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*-- Trump tweet to 'expand' U.S. nuclear muscle worrisome to security experts, critics --*

WASHINGTON - President-elect Donald Trump was on the receiving end of severe criticism for one of his tweets Thursday -- yet again -- this time for saying the United States should seriously beef up its nuclear capabilities.

The president in-waiting triggered an avalanche of alarm with the tweet, which was posted Thursday morning.

"The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability," it said, "until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes."

Since he entered the race for president last year, Trump has been roundly criticized for letting loose on a number of unchecked opinions on Twitter involving several issues. Thursday's remark touched a nerve with policy experts and citizens -- many of whom worried during the campaign what Trump might do if given the country's nuclear codes.

Democrat Hillary Clinton repeatedly posed that question at some of her rallies, asking voters to think about the controversial billionaire's finger poised on the nuclear button.

Trump's remark Thursday, which was also posted to his Facebook page, persuaded many people to revisit that scenario.

"Can a tweet start an arms race?," Joseph Cirincione, president of the nuclear nonproliferation Ploughshares Fund, asked in an interview with CNN Thursday. "We may be seeing that in this case."

"This is not the way to make serious policy," he added. "What are the Chinese thinking at this point? These are the kind of implications you have to consider before you tweet."

Advocating the expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal appears to fly in the face of what American presidents have tried to accomplish for the past five decades -- beginning with the SALT I treaty in 1972 under President Richard Nixon and culminated with President Barack Obama's New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) less than six years ago.

The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016

Trump's tweet didn't make it entirely clear what he meant, but it sounded a loud alarm for critics worried he might adopt an aggressively hawkish military and foreign policy stance.

The president-elect's communications director, Jason Miller, attempted to clarify the tweet later Thursday, saying Trump meant the United States must boost nuclear capability as a form of deterrence, which he said is a "vital way to pursue peace through strength."

"The campaign clarification just confuses the matter," Cirincione said.

Supporters pointed out that Russian President Vladimir Putin made similar remarks during a speech Thursday, thereby making Trump's message a somewhat appropriate response to potential aggression by Moscow. Most, however, don't agree.

"They weren't warranted," former U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson said of Trump's tweeted remarks. "What we now have is foreign policy by tweet."

"When Russia and the United States, who have 95 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world, both start talking at the same time about strengthening, expanding nuclear capability, that's a message to other countries -- 'start your engines,'" Cirincione added. "What's India thinking? What's Pakistan thinking? That's the trouble when you try to make foreign policy, one, when you're not president yet, two, while you're not getting daily intelligence briefings, and three, when you rely more on Twitter than on thoughtful, articulated and fully-vetted articles and speeches."

Trump's Twitter activity continues to galvanize opponents and worry skeptics. The president-elect has been endlessly slammed for resisting a more measured and diplomatic communications approach on social media -- motivating his most vocal opponents to restate their belief that Trump's continued Twitter gaffes only support the idea that he's unfit for the White House.

"Expanding our nuclear weapons program is how we got into this mess in the first place," one Twitter user said in a reply to Trump's post. "You are going to get us all killed."

"The only good thing about his tweets is advanced notice of impending doom and stupidity," said another.


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