Twitter nuclear war

Is Trump’s use of Twitter to air his thoughts about nuclear weapons at all dangerous? Yes it is. Greg Sargent at the Washington Post talked to some experts on the subject and they said yes: dangerous is what it is.

As we prepare for President Trump to take near-unchecked control of our nuclear machinery, his nuclear Tweet is best seen as a window into his temperament. Trump still does not appreciate that every word he utters carries tremendous weight and could have dramatic, untold, far-reaching, unpredictable consequences — something that is especially true in the nuclear arena. Or, perhaps worse, Trump may be entirely indifferent to this fact.

It’s probably both. He doesn’t fully grasp it, because he doesn’t think and because he’s stupid, and he doesn’t care in any case, because he’s a sadistic bully drunk on his own conceit.

Arms control experts I spoke with suggested that Trump’s willingness to Tweet about nuclear weapons raises the possibility of Trump doing the same as president — and more to the point, the possibility of him doing so amid some species of international crisis or escalation.

Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear non-proliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, points out that in peacetime, any belligerent Trump Tweet about nuclear weapons might not appear as alarming, simply because “confirmation bias” might lead key actors not to interpret it in its most frightening light at that moment. Amid rising international tensions, though, that confirmation bias might work in the other direction, he says.

The North Koreans, for instance.

Trump’s Tweet suggests an inability to appreciate that Twitter is far too blunt instrument to handle dangerously sensitive, complex international challenges, and indeed could lead to misunderstandings — and potential catastrophe.

As a potential example, Lewis points out that earlier this year, Trump said he would handle the North Korean nuclear threat by getting China to make North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “disappear.” Lewis notes that imprecise language in an errant, bellicose Trump Tweet — particularly amid rising tensions — could conceivably amount to an “accidental assassination threat.”

“Imagine if the North Koreans are looking for any signs that we’re about to attack as their signal that they have to go,” says Lewis, adding that if Trump “says the wrong thing” and “gives the impression that we’re about to act,” the North Koreans might “decide not to wait around to find out if that’s true or not,” and might hit “targets throughout South Korea and Japan where U.S. military forces are stationed.”

Would that be bad? Yes.

Twitter “is a tool of provocation and belligerence in the hands of Donald Trump,” Bruce Blair, a nuclear policy specialist at Princeton University, tells me, adding that it’s easy to envision Trump Tweeting a warning to another world leader that “if you do this or that, you’ll be sorry.”

Blair says the worry isn’t necessarily that a single Trump Tweet might alone unleash nuclear catastrophe, but rather that one could very well exacerbate an already-existing situation in far worse ways than otherwise might have happened.

Also? That there wouldn’t be only one Trump tweet in that situation.

“Almost any threat could be perceived as warranting some sort of response that’s not only rhetorical, but operational,” Blair tells me.

Operational. With nukes. You don’t want to put those two words together.

And so, whatever Trump’s actual intentions for our nuclear arsenal and the future of international disarmament efforts, his willingness to use Twitter to posture and chest-thump around nuclear matters should itself stir urgent concern. This will be particularly true if it holds over into situations involving escalating tensions.

In fact, one thing that Trump and his advisers should be pressed to answer right now is whether Trump will put his Twitter feed on ice in such situations. Given what we’ve seen from Trump thus far, there’s simply no reason to assume that he will be so inclined.

It’s mind-boggling that we’re in this situation. Should we get up a petition begging Jack Dorsey to close Trump’s Twitter account?

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