Power and Madness: The Logic of Nuclear Coercion

By Edward Rhodes | Go to book overview
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7
COERCION AND CONTINGENTLY IRRATIONAL BEHAVIOR

WE HAVE argued that nuclear deterrence of less than all-out attacks on the United States and of aggression against U.S. allies rests on the existence of a commitment-through- irrationality to the probabilistic execution of punishment. We have described the current U.S. deterrence posture in terms of a probabilistic organizational Doomsday Machine. This conceputalization has both positive and normative implications. It allows us to understand the factors that give the United States political leverage from the possession of the secrets of atomic fission and fusion. It also allows us to identify the critical trade-offs facing policymakers in fine-tuning an organizational Doomsday Machine that cannot--at least so long as mutual assured destruction capabilities and the potential for irrational action exist--be completely eliminated.

To understand the workings of an organizational Doomsday Machine, it is necessary to return to our ideas about irrationality and irrational behavior. Since the idea of a Doomsday Machine is that doomsday, or the probabilistic infliction of doomsday, is contingent on the opponent's unacceptable behavior, it is necessary to think through the logic of contingently irrational behavior. Four topics need to be addressed. First, we must explore the concept of contingently irrational behavior and its relationship to irrational decision-making processes. Second--in the same way we examined the possible types of irrationality in chapter 2--we must examine the possible types of contingently irrational behavior. Third, we must investigate the potential causes of contingently irrational behavior and determine both which of these possible causes explain the existence of a probabilistic

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