Nuclear modernization in fact, looks to be low on this administration's priorities — particularly when compared with the emphasis Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, placed on it.
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True, Trump did order a formal Nuclear Posture Review — the customary assessment of the nation's atomic weaponry issued by incoming presidents. He signed it on Jan. 27, a week into his presidency. But Trump had already issued 10 major executive orders by then.
More important, however, Trump’s tweet misses the key point when it comes to nukes: To make nuclear weapons more effective, you make them more “reliable” — not more powerful.
Indeed, the current stand-off with North Korea is a good example of why reliability is more important than size and power. Kim, with his estimated 60 (or fewer) small nukes, is facing off against Washington, with its far more numerous, and far larger, nukes. (According to the Federation of American Scientists, the U.S. has approximately 6,800 total nuclear warheads in its arsenal, including nondeployed and retired weapons. By February 2018, U.S.-deployed warheads should number 1,550.)
At least for the moment, Kim is holding his own.
“You want other actors to believe that you have reliable equipment that will launch when you push the proverbial red button," Will Saetren, a nuclear weapons policy specialist at the Institute for China-America Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said. "But as North Korea is effectively demonstrating, it takes far less than 1,550 nuclear weapons to achieve that goal."
America's nuclear weaponry does need upkeep, however. It is, on average, more than 30 years old. The electronics are obsolete. Wiring is fraying. Rocket motors are losing their chemical potency. The Pentagon’s estimated $1 trillion modernization effort, which began under Obama, is replacing the aging warheads as well as the rockets, missiles, submarines, bombers and jet fighters that deliver them.