Have you ever wondered why we haven’t all just been blown up by now? I mean, there’s no debate; we could almost certainly do it. H*ll, America alone could do a decent job wiping out humanity, and when you throw in the Russian nuclear forces as well as nuclear weapons from China, it’s easy to see a variety of doomsday scenarios that all end in total global annihilation. Nuclear war has been avoided since we figured out that it was a possibility, and because of this, we’re still able to enjoy life on the 3rd rock from the Sun. There are a variety of concepts that go into this that all boil down to a universal belief that nobody is likely to launch a nuclear strike because they don’t want the sentiment returned. Welcome to the idea of mutually assured destruction (MAD), one of the only reasons you’re alive to read these words today.
What Is Mutually Assured Destruction?
The cold comfort of mutually assured destruction still exists well beyond the Cold War. MAD is an extension of the practice known as nuclear deterrence. Everything boils down to the idea that because different nations can launch nuclear weapons, other nations who might do so don’t because at that point, people have nothing to lose, and we’re all going down.
An example of MAD would be if Russia were to launch a nuke toward the United States. As soon as they do that and we confirm it, the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Nuclear Triad will respond with interceptors and offensive nuclear strikes of our own. This, in turn, will cause Russian forces to respond with, yes, you guessed it, more nuclear strikes, which will, in turn, cause the U.S. to respond with even more nuclear strikes, leading to… well, you get the idea. It’s a vicious cycle, and as bad as that is, it’s not the only thing to consider.
Let’s say a nuclear weapon was launched from a nuclear world power toward a non-Nuclear State. No MAD, right? Wrong. There are many different treaties in place that go well beyond the idea that America is playing world police. An obvious example would be a strike from North Korea that would hit South Korea. Even taking out the idea that thousands of U.S. troops would be killed, America would surely respond, as it continues to position itself as a country that can protect the nation from nuclear war. This could, in turn, invoke China, which still deals with North Korea, into firing its own weapons and so on and so forth.
NATO is a huge example of treaties with 30 member nations all pledged to enter a war should one of the nations be attacked. A nuclear strike? It would be chaos no matter who fired the first shot. While there are only three NATO countries with nuclear capabilities, the U.S., the U.K., and France, the chain of events would pit a huge range of nations against each other, with MAD being a very real possibility.
Nuclear Deterrence Prevents MAD
Nuclear mutually assured destruction is avoided, ironically, by the one thing that makes it even a possibility: nuclear weapons. The practice of nuclear deterrence is focused on the idea that nobody is going to shoot off any nukes because they know that we have them and can do the same. There’s no world to conquer if there’s no world left, and MAD would surely bring about the end for all parties involved.
While there is some debate, the Nuclear States having a stockpile of nuclear weapons ready to strike is exactly what keeps nuclear war off of the table. There’ve been concerns about the appropriate actions that should take place should a smaller nuclear device be used, but either way, all nuclear strikes are generally avoided due to the fear of retaliation.
Here’s To Never Seeing a Mutually Assured Destruction Counterattack
Seen by many as a relic of the Cold War, make no mistake, MAD is still a very important concept that affects military strategy today. The need for such massive stockpiles may not always be necessary, but the amount of time, intel, and development invested by many nations, especially the U.S., to help deter, identify, and intercept nuclear weapons is clearly noted.
Maintaining America’s nuclear deterrent forces is empowering the possibility of mutually assured destruction as a direct consequence of crossing the line. Let’s hope we continue to solve our problems without such explosive devices and rely on diplomacy over nuclear weapons to settle disagreements.
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