American Policy on Nuclear Weapons: Comparison of Two Administration's

Madison Connell
May 28, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: One of the United States' nuclear weapons. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Nuclear weapons and the control of them have been among the greatest debates of the decade in politics. Fig. 1 shows one of the United States (US) weapons among the debate. Each president has a unique stance on nuclear weapons and how they believe they should be controlled. As the world continues to develop and modernize nuclear weapons, a US presidents action is crucial in developing the policy. A former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, states that with mankind's means of self-destruction increasingly becoming more efficient, US foreign policy on nuclear weapons becomes more and more difficult. [1] The US president from 2009-2007, Barack Obama, and the US president from 2017-current, Donald Trump, have different views on the issue. President Trump remains unclear on his posture, but he has made suggestions towards a pro-proliferation ideology. [2] President Obama on the other hand, supported a non-proliferation ideology. [3]

The Obama Administration

The former president's pledge to make no new nuclear arms during his term of office encountered many difficulties. [4] Two countries, Iran and North Korea, established themselves as the core of nuclear proliferation problems. [5] When Mr. Obama first came to power, there were reported 5113 nuclear warheads in the possession of the US. By 2016, that number had decreased to 633. President Obama's goals were clear when he came into office in 2009: he wanted to wipe the world of nuclear weapons; mending the international relations with Russia was important in doing so. [5] His stance was a nuclear-free world and, as the first president to make nuclear disarmament a priority of American foreign policy, he continued to advocate this idea over his 8 years of presidency. [3] Mr. Obama's methods to complete his goals shifted over his presidency, as a result of compromise. [5] Instead of nuclear reduction, he began to support nuclear upgrades. By the end of his term, he wanted to decrease the risk of use of nuclear weapons by modernizing them. Heargued that a smaller and more reliable arsenal would make the risk of catastrophic use less likely. [3] He was effective at mending relations with Russia. By the end of his presidency, he was able to aid the passing of tougher sanctions against Iran in 2010, in response to their nuclear proliferation. [5] Regarding North Korea, Obama made little progress on ending its development of nuclear weapons.

The Trump Administration

In contrast to Mr. Obama, President Trump is putting much less emphasis on Nuclear Weapons and their regulation. The Trump administration's approach more unpredictable and unclear so far. [6] President Trump has dropped many clues hinting at his mindset, stating that regarding Russia, he would welcome a renewed arms race. Regarding US allies, he has suggested he would be willing to allow them to develop and own nuclear weapons. Regarding US enemies, he has hinted he would be willing to use nuclear weapons against use them in a war. [7] President Trump opined in a tweet that, [The United States] must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability. [8] Even though the Trump administration remains unclear on its official stance, all of the President's suggestions, whether through twitter or talk shows, suggest a pro-proliferation stance.


Barack Obama and Donald Trump have two different views on the development of nuclear weapons. Both of their stances are crucial in changing US foreign policy and defense strategies. Only time will tell which stance will prevail. In ligh tof the uncertainty associated with the Trump administration, the road ahead regarding nuclear weapons and their control is unclear. [6]

© Madison Connell. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] H. A. Kissinger, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (Harper and Brothers, 1969).

[2] M. Fitzpatrick, "Will Donald Trump Overturn US Nuclear Non-Proliferation Posture?," Korean J. Security Aff. 21-2, 5 (2016).

[3] W. J. Broad and D. E. Sanger, "As U.S Modernizes Nuclear Weapons, 'Smaller' Leaves Some Uneasy," New York Times, 11 Jan 16.

[4] H. M. Kristensen, "Obama and the Nuclear War Plan," Federation of American Scientists, February 2010.

[5] M. S. Indyk and K. G. Lieberthal, "Scoring Obama's Foreign Policy," Foreign Aff. 91, No. 3, 29 (2012).

[6] S. Frühling and A. O'Neil, "Nuclear Weapons and Alliance Institutions in the Era of President Trump," Contemp. Secur. Policy 38, 47 (2017).

[7] T. S. Sechser and M. Fuhrmann, "The Madman Myth: Trump and the Bomb," University of Virginia, March 2017.

[8] K. Reif, Trump Nuclear Tweet Sparks Controversy," Arms Control Today 47, January/February 2017.