Trump’s Lies About a Nuke ‘Gap’

Exclusive: One of Donald Trump’s most dangerous lies is his claim about Russia surging ahead of the U.S. on nuclear weapons, a Cold War-style assertion of a nuke “gap” that goes unchallenged, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

“The country has never had a presidential candidate who lies the way that [Donald Trump] does,” remarked New York Times editor David Leonhardt after Sunday’s presidential debate. Yet his impressive list of 20 Trump lies is notably silent about one unchallenged whopper: that Russia is gaining military superiority over the United States.

Trump told debate watchers that Hillary Clinton “talks tough against Russia. But our nuclear program has fallen way behind, and they’ve gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good. Our government shouldn’t have allowed that to happen. Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We’re tired. We’re exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in an MSNBC interview.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in an MSNBC interview.

Hillary Clinton didn’t rebut him. The moderators didn’t rebut him. The Clinton campaign’s fact checkers didn’t rebut him. Nor did those of the mainstream media — perhaps because more than a few reporters and editors assume Trump is right.

In recent months, Trump has repeatedly peddled the same myth of Russian nuclear (and conventional military) superiority. It’s a familiar and politically potent lie dating back to 1950s, when militarists warned of alleged bomber and missile “gaps” favoring the Soviet Union.

At a rally in Atlanta last June, Trump complained that “Putin has built up their military again and again and again. Their military is much stronger. He’s doing nuclear, we’re not doing anything. Our nuclear is old and tired and his nuclear is tippy-top from what I hear.” (President Trump would presumably order the Pentagon to come up with some kind of nuclear Viagra to make our forces young, virile, and “tippy top” again.)

Speaking to supporters in Ashburn, Virginia, in August, the Republican candidate said, “Look at Russia, how they’ve built up their military . . . How they’ve built up their military and how we’re so far behind. And our equipment is obsolete in many cases. . . We’re falling way behind.”

And in the first presidential debate in September, again unrebutted by Clinton, Trump reiterated that Russia’s nuclear forces “have a much newer capability than we do. . . . We are not keeping up with other countries.”

After that first debate, a brief Associated Press fact check did note that “Russia has indeed been expanding its military and increasing spending on weapons and equipment. But the U.S. still has far more advanced military aircraft, weapons and capabilities than Russia. In addition, the Pentagon plans to spend $108 billion over the next five years to sustain and improve its nuclear force and is developing the next generation bomber.”

But the U.S. nuclear modernization program is much bigger even than AP indicated. As reported here, “the Obama administration plans to commit the nation to spending at least $1trillion over the next three decades to improve our ability to fight a nuclear war.” The Pentagon’s blueprint calls for building 12 new nuclear-armed submarines, 100 long-range strategic bombers armed with a new class of bombs, at least 400 silo-based ballistic missiles, and 1,000 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

The United States currently has more deployed nuclear missiles and heavy bombers than Russia: 741 versus 521. The United States also has almost as large an inventory of nuclear weapons as Russia: 7,000 versus an estimated 7,300. The difference is meaningless: detonation of even a fraction of that total would annihilate not only both countries, but kill a large portion of the world’s population.

Washington can potentially also count on the United Kingdom and France for another 400 deployed nuclear warheads to make the rubble in Russia bounce higher in case of an all-out war.

The two countries’ nuclear arsenals are nearly matched by design — the result of many rounds of nuclear arms negotiations and treaties. By contrast, the U.S. military far outpaces Russia’s in most conventional categories.

US Spends Way More on Military

Washington spends 12 times more on “defense” than Russia, whose military budget ranks behind China, Saudi Arabia, and the UK. According to the website Global Fire Power, the United States has more than twice the population of Russia, 80 percent more active military personnel, and 285 percent more military aircraft. The U.S. Navy also outpaces Russia in aircraft carriers 10 to 1. (Russia has more tanks and artillery.) And that’s before counting the contribution of all our NATO allies.

The Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S. Defense Department, as viewed with the Potomac River and Washington, D.C., in the background. (Defense Department photo)

The Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S. Defense Department, as viewed with the Potomac River and Washington, D.C., in the background. (Defense Department photo)

James Hasik, an analyst for the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, observes that “The good news . . . is that the Russian Army today is a small fraction of the size of the Red Army of the Cold War. Russia is also almost bereft of allies, as Belarus and that collection of frozen-conflict oblasts don’t really add much. Thus, NATO’s ground forces actually outnumber the Russians several times over.”

Another prominent military analyst, Kyle Mizokami, notes that Russia’s military modernization plans have been severely crimped by falling oil prices and Western economic sanctions, sending Moscow’s defense budget “into a tailspin.”

“Russian forces are also, generally speaking, not as well trained as NATO forces,” he adds. “Russian forces performed badly in Chechnya . . . In its 2008 war with Georgia, Russian ground forces moved painfully slowly. . . Most NATO countries could have done a better job.”

Despite these facts, numerous Pentagon officers and armchair warriors today warn about NATO’s deficiencies in facing the growing Russian threat. But look closely and they all relate to scenarios of Russian forces moving en masse next door into the small and weakly defended Baltic States. That’s a far cry from what NATO feared when the alliance formed in 1949 to prevent a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. Now that the Baltic States are part of NATO, Moscow would be risking World War III by invading them — for what purpose no one ever spells out.

Fear-mongering about Russia’s military and the Baltics reflects a classic imperial mentality — that the United States must be capable of prevailing militarily anywhere on the globe, no matter how far removed from our real security interests.

It’s time to recognize that relentless calls for greater military spending, constant agitation for a new Cold War, and the staging of provocative military exercises so close to Russia’s borders are creating the real threats to U.S. security and well-being.

Donald Trump’s lies about Russia’s military superiority are feeding those threats. It’s long overdue for his opponent and the news media to call him out.

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Obama Flinches at Renouncing Nuke First Strike,” “Dangerous Denial of Global Warming,” “How Arms Sales Distort US Foreign Policy,”  “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and “Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.

15 comments for “Trump’s Lies About a Nuke ‘Gap’

  1. Ol' Hippy
    October 11, 2016 at 21:03

    One thing never mentioned involving the nuclear threats are all the nuclear reactors around the planet. They make the nuclear war threat, bad as it is, pale by comparison. 3-9 days tops without humans to control them and voila, life goes away for a long long time. The aging reactors around the world need constant monitoring and the older ones should be shut down as soon as possible. Nuclear war or even conventional war really needs to stop if humans and the other creatures we share the planet with are to last more than a century or two. To talk of nuclear war is folly.

  2. Monte George
    October 11, 2016 at 13:34

    The real “nuclear gap” has nothing to do with missiles and bombs. The technology which will allow Russia to emerge the winner in a war with the USA is Civil Defense. We do not have any. The Russians have an extensive network of bunkers and supply facilities and regularly updated, tested and rehearsed plans/procedures. We have not had an air raid drill in decades. Russia conducts annual civil defense drills; the most recent involved 40 million Russian citizens (in 2013 it was 60 million). Russia strives to enhance the ability of it’s people to survive the coming global nuclear war. The USA strives to protect a tiny segment of it’s elite by providing top secret deep underground facilities (“Continuity of Government”) which the public will be excluded from.

    The rest is just noise. Missile gaps, nuclear gaps, naval and air power and soldiers will have absolutely no bearing on the outcome of the coming war. Both sides have nuclear weapons delivery systems which cannot be effectively countered. When the war starts, the warheads will fall from the sky like rain. These nuclear raindrops will be evasively maneuvering at mach 8+; they will not be intercepted. It will all be over in a single hour and the US population will be destroyed forever. The Russians will be devastated but they will survive and rebuild, provided the nuclear winter scenario does not materialize and exterminate us all. This is the only gap that has any meaning.

  3. October 11, 2016 at 13:17

    It makes me really wonder when these writers keep coming up with , the US spends 12 times what Russia does on Military. Now this writer adds little things like the USA has twice the population of Russia. Well yes thats true, but he failed to mention that over 60 percent of Americans are over weight coach potatoes who consider a really trying workout, just getting off their bums and walking to the fridge, during commercials. Definitely not military grade cannon fodder. He fails to mention that every one of America´s nobel Prizes for Sciences went to immigrants this year such is the state of the American educational system.

    He also fails to mention the multi trillions America has spent on weapons sysyems that are no longer usuable in wartime. He fails to mention the F35, a flying rock that took some 1.5 trillion dollars of the defence budget and can´t be used in combat. He failed to mention the F22, that at about 300 million a pop is too expensive to use in combat and in any event has an oxygen problem that has never been resolved where the pilots just pass out wihile flying it. He fails to mention the billions wasted on the Littoral Combat Shilp that can´t possibly be put into combat against any serious opponent because of engine problems and the fact that Russia has the means to shut them down electronically. The same for the Agies Destroyers the Russians demonstrated that they can shut the ship down and use it for target practice not once but twice in the Black Sea and in the Baltic.

    The Russians might not win a convention war with the USA in that they would not occupy the USA after a war. But they would beat them hands down in the Baltics and anywhere on their terretory. The USA has spent the last twenty years using up it´s military.The idea of the US Military being superior to Russia and China combined is mostly myth. Just one example, More than 50% of the US military planes are in no condition to fly. They lack parts and maintenance. The weakest part of the American Military machine is in it´s leadership. They can´t even formulate a winning strategy against poppy farmers armed with AK47s and fertilizer bombs. How are they going to match up against Russia´s and China´s Generals who have been studying American Military tactics for the last twenty years? These Generals are not politicians in uniform they are military men unlike the Petresuses of the American Military Leadership. Not good I´m afraid. A convention war against China and Russia would spell the end of the US Empire. A nuclear war whould spell the end of us all.

  4. October 11, 2016 at 12:51

    Yes, the United States does possess more armaments of just about every type than Russia and China and Iran and Syria and Libya and Iraq and Somalia and Yemen and North Korea and everyone else, too. Unfortunately, those barely armed poppy farmers and goat herders in the foothills of the Hindu Kush have those dreadfully cheap and effective AK-47 rifles and IEDs. We Americans have all the awesome engineering. Those nobodies “in their last throes” (as Five-Deferment Dick Cheney called them a decade ago) have only imagination and improvisation going for them. Looks like we lose again.

  5. Steve Naidamast
    October 11, 2016 at 12:04

    Actually, there is quite a “nuke gap” between the US and Russia. However, it is Russia’s nuclear forces that are already beginning their modernization and the incorporation of new, advanced weaponry while the US arsenal is completely outdated and in terrible, antiquated condition. The US arsenal is in such bad shape that one could wonder of the weapons would even launch.

    However, there is no benefit to such weapons on either side considering that the only move in this game is to not play…

  6. Joe Tedesky
    October 11, 2016 at 11:26

    Escalation stops when you quit escalating. In fact, at this current moment in time, if America were to go to war with Russia over Aleppo then America would have gone to war on the side of protecting al Queda. Go tell that to the families of the 911 victims, and tell me how that works out for you. Continuing to blame Vladimir Putin for everything from email hacks to shooting down passenger planes, and why ‘yes’ Russians become very hurt and annoyed with these unwarranted accusations. While America has somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 military bases worldwide, Russia has two, and they are both relatively close to their Russian borders. While I’m on the subject of Russian borders, the kind of defense system Russia has built is strictly designed around border security, and no they are not building a huge wall. Somebody in DC should wake up to this fact that Russia could be our most valuable ally, if we would choose to include them in our plans instead of excluding them at every turn. One more thing, keep Michael Morell off of the Charlie Rose highbrow round table discussion show, and stop making threads to kill Syrians and Russians, and start doing some real statesmanship for a change…a change we can believe in.

    Israel Shamir wrote an excellent article which would go well with this fantastic read here submitted by Mr Marshall…

  7. James lake
    October 11, 2016 at 11:14

    So hillary didn’t tell any lies in this debate?
    That’s good to know that only trump lies

  8. Jerad
    October 11, 2016 at 10:59

    Nonetheless, Trump is the one calling for a much more restrained foreign policy than the liberal interventionist Hillary Clinton. I suspect that Trump says some of these things which seem to contradict his anti-interventionist foreign policy just to get neocon votes.

    • bill
      October 11, 2016 at 14:15

      @ neverHilary Trump says the scary words,Clinton has done the scary deeds; Stein,the balm, has done neither

    • col from oz
      October 12, 2016 at 04:49

      Out of the closet here, I take trump over Clinton every day left till the election however i don’t vote as I’m Australian. Reason is, I and my family want to live. I said to my brother the other day we cracked the minute in the doomsday clock (my opinion) properly down to the last ten seconds. However Trump, I think will just edge her, so i hope General Flynn Trumps main advisor can travel and meet and get detente happening I watched the Republican last day convention. A self confessed gay SF guy boosted trump and said the US were way behind in military and quoted that the minuteman missiles use floppy disks, really floppy disks, 40 year old teck, i remarked to my brother ‘ they keep it that way and not connected to the net so it can;t be hacked. I never said Trump was encyclopedia smart, so thats some context to why he thinks US is behind. I tell ya Gen Flynn seems smarter than the average bear. I see his fingerprints over Trumps not attacking ASSAD. That’s the takeaway i had for a while and confirmed His non start against Assad. Quote by Trump ‘YOU CANT SAVE THE REBEL in Aleppo. (Further more he said Clinton doesn’t know who the rebels are, meaning he knows their bad. That’s what i saw in second debate. (Clinton wants a war/no fly zone over Russia. As Gen Dempsey said when questioned by committee /senate, “a no fly zone requires going to war with Syria and Russia” Totally insane

  9. Zachary Smith
    October 11, 2016 at 10:53

    Hillary Clinton didn’t rebut him. The moderators didn’t rebut him. The Clinton campaign’s fact checkers didn’t rebut him. Nor did those of the mainstream media — perhaps because more than a few reporters and editors assume Trump is right.

    Perhaps future President Hillary and the others anticipate the usefulness of the perception. This will excuse even more money being thrown at Big Weapons Corporations.

  10. Bloozguy
    October 11, 2016 at 10:08

    So did JFK. Just saying.

    • Ol' Hippy
      October 11, 2016 at 20:54

      And look where it got him and his brothers.

  11. Brad Owen
    October 11, 2016 at 09:32

    A ‘Nuke’ Gap. Just as I suspected. This is about trillions more for the fascistic MIC/Nat’l Sec. State. It’s hoped to induce Russia to play along with its’ trillions, thus wrecking its’ economy same as ours, AND rob the BRICS/Silk Road Bloc of much-needed funds, thus derailing the REAL threat to the West; civil investment & development. Same ploy was used by the Western Oligarchy to derail FDR’s New Deal programs, by embroiling FDR and U.S. in WWII armaments production, thus creating the fascistic MIC/CIA/Security State in the Post-War 40’s; a silent coup against the proto-socialist New Deal Establishment. This isn’t about WWIII (the perps aren’t interested in destroying their “private property”; i.e. The World). It’s about enforcing the austerity policies to reduce population economically and preventing the New Dealish Silk Road escape hatch from ever opening up. It’s still about Oligarchy vs. social democracy folks.

    • Brian Stump
      October 11, 2016 at 21:06

      I didn’t know media matters had a sister site. Silly me.

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