September 27, 2016

CNAS Press Note: The Debate and Nuclear Weapons

Washington, September 27 – After both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agreed nuclear weapons were the preeminent threat to the United States during last night’s debate, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Robert M. Gates Senior Fellow Elbridge Colby has written a new Press Note, “The Debate and Nuclear Weapons.”

The full Press Note is below:

At last night’s debate, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton agreed on almost nothing. But one thing they did agree about was that nuclear weapons are the preeminent threat to the United States.

This is basically right. The United States faces a major and persisting threat from radical Islamic terrorism. If ISIS or a group like it got its hands on a functioning nuclear weapon and could put it to use, the consequences would be disastrous, well beyond what the United States has already painfully experienced.

At the same time, the United States faces growing challenges from Russia and China, which are pressing against U.S. interests and allies in Eastern Europe and the Western Pacific, respectively. Both of these states boast formidable conventional forces as well as an array of “hybrid” capabilities like “little green men” and maritime militia. But what makes deterring them especially challenging is the combination of these capabilities with survivable nuclear arsenals – that is, nuclear forces that could hit the United States likely no matter what it does. This is making thinking about nuclear weapons and nuclear escalation more and more important for the Pentagon and the U.S. government more broadly.

Last night’s debate did not offer any solutions to these tough problems, but it did highlight them.


Colby is available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at or 202-457-9409.


  • Elbridge Colby