In her foreign-policy speech on Thursday, the Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton began to make the nuclear case against Donald Trump. It isn’t just the frightening prospect of a man with “very thin skin” having his finger on the nuclear trigger, she warned: Trump wants to “withdraw [America’s] military support for Japan, encourage them to get nuclear weapons.” She quoted from his remarks in April on a possible confrontation between a nuclear-armed North Korea and Japan: “If they do, they do. Good luck, enjoy yourself, folks.” Then she mused: “I wonder if he even realizes he’s talking about nuclear war.”
A nuclear-armed Trump is indeed a scary thought. But his apparent comfort with encouraging other countries to develop their own nuclear stockpiles is just as scary, if not more so. For 70 years, American presidents of both parties have understood the simple arithmetic involved—that the more countries have nuclear weapons, the more opportunities there are for nuclear war to break out, whether by design or by accident.
Yet the Republican nominee is effectively advocating the spread of arms so destructive they haven’t been used since their horrifying debut over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. In addition to remarking that the United States would be “better off” if nations like South Korea and Japan had nuclear weapons, Trump also seemed open, in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, to the possibility of Saudi Arabia, too, getting the bomb. He has since tried to walk this back—“They said that I wanted Japan to get nuclear weapons. Give me a break.” But as both Clinton and CNN have pointed out, he did say exactly that.