A day after an incendiary rebuke of North Korea, President Donald Trump touted US nuclear capabilities on Twitter, potentially further escalating a growing standoff with Pyongyang.
“My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before,” Trump wrote just before 8 a.m. ET from his golf resort here. “Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!”
Trump was apparently referring to a review of US nuclear weapons that began earlier this year, which he directed Defense Secretary James Mattis to undertake in a presidential memorandum signed during a January visit to the Pentagon.
Such reviews of the US nuclear posture are required by Congress and typically occur every eight years. The Pentagon last conducted a review in 2010 that was ordered by then-President Barack Obama.
It is unclear to what extent, if any, the US nuclear arsenal has been modernized since Trump took office. Such efforts would require billions of dollars allocated by Congress, and Trump’s administration has proposed increasing spending on nuclear programs by 11%, more than the overall increase to the defense budget.
Efforts to update the US nuclear arsenal are heavily governed by existing treaties with other nuclear states. The longstanding goal of those agreements has been to reduce the overall number of nuclear weapons worldwide.
Trump’s morning statement came amid bipartisan concern over Trump’s scaled-up rhetoric about North Korea, which came to a head Tuesday afternoon.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said from the clubhouse of his resort. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
The White House has not offered an explanation for how or why Trump chose those words Tuesday. He appeared to be reading from a script, but no aides have yet said who wrote it, or who advised Trump to scale up his rhetoric.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters Wednesday that Trump was aiming to use language that Kim Jong Un would understand.
“I think what the President was doing was sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Tillerson told reporters aboard his aircraft, which was traveling back from a summit meeting in Malaysia. “I think the President just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime that the US has an unquestionable ability to defend itself, will defend itself and its allies and I think it was important that he deliver that message to avoid any miscalculation on their part.”
The White House has not specified what actions would cross the line Trump laid out in his remarks.