- Throughout 2018, President Donald Trump and top officials in his administration stoked fears of impending military or nuclear action.
- By Twitter, interviews, or statements, the Trump administration threatened North Korea, Syria, Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia with military action.
- The administration was even held in violation of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as a result of some of the president’s threats, delivered via tweet.
In his first two years in office, President Donald Trump has become known as a mercurial head of state.
The president frequently takes to Twitter to lash out against perceived enemies and defend his own decisions. He’s also taken to using this platform and many others to threaten violence.
Although he has followed up on only some of these threats, in October a nuclear watchdog released a report that held some of his nuclear-based threats as violations of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
We’ve assembled nine instances where Trump or members of his administration have threatened to use military force against other countries this year.
1. Trump rang in the new year with a nuclear button-measuring contest with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — which was widely viewed as an actual nuclear threat.
To be fair, Kim Jong Un started it when he said a nuclear button is “always on my desk.”
Trump tweeted in response: “Will someone from [Jong Un’s] depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
These types of threats have been evaluated as violations of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. A nuclear watchdog reported in October that North Korea, Russia, and the United States are the only three countries in the world who have repeatedly threatened to use nuclear force, and have cited Trump’s tweeted statements as examples.
2. In another tweet, Trump warned “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price … to pay”
Trump made the threat on April 8, after a suspected chemical attack against civilians in Douma, Syria.
Days later, the US launched more than 118 missiles in response to the attack.
3. Of plans to denuclearize North Korea, National Security Advisor John Bolton said, “I think we’re looking at the Libya model of 2003, 2004.”
Many took the reference as a direct threat, as the Libyan revolution toppled former leader Muammar Gaddafi, whose violent death at the hands of rebel fighters was captured on video.
Trump and the North Korean regime would ultimately sit-down for peace talks in June that thawed the tensions between the historic enemies.
4. Vice President Mike Pence later repeated the “Libya model” comparison in an interview, reigniting fears about US-North Korean relations
“As the president made clear, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal,” he told Fox News in the interview.
When asked if it was a threat, he responded, “Well, I think it’s more of a fact.”
5. Trump seemed to issue a nuclear threat in a tweet addressed to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
“To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE,” Trump tweeted in July.
The tweet was part of an exchange with Rouhani, who reportedly addressed the US president: “Mr. Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this will only lead to regret,” Reuters reported.
Rouhani also stated that “war with Iran would be the mother of all wars.”
6. In September, Bolton threatened that another chemical attack in Syria would elicit a “much stronger response” by US forces
The security advisor was referring to two previous US-launched air strikes against the Assad regime.
7. Pence addressed Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro at the General Assembly after reports surfaced that the South American leader had moved his troops to the Colombian border.
“News reports today that the Maduro regime moved military troops to the border of Colombia – an obvious effort of intimidation. Let me be clear: the USA will always stand with our allies. The Maduro regime would do well not to test the resolve of @POTUS or the American people,” Pence tweeted.
8. The next day, Trump told reporters “What’s happening in Venezuela is a disgrace. All options are on the table.”
Trump told reporters at the UN General Assembly that he was still considering “all options” for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
“And you know what I mean by strong,” he said.
These exchanges are not the first instances of threats of military force against Maduro. A year prior, Trump said that “a military operation is certainly something we could pursue.”
9. Nikki Haley used Trump’s rhetoric and mercurial temperament as a tool to threaten the UN to take a harder stance against North Korea.
When it came to Trump’s threats, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told NBC News she would use them as leverage during deliberations.
“I’d go back to the ambassadors and say: ‘You know, he’s pretty upset. I can’t promise you what he’s going to do or not,'”she said in the interview.
While much of Trump’s rhetoric centered around trade and sanctions, he has commonly threatened – implicitly or explicitly – military or even nuclear force. Haley did not specify in her interview which was more powerful leverage.
“I was trying to get the job done,” she said. “And I got the job done.”
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