trump warns he will tear up and re-negotiate the hard-won Iranian nuclear deal. This ill-advised move would set Iran free to resume its nuclear program, while spurring Iran’s enemies to follow suit, as well as re-opening the debate over U.S.-Israeli pre-emptive strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. [Continue reading…]