President-elect Donald Trump sent out shockwaves on Thursday by tweeting that "the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability," but spokesman Jason Miller later tried to temper the statement, explaining that "Trump was referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation and the critical need to prevent it," and maybe "the need to improve and modernize our deterrent capability." On Friday morning, in a phone call with Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski, Trump reportedly clarified that, no, he really meant he's game to replay the Cold War.
"Let it be an arms race, we will outmatch them at every pass," Brzezinski quoted Trump as saying, "and outlast them all." "All right, you can put that down as breaking news," said co-host Joe Scarborough.
In his annual press conference on Friday, before Morning Joe aired, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he wasn't surprised by Trump's tweet because "during his election campaign he said the U.S. needs to bolster its nuclear capabilities and its armed forces in general." But Russia is not seeking a new arms race, or developing new nuclear warheads, he added. But it is working to improve its armaments to ensure they'll break through missile defenses. President Obama and Russia negotiated a reduction of nuclear arms, the New START treaty, in 2011, and Putin said Russia would keep its nuclear weapons inside the limits of existing treaties.
The problem with Trump's tweets, David Ignatius said on Morning Joe, is that while he may be seeking to throw people off balance, "when he gets cornered" on a controversial statement — like scrapping the one-China policy — "he sometimes doubles down. And I think that's the thing that, as I talk to world leaders, foreign policy veterans who've served in Republican administrations, they worry about this." Trump is painting the U.S. into a corner, and himself, too, Ignatius said. "If you say, 'What I really do want is an arms race,' you're going to lose the country. The country doesn't want to go through a nuclear arms race." And as of Friday morning, Russia didn't either.