Sunday, April 8, 2007

To Nuke or Not to Nuke: Some Thoughts about MAD

During the Cold War the United States operated on what is generally referred to as MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). It was official US policy that if the Soviet Union took out a US city with a nuclear missile we would retaliate with nuclear missiles against Soviet cities. The idea behind this policy was that the leaders of the Soviet Union, as rational individuals, would not risk using nuclear weapons against us knowing that their actions would result in the annihilation of their own cities. Such a policy depended on our threat being believable. We were prepared to slaughter millions of Soviet civilians and the Soviets knew it. Dr. Strangelove aside, this policy worked. MAD created the circumstances in which no sane leader would ever resort to nuclear weapons.
I bring this topic up now as I wonder if the policy of MAD still applies today. If tomorrow New York City goes up in a mushroom cloud courtesy of Iran does that mean that we would nuke Tehran? What if Iran tried to use a nuclear weapon against us but failed; what then? What if a terrorist group used set off a nuclear bomb on US soil would we retaliate with nuclear weapons against every single country who aided this effort? More importantly then what we might actually do in such a situation is what our enemies believe we would do.
One has to ask is it moral to put MAD into actual practice? It is built around the concept of murdering millions of enemy civilians as an act of revenge. Nuking Iranian cities would not bring New York back. If we accept the logic of MAD then we should be consistent and apply it to other issues besides for nuclear weapons. If terrorists carry out attacks targeted against civilian populations then it should be morally acceptable to retaliate against the civilian population centers of the countries that aided the terrorists.
This would mean that we accept the notion that there is nothing inherently immoral about targeting civilians in war and that the only reason why one should not do so is that it would invited retaliations. I accept such a notion but I know that most people, even conservatives, do not.

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