The White House announced a slew of nominations earlier this week to fill some of the many open positions in the administration. The last on the list was Guy B. Roberts, whom Trump tapped to be the assistant secretary for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs at the Department of Defense. In this role, Roberts will “prevent, protect against, and respond to weapons of mass destruction threats,” according to the DOD website. He’ll also advise the secretary of defense in “matters concerning nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs.”
Roberts has an extensive resume, including 25 years in the Marine Corps and a couple of nuclear weapon–related policy positions at NATO. He’s also a proponent of first-use nuclear policy. In a lengthy essay for The National Interest last year, he criticized President Barack Obama for considering banning the U.S. from launching nuclear weapons before others do. The piece, titled “America Must Be Ready To Nuke First,” argues that America must be first-use to stave off Russian aggression:
While the Obama administration contemplates a no-first-use policy, the Russians threaten the opposite: first, to intimidate and coerce U.S. allies and partners; and second, as part of a strategy of escalation, to de-escalate (that is, less apt to provoke a nuclear response and more conducive to war termination than second use). Russian military doctrine explicitly states that Russia would consider using nuclear weapons in response to “conventional aggression” if it endangers the existence of the state, and recent Russian exercises demonstrate Russia’s intent to use nuclear weapons first in a conventional conflict.
Roberts’s position likely won’t allay some experts’ fears that the unpredictable president has his “finger on the button” of America’s nuclear arsenal. During the campaign, Trump took a terrifyingly casual attitude toward nukes, saying America should “greatly strengthen and expand” its capability. Two Democratic senators introduced a bill this year that would essentially pry the nuclear football out of Trump’s hands by mandating that America can never launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike. But unlike other countries, the U.S. has always kept the option of first-use on the table. If that hasn’t changed under less hawkish presidents, it almost certainly won’t change under Trump.