WASHINGTON • The United States must massively boost its nuclear capability until the "world comes to its senses", President-elect Donald Trump has said, hours after a similar vow by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Trump made the statement on Twitter on Thursday, without providing details or context, a day after meeting a group of Pentagon top brass, and shortly after Mr Putin called for Russia to reinforce its own nuclear capabilities.
"The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes," Mr Trump tweeted.
The open talk of ramping up nuclear capabilities - reminiscent of Cold War pledges - marks a jarring departure from the stance of President Barack Obama, who in a famous speech in Prague in 2009 called for the elimination of nuclear weapons.
Asked for clarification on his tweet, Mr Trump was quoted yesterday by MSNBC as saying: "Let it be an arms race.
"We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all."
In 2010, Mr Obama and Russia's then President Dmitry Medvedev signed the New Start treaty that calls for a significant reduction in the nuclear arsenals of both countries. Mr Trump's remark came after Mr Putin, while boasting about the Russian army's performance in its Syria campaign, declared: "We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces."
Russia's focus should be on "missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defence systems", the Kremlin strongman added.
A top Trump adviser tried to soften the impact, saying Mr Trump was not trying to change longstanding US positions on a global security issue. "What he's saying is he wants us to be ready to defend ourselves and he's not making new policy," Ms Kellyanne Conway, who on Thursday was tapped as White House counsellor, said in an interview with MSNBC.
"I think all the President-elect is saying is that we have to be able to keep ourselves safe and secure and when others stop building their nuclear weapons, then we'll feel more secure in that regard," she said. However, she sidestepped a question on whether Mr Trump was referring to a specific actor posing new risks of proliferation.
Mr Putin yesterday told a news conference in Moscow he was surprised by the fuss Mr Trump's tweet had caused, and how it had been linked to his own statements about Russia's plans to modernise its own nuclear arsenal.
He added that Mr Trump's statement about overhauling US nuclear forces was "nothing special".
In response to Mr Trump's tweet, China said yesterday the US, with the world's largest nuclear stockpile, should take the lead in cutting nuclear weapons.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS