BRIDGEWATER, N.J. – President Donald Trump continued to forcefully threaten North Korea on Wednesday, asserting that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is “far stronger and more powerful than ever before.”
Trump’s projection of U.S. nuclear strength comes during a moment of rhetorical brinkmanship between him and North Korea’s erratic leader, Kim Jong-Un. Trump used extraordinarily chilling language for a U.S. president on Tuesday afternoon when he warned that North Korea’s nuclear provocations would be “met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
Trump continued with the same tone in a pair of tweets he issued Wednesday morning from Bedminster, New Jersey, where he is on a working vacation at his private golf resort. He wrote that his administration was working to “renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal.”
“It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before,” Trump wrote. “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!”
Trump’s suggestion that the nuclear arsenal already has been modernized under his presidency is misleading at best, considering the process could take years.
On Jan. 27, one week after his inauguration, Trump issued an executive order directing the Defense Department to launch a Nuclear Posture Review, a major undertaking that will set his administration’s nuclear policy.
The Pentagon has said the review, which officially began in April, is expected to be completed by the end of the year. It is expected to guide the Defense Department as it builds new nuclear-capable submarines, bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles in coming years. Full modernization of the arsenal could then take many years.
The last such review was conducted in 2010 under the Obama administration, which developed a purchasing plan to update all three legs of the nuclear triad with modernized weapon systems that would not be completed until well into the 2020s.
“Any decision that the president were to take now, or that he took in January, would take years to implement,” said Jon Wolfsthal, who served in the Obama administration as the National Security Council’s senior director for nonproliferation and arms control. “I’m very skeptical of the idea that Trump believes that he has modernized or adjusted our arsenal because there have been no visible changes to it.”
Meanwhile, White House adviser Sebastian Gorka said in a Wednesday morning television interview that the brinkmanship with North Korea “is analogous to the Cuban missile crisis.” Gorka, a deputy assistant to the president who works on the national security staff, warned, “Don’t test this White House.”
“He’s saying, ‘Don’t test America, and don’t test Donald J. Trump,’” Gorka said on “Fox & Friends,” the Trump-friendly morning show on Fox News Channel that the president often watches.
Gorka added, “We are not just a superpower. We were a superpower. We are now a hyperpower. Nobody in the world, especially not North Korea, comes close to challenging our military capabilities, whether they’re conventional, whether they’re nuclear, or whether they’re special forces. So this message is very clear: Don’t test this White House, Pyongyang.”
Gorka was asked about criticism of Trump’s rhetoric, including that from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who on Tuesday night said it probably wasn’t helpful.
“It saddens me,” Gorka said. “We need to come together. And anybody, whether they’re a member of Congress, whether they’re a journalist, if you think that your party politics, your ideology, trumps the national security of America, that’s an indictment of you, and you need to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself what’s more important: my political party or America. There’s only one correct answer.”
Earlier Wednesday, Trump retweeted links to two segments from “Fox & Friends” recounting his pledge to respond to continuing North Korea threats with “fire and fury,” as well as another about the United States moving two Air Force B-1B bombers to Guam, the U.S. territory that North Korea threatened Tuesday.
In December, before taking office, Trump created consternation for many foreign policy experts with an assertion on Twitter that the country should “greatly strengthen and expand” its nuclear capability.
The next day, after his staff had tried to temper his comments, Trump doubled down. telling a television talk-show host that in an arms race against any competitor, the United States would “outmatch them at every pass.”
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