President Bush's push for missile defenses would change - but not
eliminate - the "theology" of nuclear standoff with which the United
States has calculated its national security ever since the Soviet
Union acquired its own atomic arsenal some 40 years ago.
In his speech last week at the National Defense University, Mr.
Bush referred to mutually assured destruction (MAD), the basic
tenet of this theology, as a grim relic of another era. His
implication: In a defense-dominated nuclear world, MAD would be as
obsolete as bomb shelters, civil defense sirens, and the cold war
Maybe some day. The hard reality of the situation is that, absent
a perfect shield, the logic of MAD will remain an integral part of
strategic arithmetic. Bush, as so many presidents before him, will
be forced to grabble with the difficult moral realization that the
safety of the US populace depends at least in part on allowing them
to remain vulnerable to Armageddon.
Under the administration's plan "we're downsizing MAD, but we're
not casting it aside," says Michael Krepon, a senior security
analyst at the Stimson Center in Washington.
The MAD theory has its roots in the early 1960s, when US
officials first struggled with the notion that nuclear weapons were
far more than just extra-powerful regular bombs. The catastrophic
damage that would be caused by even one thermonuclear weapon meant
that war plans needed to focus not on the best way to fight nuclear
war, but on the best way to prevent it from ever beginning.
The Pentagon first moved to adopt "assured destruction" as its
strategy during the tenure of Robert McNamara, Lyndon Johnson's
secretary of Defense. The concept was simple: The US and the Soviet
Union would never attack one another with nuclear weapons if both
realized that, if they did so, they would inevitably be struck with
a devastating strike in return.
It took a nuclear theorist from outside the government, Donald
Brennan of the Hudson Institute, to publicize the ethical
difficulties of this position. He slapped "mutual" on "assured
destruction", coining the acronym MAD, and pronounced himself
opposed to living under a nuclear sword of Damocles.
"We should not deliberately create a system in which millions of
innocent civilians would, by intention, be exterminated in a failure
of the system," he wrote.
Popular culture satirized MAD as a mutual suicide pact, most
notably in Stanley Kubrick's film "Dr. Strangelove."
But Strangelovian or not, MAD remains the foundation of the way
the US regards nuclear weapons today. …