Home Contact Us  

Nuclear - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#5162, 2 November 2016

IPCS US Election Special

Presidential Elections and US Nuclear Policy: Clinton Vs Trump
Manpreet Sethi
Senior Fellow and Project Leader, Nuclear Security, Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), New Delhi

When the second largest democracy and the most powerful country of the world begins the process of choosing a new leader for itself, it is automatically a matter of global concern. Obviously then, for the last year or so, the twists and turns in the complicated US presidential elections have been on the watch of every government and international analyst across the world. It is now only a matter of weeks before the new occupant of the White House will be decided between Senator Hillary Clinton and billionaire business tycoon Donald Trump. However, neither of them has particularly impressed, nor emerged as a discerning student of nuclear issues.

Given that the US holds a formidable nuclear arsenal that can destroy the Earth several times over, it is normally expected of US presidential candidates to display a reasonably sophisticated understanding of relevant issues. It should, at the least, be enough to inspire confidence in their capability to be stable and able commanders of thousands of nuclear-tipped missiles. In the 2016 presidential race, however, it is disconcerting that a group of US air force officers in the nuclear command and control structures have signed an open letter expressing reservation on the idea of entrusting nuclear launch codes to Donald Trump. Even more distressing is the fact that the letter does not repose faith in the other candidate either!

Meanwhile, at a more tangible level, the stance of the two candidates on significant nuclear issues is peppered with vague articulations and evasive statements to even direct questions posed to them at various instances. Of course, nuclear matters are complex and one cannot expect a deep understanding of all dimensions. But what has emerged so far has not been very reassuring on whether and how the incoming President would seek to address the many complicated issues that he/she would inevitably confront on the contemporary nuclear landscape.

Amongst the early contenders for attention would be North Korea’s nuclear behaviour. Both candidates seem to believe that China holds the key to the problem and that it could/would be pressurised to use its leverages with Pyongyang to get Kim Jong-un to mend his ways. However, it is not clear what leverages the US itself has over China, and even more importantly, as to why Beijing should be inclined to do US bidding when it enjoys the benefits of North Korean heckling of its largest rival. Trump has expressed readiness to directly engage with Kim and that might be a direction worth exploring. Hopefully, he would realise the folly of his other idea of finding a solution to the problem through further nuclear proliferation into US allies in the region. Clinton, meanwhile, is likely to continue with more or less the same approach as that of the Obama administration – more sanctions and international consensus building on dealing with the delinquent state – the limits of which have long been upon us.

Another nuclear issue on which Trump and Clinton have diametrically opposite views is on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) concluded with Iran in 2015 and which began being implemented earlier this year. The Republicans have been strident critics of the agreement. Trump and his running mate have mentioned their intention to “rip up the Iran deal” and re-open negotiations to extract greater concessions from Tehran. It is quite likely though that he would end up unravelling the fragile arrangement currently in place. Clinton, meanwhile, has been a supporter of the agreement and is likely to continue with implementation of the agreement while keeping a close watch on Iran’s nuclear and missile activities.

On nuclear security, Clinton has clearly rated the threat of nuclear terrorism as an urgent priority and expressed the desire to find ways of getting nations to secure their nuclear material since Obama wound down his Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) initiative in March 2016. She has been candid in expressing great concern over the threat of a jihadist takeover of the Pakistani government, thereby gaining control over the country’s nuclear weapons and posing a danger to international security. Trump too has rated the threat of access by non-state actors to nuclear material high on his list of nuclear priorities, but has not articulated any roadmap to address the issue. It can be expected that the next US President will keep his/her focus on the issue.

The outgoing administration of President Obama has set into motion a very expensive process of nuclear modernisation. A trillion dollars have been pledged towards making the ‘ageing’ US nuclear warheads and delivery systems safe, secure and reliable. This includes investing in systems such as nuclear-armed cruise missiles, which have been criticised for their adverse impact on strategic stability. Acknowledging this, Clinton has, in some of her pronouncements on the subject, expressed a willingness to re-look at the decision for its wider implications on triggering a new arms race and vitiating nuclear stability. Having been part of arms control negotiations with the Russians on the New Start treaty as Secretary of State, Clinton can be expected to have been sensitised on strategic stability issues. Trump, however, is likely to hold a more puritan Republican line on this subject setting into motion an action-reaction cycle with other near nuclear peers.

There is no doubt that the manner in which these four issues are handled would have direct and indirect implications for India. Stemming further proliferation, enhancing nuclear security, as well as steps towards nuclear modernisation that add salience to nuclear weapons and compel the country to respond with measures to redress its own deterrence, are all consequential matters. It can be largely expected however, that the next US administration, irrespective of who heads it, will continue to honour India’s nuclear accommodation into the non-proliferation regime. As a nuclear technology proficient nation with a large nuclear energy market potential, and as a nuclear armed nation with a reasonably modest arsenal, India is too large to be ignored by any US President. By now, New Delhi has the experience of dealing successfully with both Republican and Democrat Presidents and it must continue to develop this relationship further on basis of common nuclear interests and concerns.

Meanwhile, it needs to be highlighted that irrespective of the personal predilections of US Presidents, the administration has a tendency to mould him/her into positions that are largely acceptable and conventional. Fortunately or unfortunately, the system does not allow its Presidents to stray too far. President Obama started his White House journey with an inspiring and radical speech at Prague that described a new nuclear agenda for the US. But myriad vested interests and lobbies at work constantly tugged at his coattails to bring him back into line with traditionalist positions. It is indeed ironical that the President who put the weight of his personal conviction behind a nuclear weapons free world is leaving office having approved a major modernisation of the country’s nuclear weapons.

The next few weeks are going to be extremely interesting and it is certain that Trump and Clinton will be monitored incessantly. In fact, every time they utter the word nuclear, it will be scrutinised for its national and international implications. And, once one of them is the President of the US, their nuclear pronouncements will hopefully acquire greater depth and maturity. The world cannot afford anything less.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
India-EU Partnership for Non-Proliferation: Challenges and Opportunities

‘Gas Chamber’ Cities and Dangers Nuclear

Meaningful Disarmament, Not Unnecessary Distractions

The Bomb Banned: By and For the NNWS, For Now

Stabilising Deterrence: Doctrines Score Over Numbers

Chinese Responsibility on DPRK: No ‘Theory’, Immutable Reality

Indian Nuclear Policy and Diplomacy

New NPR: Can It Break New Ground?

US-North Korea Military Swashbuckling and China's Role

Nuclear Ban Treaty Conference and Universal Nuclear Disarmament

Forecast 2017: Unclear Nuclear Pathways

Limits of Practising Nuclear Brinksmanship

Preparing for Radiological Emergencies and Terrorism

Motivating Pakistan to Prevent Cross–Border Terrorism: With a Little Help from Friends

JCPOA’s First Anniversary: Significance and Future Challenges

Entry into the NSG: Getting Past the Doorman

Same Age, Different Behaviour: Nuclear India and Nuclear Pakistan

Nuclear Security Summit Process: Progress and Prognosis

Pak's Nuclear 'Normality' through External Deals: Chasing a Chimera

Forecast 2016: Nuclear Issues That Will Dominate the Year

India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers

Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route

Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

Uranium and Nuclear Power: Three Indian Stories

A Strategic Review for India

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.