Tough Lessons: Advice for the Next President

December 3, 2019

East Asia Nonproliferation Director Jeffrey Lewis had a stark suggestion on how much money the next president should take out of the nuclear modernization budget, currently set at roughly $2 trillion over the next three decades.

“Every little bit,” he said. “Zero it.”

Jeffrey Lewis (src:

Jeffrey Lewis (src:

“And everyone says, ‘Oh my God, people will think we’re weak on security,” Lewis followed. “No, they won’t. They will love you. If a president stood up and said, ‘Yeah I zeroed it out. Sure, my actual number is higher than that, but these are negotiations. Have you ever done a negotiation before?’ People will love it.”

Lewis joined Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione on the podcast Press the Button for a wide-ranging discussion on national security, presidential authority, and how the next occupant of the White House should tackle nuclear policy issues.

His first piece of advice: campaign platforms matter, but more important is putting the right people in the right places after the election.

Case in point: the Obama transition. “Somehow we went from a situation where we had a campaign that was incredibly progressive,” Lewis explained, “to having a team in place at [the Department of Defense] who was writing the nuclear posture review.”

“Democrats have this kind of fear that maybe we aren’t tough and maybe the Republicans really are right about these things,” Lewis continued. “And I think that builds, because you see a lot of people come up through the ranks – they are far more worried about being attacked from the Right than they are about being attacked from the Left.”

Lewis’ next piece of advice: “change our declaratory policy about the situations in which we would use nuclear weapons.” In other words, declare a policy of No First Use.

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