Donald Trump is using twitter again to twit and goad Kim Jong Un, the autocratic leader of North Korea. This time, he’s warning Kim that Trump’s “nuclear button is much bigger & more powerful than his, and my Button works.”
You know that old Russian saying: “Big button, small hands.”
But seriously folks, this comment demonstrates that the man for whom a slim majority of the Electoral College voted in 2016 has no understanding whatsoever of the potential threat of dropping even one nuclear weapon anywhere in the world. Radiation from the fallout will poison the air immediately and show up in milk and other food within months. Additional cancers and birth defects will plague distant populations for decades.
And that’s from one bomb.
Remember that when the U.S. dropped the only two atomic bombs ever used against human populations, no other country had the capability to respond in kind. That has changed. It’s likely that before even one atomic bomb hit the atmosphere of a country with weapons, that country would have already unleashed all the firepower it possessed in retaliation, wreaking horrible destruction on the enemy that attacked it first, but also poisoning noncombatants throughout the Earth. It’s called the doctrine of “mutually assured destruction,” or MAD, the primary justification countries use for having nuclear weapons: If you use it, we’ll use it and the results will be we’re both destroyed. (and the rest of humankind.)
Mutually assured destruction was based on game theory, which is a discipline of mathematics that assesses the probability of intelligent, rational decision-makers taking certain actions in given situations. The frightening words are “intelligent, rational decision-makers” because we suspect Kim and know Trump is neither intelligent nor rational. MAD doesn’t work if one of the decision-makers is mad or ignorant.
A rational person understands that in a world in which ten nations have nuclear capabilities, that every nuclear button is of the same size. Each covers the entire width and breadth of the globe, potentially with a thick nuclear winter of soot and other particles that the firestorms of thermonuclear war would release into the atmosphere.
The world is depending on the common assumption that both Trump and Kim are bombastic blowhards who use words to bloviate, bully and bluff. These insecure and ignorant tyrants would never actually push that big button, whatever its size. Besides, if they did, others argue, someone with a greater understanding of the probabilities would intervene, U.S. generals or the Chinese government.
Of course, when Trump says something stupid, it’s rarely out of the context of botching up the best efforts of others. Instead of praising the recent peace overtures between North and South Korea, Trump has decided to use the taunting language of an insecure middle school bully.
Donald, you fool, when it comes to nuclear weapons, size does not matter. You’re just too small a man to know it.