On January 5, I attended a Rand Paul town hall in Laconia, New Hampshire. He had a few things to say about nuclear weapons. Here is an excerpt from his initial remarks, plus our exchange during the question-and-answer period.
From Rand’s initial remarks We had a debate over the nuclear triad, or a question. The nuclear triad says we launch missiles from the sea, from submarines, from the land – intercontinental ballistic missiles – we have the ability to, and also from planes. So air, land, and sea.
Trump had no idea what they were talking about. This wasn’t the first time he had been asked the question. He was asked the same question a month before and did not learn in a month’s time what the triad was. It’s not a real complicated thing but still he had no idea what it was. About a week after the debate they asked him again and his spokesman responded this way, said “Yeah, sure we know about the nuclear triad and our main problem is we have not been eager enough to use it.” Think of what he [sic] just said. “We haven’t been eager enough to use our nuclear weapons.”
Now nuclear weapons, I’m not saying we could live in a world without them. But for most people that’ve been watching the world and war and the Cold War, they were seen as a deterrent. They were seen as something that we could match the Russians with and we hoped never have to use them. And we kind of grew to a period of time, over decades, where we kind of both kind of decided that it would be sort of destroying the world … [Audio garbled]
Listen to what he [Trump] is saying. And tell your friends what he’s saying because this is the person who will be in charge of the nuclear arsenal. I think Dave [DeVoy, who introduced Paul] had it right. You want someone temperate, you want someone with judgment, you want someone with commitment.
Judy Elliott’s Question I’m really glad that you brought up nuclear weapons. As you know, the Pentagon and the nuclear weapons labs are beginning a massive new spending emphasis on nuclear weapons, shifting funds into nuclear weapons, hundreds of billions of dollars.
In terms of fighting terrorism, those weapons are not going to do us a bit of good. We already have a good deterrent. And yet, we’re going to have more submarines than we need from Grumman, we’re going to have more missiles than we need from Lockheed, and more warheads than we need from Lockheed, and have more bombers than we need from Boeing. [Oops, see correction below.]
I don’t think it makes us any safer. And yet funds are being shifted into nuclear weapons from other parts of the Pentagon budget. I want to know, do you support this?
Paul: Do I support expanding the nuclear arsenal?
Paul: You know, I think we have to decide what we need. Is some of it outdated that we’re not going to keep? Is some of it out there that [there] needs to be upkeep, and there has to be some modernization? I think we have, as far as overall numbers, probably more than we need to blow up the world many times over.
I do think that it’s better, if you’re going to adjust your nuclear arsenal, to do it in conjunction with the other major superpowers. That’s one thing Reagan did. So, some people who didn’t like Reagan thought, “Oh, he was too reckless in all this.” He turned out to be, I think, a very reasonable Commander-in-Chief in the sense that he continued to discuss with Gorbachev, eventually negotiated reductions.
So I’d be willing to say yes, let’s have open lines of communication with the other superpowers and see if we can reduce it. I do think there still is a deterrent value, not only to the other major superpowers, but ultimately even to a rogue nation, that there is some idea of deterrence. And you hope that there is some rationality on the other side. We figured the Russians, after a while we decided, were rational enough not to want their country destroyed and we were the same, and the counterbalance worked.
It doesn’t mean that you need a hundred times what you need. So I am willing to look at that and figure out if there are ways that we can negotiate a reduction in it. But I would not say absolutely I would not do anything to modernize it, because I think they have to work. So you have to decide that. But I am open to looking at the cost and how we can always conserve.
Judy: I do have a white paper for you on that.
Paul: Yeah, we’ll take it.
Notes from Judy:
1. I gave a staffer the Arms Control Association’s 2014 paper “Unaffordable Arsenal” http://www.armscontrol.org/files/The-Unaffordable-Arsenal-2014.pdf to a Paul staffer.
2. Embarrassing to say, I misidentified major contractors for the nuclear modernization plan. I was correct that Lockheed makes missiles and runs Sandia Labs, which works on nuclear warheads. But the new submarines will be built by General Dynamics and Huntington Ingalls. The major contractor for the new bomber will be Northrup-Grumman. I’ll get it right next time.