Trump rightly pointed out Russia’s continued investment in its nuclear arsenal and the need for the United States to invest much more seriously in the aging U.S. nuclear force. And, although Trump has made clear his personal aversion to the thought of nuclear war, he emphasized the critical point that as president, it is vital to maintain optimum flexibility and maximize options in order to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent to prevent enemies from attacking the United States or its allies, regardless of whether the attack is nuclear or conventional in nature.
While Trump is correct that the Obama administration’s policy of “strategic patience” has yielded few results (North Korea has qualitatively and quantitatively improved its nuclear weapons capabilities), his policy recommendation is both flawed and dangerous. The idea that China can “solve” North Korea has been around for years. Yet North Korea remains strategically too valuable to Beijing, and it is not certain how much leverage China actually has over Kim Jong-un, who is clearly determined to lock in North Korea’s nuclear status. Moreover, Trump’s proposal would surrender our ability to shape Northeast Asia’s geopolitical environment and would discourage South Korea and Japan, leading to a weakened relationship with both. Still, the U.S. should encourage China to remain involved alongside the U.S., South Korea, Japan, and others in the region to deter North Korean provocations.
Secretary Clinton overstates her role in imposing “the toughest sanctions on Iran” as well as the comprehensiveness and efficacy of the Iran deal itself. The Obama administration did not build an international coalition to impose sanctions on Iran, but rather inherited that coalition from the Bush administration, which had already secured five UN Security Council resolutions against Iran’s nuclear and missile activities. The most powerful sanctions on Iran were imposed by Congress in late 2011, and were opposed by the Obama administration. The most significant Iran policy change made by the Obama administration was direct bilateral outreach to the Iranians, which contributed to the conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal in July 2015. That agreement with Iran temporarily limits but does not halt or dismantle Iran’s nuclear program.