President-elect Donald Trump suggested Friday that he is willing to engage in "an arms race," insisting that the United States will surpass its rivals and "outlast them all" in a push for global weapons dominance, NBC News reported.
"Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all," Trump said in a statement to "Morning Joe" host Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC.
Trump's assertion comes a day after he tweeted that the United States "must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes."
But as the president-elect threatens to upend longstanding U.S. nonproliferation policy, spokesman Sean Spicer pushed back, saying Trump's comments were meant to send a general message of strength to countries like Russia and China rather than indicate the United States planned to build up its nuclear capabilities.
On NBC's "Today," Spicer said, "We're not going to sit back and watch other nations threaten our safety."
If Trump were to seek an expansion of the nuclear stockpiles, it would mark a sharp shift in U.S. national security policy. President Barack Obama has made nuclear nonproliferation a centerpiece of his agenda, calling in 2009 for the U.S. to lead efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons — a goal he acknowledged would not be accomplished quickly or easily.
Still, the U.S. has been moving forward on plans to upgrade its aging nuclear arsenal. Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the Pentagon planned to spend $108 billion over the next five years to sustain and improve its nuclear force.
The U.S. and Russia hold the vast majority of the world's nuclear weapons. In 2010, the two countries signed the New START treaty capping the number of nuclear warheads and missile launchers each country can possess. The agreement is in effect until 2021 and can be extended for another five years.
The state of the U.S. nuclear arsenal was rarely addressed during the presidential campaign. Trump's vanquished Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, repeatedly cast the Republican as too erratic and unpredictable to have control of the nation's nuclear arsenal.
The president-elect's transition website says he "recognizes the uniquely catastrophic threats posed by nuclear weapons and cyberattacks," adding that he will modernize the nuclear arsenal "to ensure it continues to be an effective deterrent."