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Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll October 5, 2016

At debate, Mike Pence claims Trump never said more nations should have nuclear weapons

Throughout the Oct. 4 vice presidential debate, Democratic candidate Tim Kaine repeatedly baited his Republican opponent Mike Pence to defend Donald Trump’s controversial remarks.

In one instance, Kaine criticized Trump’s position on nuclear proliferation.

Kaine claimed Trump said "more nations should get nuclear weapons. Try to defend that."

Pence responded, "Well, he never said that, senator."

"He has absolutely said it," Kaine said. "Saudi Arabia. South Korea. Japan."

Trump’s stated positions on nuclear proliferation are often contradictory, so we decided to lay them out for you here.

But reading through these exchanges, it’s clear that Trump thinks it might not be such a bad thing if South Korea and Japan were to develop their own nuclear weapons, given the threat posed by North Korea.

"Mr. Trump has indicated that countries need to defend themselves and that nuclear weapons are an option that they have, but not that he supports them having those weapons," said Trump spokesman Steven Chung.

Here are some of Trump’s key comments about whether more countries should have nuclear weapons.

March 27, 2016

The New York Times asked Trump if he’d object to Japan or South Korea having nuclear weapons, given their proximity to North Korea.

Trump responded, "At some point, we cannot be the policeman of the world. And unfortunately, we have a nuclear world now. And you have, Pakistan has them. You have, probably, North Korea has them. ... And, would I rather have North Korea have them with Japan sitting there having them also? You may very well be better off if that’s the case. In other words, where Japan is defending itself against North Korea, which is a real problem."

He added later in the same interview: "If Japan had that nuclear threat, I’m not sure that would be a bad thing for us."

March 29, 2016

CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Trump, "If you're concerned about proliferation, letting other countries get nuclear weapons, isn't that proliferation?"

As part of a winding response, Trump said that he both opposes nuclear proliferation ("No, no, not proliferation. I hate nuclear more than any;" "I don't want more nuclear weapons") and supports some countries obtaining nuclear weapons for the first time.

"Wouldn't you rather in a certain sense have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons?" he asked Cooper.

Cooper also asked Trump: "Saudi Arabia, nuclear weapons?"

Trump: "Saudi Arabia, absolutely."

Cooper: "You would be fine with them having nuclear weapons?"

Trump: "No, not nuclear weapons, but they have to protect themselves, or they have to pay us."

April 3, 2016

Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace asked Trump, "You want to have a nuclear arms race on the Korean peninsula?"

Trump: "In many ways, and I say this, in many ways, the world is changing. Right now, you have Pakistan and you have North Korea and you have China and you have Russia and you have India and you have the United States and many other countries have nukes."  

Trump later added of Japan and South Korea, "Maybe they would be better off — including with nukes, yes, including with nukes."

May 4, 2016

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Trump, "You're ready to let Japan and South Korea become nuclear powers?"

Trump responded, "I am prepared to, if they're not going to take care of us properly, we cannot afford to be the military and police for the world."

Our ruling

Pence said Trump "never said" that more nations should get nuclear weapons.

Trump has said some countries, namely Japan and South Korea, might be "better off" if they were to develop nuclear weapons, given their proximity to North Korea.

However, he has also said — often in the same interview — that he opposes nuclear proliferation in general.

We rate Pence’s claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Vice presidential debate transcript, Oct. 4, 2016

New York Times, "Transcript: Donald Trump Expounds on His Foreign Policy Views," March 26, 2016

CNN, "Donald Trump, CNN Milwaukee Republican Presidential Town Hall," March 29, 2016

Fox, Fox News Sunday transcript, April 3, 2016

CNN, AC360 transcript, May 4, 2016

PolitiFact, "Hillary Clinton says Donald Trump argued U.S. should 'encourage' Japan to get nuclear weapons," June 6, 2016

PolitiFact, "Super PAC ad says Trump likes war, even nuclear, but that needs context," June 19, 2016

Email interview, Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin, Oct. 4, 2016

Email interview, Trump spokesman Steven Chung, Oct. 4, 2016

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Lauren Carroll

At debate, Mike Pence claims Trump never said more nations should have nuclear weapons

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