The Slatest

Trump Administration Reportedly Considered Conducting First Nuclear Test in 28 Years

President Donald Trump concludes his remarks after speaking from the White House on January 8, 2020 in Washington, D.C.
President Donald Trump concludes his remarks after speaking from the White House on January 8, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Members of the Trump administration have reportedly discussed the possibility of the United States carrying out its first nuclear test in almost three decades, a move that would have huge geopolitical implications, reports the Washington Post. The issue reportedly came up at a May 15 meeting with senior officials representing top national security agencies in which the claims that Russia and China are carrying out low-yield nuclear tests was discussed. Both countries have denied the allegations and there is no publicly available evidence to support the claims but at least some officials appear to believe a test could provide some leverage in negotiations.

One senior administration official tells the Post that a “rapid test” could be useful as part of a broader negotiation with China and Russia over a deal to regulate the nuclear arsenals of the biggest nuclear powers. Although officials did not agree to carry out the test, the proposal is “very much an ongoing conversation,” the official said. Another official played down the possibility, saying officials ultimately decided on other actions that did not involve a nuclear test.

When the issue was discussed, the idea of carrying out the first nuclear test explosion since September 1992 was very controversial and there were serious disagreements about whether it’d be the best course of action. Experts said that any decision by the United States to carry out a test could have destabilizing consequences. “It would be an invitation for other nuclear-armed countries to follow suit,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “It would be the starting gun to an unprecedented nuclear arms race. You would also disrupt the negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who may no longer feel compelled to honor his moratorium on nuclear testing.”

The revelation that the administration is at least willing to discuss the possibility of a nuclear test comes after Trump sought a big boost in nuclear weapons spending as part of his 2021 budget. Trump has been increasing spending on nuclear weapons since coming into office at least in part due to his “own belief that the United States should maintain the world’s most powerful nuclear force—and perhaps enlarge it,” the New York Times noted earlier this year.