Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Let's Not Forget MAD, Shall We?

August 9th 1945 saw the one of the most horrific days in modern history as the second, and last nuclear attack was carried out. In an instant the lives of over 70,000 people were effectively wiped from the planet.

And so was born two historically prominent phenomena. One, the Cold War as the US was catapulted to superpower status and it's previous ally, the Soviet Union, found itself in the position of superpower rival. Two, the aversion of what would very likely have been WWIII as the Soviets engaged an expansionist ideology very much not to the liking of the US or European allies.

Despite the horror that the consecutive (and only) nuclear attacks on Japan wrought, the world resumed a period of peace. One could state that nearly 1/4 million Japanese were effectively erased from existence and saved human kind from themselves. However horrific Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, both slammed home the reality of nuclear armament in a fashion that theoretical saber rattling could not. It's one thing to produce an impressive mushroom cloud in the Nevada desert. Quite another to wipe large cities off the map.

Given this reality, both major belligerents of the cold war were very well aware that a tit for tat nuclear engagement brought about mutually assured destruction, or an apt acronym, MAD. It is MAD that kept the peace between the two super powers. It is MAD that allows the US to not affect a similar ideological and political offensive against neither Pakistan nor India for their fairly recent and very public nuclear proliferation. Indeed, MAD can be arguably attributed to India and Pakistan not effectively having at it over the contested region of Kashmir. MAD has served to level the playing field regarding international conflict. John Robb refers to MAD as the "lost generation of warfare." I disagree, MAD was and is the first generation of Peace. The second being global economic connectivity, perhaps.

And now we see the American President Bush pushing for a missile defense initiative.

At first glance, such an initiative makes perfect sense. "Rogue" nations have either attempted or realized a want for a nuclear arsenal of their own. "Rogue" nations have at their heart a very anti-Western ideology and so must be either stopped from gaining nukes or mitigated after they've gained nukes. An international military initiative that presents an effective spiders web to intercept any ballistic aggression from said rogues seems very much the logical choice of action.

Until one considers the imbalance that said initiative throws into the classic peace of MAD. In effect such an initiative invites an escalation in place of the old comfort of MAD. It displaces the mutual international understanding that I can very well wreck you but I won't 'cos you'd wreck me in return.

I won't delve into the logistics said missile defense system entails and how it has been found to be wanting. In short, Americans are incredibly good at perfecting even the most far fetched, error prone yet well funded military projects. Toss enough money and thought at anything and we'll make it work.

The essence is that this initiative creates an imbalance in the field of MAD. Should America realize a fully functional missile defense we'll invite yet another chapter of the Cold War as Russia and China (even India) react and build upon what they see as potential American one upsmanship in the nuclear realm.

It's painful to think that the obliteration that occurred in the last and only two cases of nuclear attack should, eventually, amount to nothing as we ignore both history and the world around us.


Curtis Gale Weeks said...

John Robb refers to MAD as the "lost generation of warfare." I disagree, MAD was and is the first generation of Peace.

Arguably, the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki could be called the dawn of 4GW. MAD would require indirect means for engaging in conflict, including the use of proxy warfare. The Cold War could be seen as the very first tentative steps of 4GW.

I wonder if the current debates concerning the whole arena of nuclear warfare (including ZenPundit's frequent explorations, as well as GWB's current efforts) could be seen as a sign of the ending of a predominantly 4GW mindset and the beginning of a 5GW mindset. The full scope of how this transition plays out is still to be determined. MAD may continue to be operative in a limited context while proving useless as the major guiding principle or determining factor in global conflict.

Adrian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adrian said...

Here's a fun missile defense game you can play.

Also, MAD did not begin with the Cold War, it developed later. There were considerations of whether or not to demand the USSR exit eastern Europe upon the pain of nuclear warfare (rollback instead of containment), but American strategists decided that, as of 1950-ish, the atomic bomb was not a "war-winning weapon" as nobody had enough of them. MAD could only develop once both the USA and USSR had convincing second-strike capability, requiring both numbers of warheads and reliability of delivery vehicle (i.e. once ICBMs worked, maybe 1960?). This means that something else prevented the Cold War from turning hot before the advent of MAD.

Here's a chart of who had how many nukes when.

Adrian said...

Argh, I keep screwing up the links. This is the missile defense game:


Jay@Soob said...


"The full scope of how this transition plays out is still to be determined. MAD may continue to be operative in a limited context while proving useless as the major guiding principle or determining factor in global conflict."

Here's to hoping you're wrong! That kind of future with the continued existance of nuclear weapons seems a bit dodgy, to say the least. Sadly, I suspect you're right, be it within the realm of non-conventional tension or conflict or even in regards to the painful residual Cold Warrior quicksand that afflicts American policy, both foreign and domestic.

That, my friend, is not good news.

Adrian, thanks for the further exploration of MAD, especially the break down of armament. As for the game, I played the first (and politically benign) form back in the mid eighties on my Atari. Funny, never the less.

Jay@Soob said...

Ah, and no worries about the link difficulty. I've had similar tomato soup sandwiches here at my own blog.

Adrian said...

Tomato soup sandwhich... guacamole bath... you 700-year-old Mongolian warriors are a strange breed.