In case you missed it: President Trump and North Korea are engaged in a war of words over their respective military might, with Trump promising to unleash "fire and fury" at Pyongyang following its threats to target the US.
Amid all this talk, Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that his "first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal" which he described as "far stronger and more powerful than ever before."
However, several nuclear policy experts called the president's claims "completely false," "a total lie," "patently absurd," and "misleading."
"It's completely false," Jeffrey Lewis, Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday.
"It's up there with crowd sizes and birth certificates," Lewis said.
Lewis said that Trump had ordered a Nuclear Posture Review — a paper study — which many other presidents also ordered, including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
A Nuclear Posture Review can "review anything" from how many nuclear weapons you have to what kind they are and how they're configured, Lewis said, and is used to determine the president's future nuclear policy.
"But it is a review, and therefore not in itself a decision to make any actual changes to the American nuclear arsenal," Andrea Berger, Senior Research Associate at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told BuzzFeed News.
Both Lewis and Berger pointed out that the study — which began in April — was still underway and was not meant to be complete until around September.
"What he has done is set the Department of Defense some homework that hasn’t been turned in yet," Berger said.
She added: "Trump’s tweet gives the misleading impression that he has already ordered concrete changes to the US nuclear arsenal. He may in future, once the Department of Defense’s nuclear review is complete, but that prospect is still months away."
When asked about Trump's nuclear arsenal tweets, White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters told reporters to refer to an executive order the president signed early on in his term where he asked for the Nuclear Posture Review.
However, Trump asked for the Nuclear Posture Review in a Jan. 27 Presidential Memorandum, and not in an executive order, as Walters incorrectly stated.
The two are not the same, as explained here.
In fact, Trump's "first order as president" was an executive order seeking to repeal Obamacare, and had nothing to do with strengthening nuclear arsenal.
Walters did not provide additional information on upgrades to the arsenal itself, per the White House pool report.
Several nuclear policy experts pointed out that America's nuclear arsenal had actually shrunk over the past seven months to comply with a 2011 treaty with Russia and that the modernization program for nuclear arsenal had actually started under Obama's administration.
Todd Harrison, Director of the Aerospace Security Project and Defense Budget Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told BuzzFeed News that under the Trump administration the nuclear arsenal has "basically remained the same" and in some cases, the number has reduced to comply with the New START treaty — a 2011 agreement between the US and Russia to reduce and limit the number of nuclear weapons.
Harrison said that some nuclear weapons, like the intercontinental ballistic missiles, have actually reduced to their lowest level to comply with terms of the treaty.
"It's totally inconsistent with what he's saying. We don't have a bigger or more powerful nuclear arsenal today," Harrison said.
"There is nothing Trump has done, or frankly could have done, to make any changes to the nuclear arsenal in his first six months. It's just not possible," he said.
Harrison also pointed out that the modernization of the nuclear arsenal began under Obama's administration as part of a deal he made with Senate Republicans to get the New START treaty ratified by the Senate.
Under Obama's deal, the US, while making reductions to its nuclear arsenal, would also fund programs to modernize the existing arsenal to make them more effective and safe.
"Obama started the modernization program and followed through on that, and that program has continued under the Trump administration," Harrison said. "But it's going to take about three decades before all of these modernization programs are complete."
Another expert called Trump's claims "patently absurd."
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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