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Mutual Assure Destruction

Topics: Nuclear weapon, Cold War, Nuclear warfare / Pages: 13 (3122 words) / Published: May 30th, 2013
Definition: Military theory of nuclear deterrence holding that neither side will attack the other if both sides are guaranteed to be totally destroyed in the conflict. The theory was developed during the Cold War, when the US, USSR and respective allies held nuclear weapons of such number and strength that they were capable of destroying the other side completely and threatened to do so if attacked. Proponents argued that the fear of MAD was the best way to secure peace, rather than threatening a limited nuclear exchange from which one side might hope to survive with an advantage, which might tempt some leaders. For long periods of the Cold War MAD entailed a relative lack of missile defenses so as to guarantee mutual destruction.
The fear of Mutually Assured Destruction helped prevent direct conflict.

military, US) mutual deterrence between countries possessing nuclear weapons, based on the capacity of each to inflict major damage on the other in response to a first strike
Example Sentences Including 'mutual assured destruction'
MAD, mutual assured destruction , was the name given to this doctrine that was designed to ensure peace.
Grenville, J. A. S. The Collins History of the World in the 20th Century
Some will point to Cold War history and conclude that a state of mutual assured destruction is better than war. mutual assured destruction
Severe, unavoidable reciprocal damage that superpowers are likely to inflict on each other or their allies in a nuclear war, conceived as the heart of a doctrine of nuclear deterrence.

The Nuclear Doctrine of MAD
When the atom was split, a Pandora's box was opened. This scientific advancement led to the development of the atomic bomb -- humankind had never before possessed such a destructive weapon. The United States was the first to successfully develop the atomic bomb and the first to show the bomb's level of devastation when it unleashed two on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan. Other nations scrambled to catch up; in the hands of just one country, this technology could arguably give that country control over the rest of the world.
Within eight years, the USSR had its own nuclear weapon -- the hydrogen bomb [source: Murray]. The ideological conflict between capitalism and communism sustained tensions between the U.S. and the USSR, and this prolonged conflict between the nations became known as the Cold War. From 1947 to 1991, the nations built up their nuclear arms, each expanding its arsenal in pace with the other. It was soon clear that both sides had built and stockpiled enough nuclear warheads that the U.S. and USSR could wipe out each other (and the rest of the world) several times over. They had reached nuclear parity, or a state of equally destructive capabilities.
As a result, the nuclear strategy doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) emerged in the mid-1960s. This doctrine was based upon the size of the countries' respective nuclear arsenals and their unwillingness to destroy civilization. MAD was unique at the time. Never before had two warring nations held the potential to erase humanity with the entry of a few computer codes and the turn of matching keys. Ironically, it was this powerful potential that guaranteed the world's safety: Nuclear capability was a deterrent against nuclear war.
Because the U.S. and the USSR both had enough nuclear missiles to clear each other from the map, neither side could strike first. A first strike guaranteed a retaliatory counterstrike from the other side. So launching an attack would be tantamount to suicide -- the first striking nation could be certain that its people would be annihilated, too.
The doctrine of MAD guided both sides toward deterrence of nuclear war. It could never be allowed to break out between the two nations. And it virtually guaranteed no conventional war would, either. Eventually, conventional tactics -- like non-nuclear missiles, tanks and troops -- would run out, and the inevitable conclusion of a nuclear strike would be reached. Since that end was deemed unacceptable by the Soviets and Americans, there was no chance of an engagement that could lead to this conclusion.
But MAD didn’t exactly create an atmosphere in which Soviet premiers and American presidents felt like they could shake hands and call the whole thing off. The nations had very little trust in each other -- and with good reason. Each side was steadily building its nuclear arsenal to remain an equal party in the MAD doctrine. A détente, or uneasy truce, developed between the U.S. and USSR. They were like two gunslinging foes, adrift alone in a life boat, each armed and unwilling to sleep.
So the situation had to be managed. On the next page, find out how nuclear proliferation was controlled.

Mutual Assured Destruction When the Soviet Union achieved nuclear parity with the United States, the Cold War had entered a new phase. The cold war became a conflict more dangerous and unmanageable than anything Americans had faced before. In the old cold war Americans had enjoyed superior nuclear force, an unchallenged economy, strong alliances, and a trusted Imperial President to direct his incredible power against the | | | Soviets. In the new cold war, however, Russian forces achieved nuclear equality. Each side could destroy the other many times. This fact was officially accepted in a military doctrine known as Mutual Assured Destruction, a.k.a. MAD. Mutual Assured Destruction began to emerge at the end of the Kennedy administration. MAD reflects the idea that one's population could best be protected by leaving it vulnerable so long as the other side faced comparable vulnerabilities. In short: Whoever shoots first, dies second. From MAD to SDI
MAD acctually acknowledged more than just nuclear parity. Both sides admitted their vulnerability and prepared early thinking on a concept that later became known as "Star Wars." As early as 1961 former secretary of defense Robert McNamara said: "If we could create an umbrella we would need it, no matter what it costs." In subsequent years, protecting strategic forces rather than the population appeared to be the morally wrong choice. When MAD lost its domestic credibility, the Reagan administration promised to work toward Mutual Assured Security (MAS) instead of relying on MAD. |

Mutual assured destruction

In the event, technological developments supported the second strike. Initially, long-range bombers had to be kept on continual alert to prevent them from being eliminated in a surprise attack. When ICBMs moved into full production in the early 1960s with such systems as the U.S. Titan and Minuteman I and the Soviet SS-7 and SS-8, they were placed in hardened underground silos so that it would require an unlikely direct hit to destroy them. Even less vulnerable were submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) such as the U.S. Polaris and the Soviet SS-N-5 and SS-N-6, which could take full advantage of the ocean expanses to hide from enemy attack.
Meanwhile, attempts to develop effective defenses against nuclear attack proved futile. The standards for antiaircraft defense in the nuclear age had to be much higher than for conventional air raids, since any penetration of the defensive screen would threaten the defender with catastrophe. Progress was made, using surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) such as the U.S. Nike series, in developing defenses against bombers, but the move to ICBMs, with their minimal warning time before impact, appeared to render the defensive task hopeless. Then, during the 1960s, advances in radars and long-range SAMs promised a breakthrough in antiballistic missile defense, but by the early 1970s these in turn had been countered by improvements in offensive missiles—notably multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIRVs), which could swamp any defenses. (The first MIRVed ICBMs were the U.S. Minuteman III and the Soviet SS-17.)
Measures of civil defense, which could offer little protection to the civilian populace against nuclear explosions and, at best, only some chance of avoiding exposure to nuclear fallout, also appeared hopeless in the face of the overwhelming destructive power being accumulated by both sides.
By the mid-1960s fears had eased of a technological arms race that might encourage either side to unleash a surprise attack. For the foreseeable future each side could eliminate the other as a modern industrial state. Robert McNamara, the U.S. secretary of defense for much of that decade, argued that so long as the two superpowers had confidence in their capacity for mutual assured destruction—an ability to impose “unacceptable damage,” defined as 25 percent of population and 50 percent of industry—the relationship between the two would be stable.
The need to maintain strategic stability influenced the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), which began in 1969 and became the centrepiece of Pres. Richard M. Nixon’s policy of détente with the Soviet Union. In 1972, with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the two sides agreed to ban nationwide antiballistic missile systems, thereby confirming the primacy of the offense. Attempts to consolidate the strategic standoff with a treaty limiting offensive weapons proved more difficult. (In 1972 only an interim freeze had been agreed upon.) The second round of talks was guided mainly by the concept of parity, by which a broad equality in destructive power would be confirmed. However, the difficulty in comparing the two nuclear arsenals, which differed in important respects, resulted in long and complex negotiations. A treaty called SALT II was agreed on in June 1979, but by this time détente was in decline, and it was dealt a final blow with the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan at the end of that year. In addition, the strategic underpinnings of arms control had been undermined by a growing dissatisfaction in the United States with the principles of mutual assured destruction
Fifty years ago this week the idea of mutually assured nuclear destruction was outlined in a major speech. But how did this frightening concept of the Cold War fade from people's psyches?
Today the notion of all-out nuclear war is rarely discussed. There are concerns about Iran and North Korea's nuclear programmes and fears that terrorists might get hold of a nuclear bomb.
But the fear of a war in which the aim is to wipe out the entire population of an enemy has startlingly diminished.
In 1962, the concept of mutually assured destruction started to play a major part in the defence policy of the US. President Kennedy's Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, set out in a speech to the American Bar Foundation a theory of flexible nuclear response.
In essence it meant stockpiling a huge nuclear arsenal. In the event of a Soviet attack the US would have enough nuclear firepower to survive a first wave of nuclear strikes and strike back. The response would be so massive that the enemy would suffer "assured destruction".
Thus the true philosophy of nuclear deterrence was established. If the other side knew that initiating a nuclear strike would also inevitably lead to their own destruction, they would be irrational to press the button.
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Arms race between Soviet Union/Russia and the US since 1962
warheads (000s)

The US line only includes warheads in the Department of Defense stockpile, which was declassified in May 2010. Several thousand additional retired but intact warheads are awaiting dismantling, probably 3,500-4,500 as of August 2010.
Source: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
October 1962

October 1962 Cuban missile crisis - US blockades Cuba after photos show Soviet missile bases being built there.
May 1972

May 1972 Salt 1 (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) is signed by Nixon and Brezhnev
March 1983

March 1983 Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars) is proposed by Reagan, threatening to alter the Cold War balance of power
December 1987

December 1987 Gorbachev and Reagan sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty
December 1991

December 1991 the Soviet Union formally breaks up, two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall
In the past, wars had been fought by defeating your opponent on the battlefield by superior use of force. But MAD was a radical departure that trumped the conventional view of war.
The age of MAD heralded a new fear, with citizens knowing that they could be annihilated within a matter of minutes at the touch of a button several thousands of miles away.
"The central thing was the public had no control," says Dr Christopher Laucht, a lecturer in British history at Leeds University. "You were at the mercy of political decision makers. Apart from the fear that one side would do something stupid, there was also the fear of technology and the question of 'what if an accident happened'."
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The arms race

* US dropped first atom bombs on Hiroshima on August 6 1945, and three days later on Nagasaki * Estimated death toll between 150,000 and 250,000 * It took the USSR until 1949 to explode their own test bomb * Resulting arms race peaked in 1986 with global nuclear warheads numbering more than 69,000 * Arms race ended in 1991 with fall of the USSR
Eight months after McNamara's speech the notion of MAD was almost put to the test by the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the end both superpowers gave ground and the problem was averted but mankind had never come so close to doomsday.
Following a period of Cold War detente in the 1970s, tension rose again in the 1980s. By this point the Soviet Union had many more warheads, and it was commonly said that there were enough nuclear arms on Earth to wipe the planet out several times.
The fear of impending attack became a part of everyday conversation. Children speculated in the playground about the first signs of a nuclear attack - hair and fingernails falling out - and whether one could survive a nuclear winter.
In 1983 there were a number of Russian false alarms. The Soviet Union's early warning system mistakenly picked up a US missile coming into USSR airspace. In the same year, Nato's military planning operation Able Archer led some Russian commanders to conclude that a Nato nuclear launch was imminent.
A string of films and TV series in the 1980s - from WarGames, Threads, and When the Wind Blows - reflected these fears.
On the set of Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Sometimes the black humour emanated from unlikely places. In 1984 President Ronald Reagan famously said in a radio soundcheck: "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."
Protesters in Khrushchev and Kennedy masks in 1962
The authorities tried to offer reassurance. In the UK a famous public information campaign Protect and Survive gave people advice on how to build a nuclear shelter. It was later satirised by When the Wind Blows, which portrayed an elderly couple building their shelter and perishing in the nuclear aftermath.
Two decades after the Cold War ended, there are still more than 17,000 nuclear warheads around the world, the majority still pointing back and forth between the US and Russia. But MAD as a public fear has disappeared.
"In the Cold War there was a small risk of utter nuclear catastrophe," says Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at Bradford University.
Today the risk is not so much armageddon but a "slippery slope" of proliferation, he says. North Korea is thought to have around 10 warheads, Rogers notes, while Iran is thought to be close to a nuclear bomb.
Some have speculated Saudi Arabia could follow if Iran succeeds and it's been suggested that Israel already has more than 100 warheads.
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The deterrent effect?
In the National Review, Clifford D May writes: "During the Cold War, the United States adopted a strategic doctrine called MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction. The logic behind it was both perverse and compelling: So long as we were vulnerable to missile attack by the Soviets, and so long as the Soviets were vulnerable to missile attack by us, neither side would benefit by attacking first - on the contrary, a devastating retaliation would be assured. Assuming that both we and the Soviets were rational, the result would be a stand-off, stability, and peaceful coexistence.
"Veterans of the Cold War, still influential in the foreign-policy establishment and the Obama administration, believe that if this kind of deterrence worked then, it can work now.
"Missile-defence advocates - I list myself among them - counter that MAD is an idea whose time has come and gone."
The most serious stand-off today is not the US and Russia but the prospect of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan in which "tens of millions would die", Rogers suggests. And the danger in any of these regional disputes is that the US and Russia get sucked in and what began as a war between two neighbours goes global.
"The fear of nuclear war has diminished partly because the risk has receded significantly with the end of the Cold War," says Nick Bostrom, director of Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute. "But another factor might be simple changes in risk fashion - it becoming more popular recently to worry about global warming, for example."
More immediate worries are terrorist attack, pandemic disease, and economic meltdown.
Robert Harris in his recent novel The Fear Index examined the modern anxiety that fuses the threat of powerful technology with unbridled financial markets.
The main character, who runs a hedge fund, remarks: "Fear is driving the world as never before... The rise in market volatility, in our opinion, is a function of digitalisation, which is exaggerating human mood swings by the unprecedented dissemination of information via the internet."
These are modern fears that John F Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, leading the superpowers at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, would struggle to comprehend.
But the end of the Cold War hasn't removed the nuclear warheads. Relations between Russia and the West have deteriorated in recent years. China, whose nuclear programme is little understood in the West, is doubling its military spending. India and Pakistan remains a potential flashpoint. So why don't people fear nuclear war as they used to?
For many analysts the world is now a less stable place than it was during the Cold War. And all the major geopolitical confrontations still revolve around nuclear weapons, says Dr Nick Ritchie, lecturer in international security at the University of York.
"At least several hundred American and Russian nuclear missiles remain on 'hard alert' capable of being launched within minutes. Even if that isn't necessarily the policy or intent, the systems and practices remain in place."

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