Writing recently in the Wall Street Journal, former cabinet secretaries Shultz, Perry, and Kissinger, along with former Senator Nunn, called for a reconfiguration of nuclear deterrence policies, arguing that in an age of nuclear proliferation the doctrine of “mutual assured destruction” (MAD) was obsolete. The doctrine has been the centerpiece of nuclear deterrence since the 1960s and was codified in the 1970s ABM Treaty. Even though the second President Bush withdrew from the treaty after 9/11, the MAD doctrine remains firmly in place.
Briefly, the doctrine of mutual assured destruction originally allowed the former USSR and the U.S. to arm themselves with nuclear weapons, provided they did not exceed certain limits. Purpose: to give each side enough weapons to destroy each other — so that a “balance of terror” was effected, on the theory that neither side would be irrational enough to kill each other off.
To make it work, neither side was to provide for any direct defenses of its own population. Needless to say, the good old USA played it straight. No missile defense. The USSR was a bit more cagey.
That’s history now. But, with more than a dozen different nations now moving to arm themselves with nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, the idea of holding populations hostage to an aggressor’s weapons is even more irrational now than it was thirty years ago. The four authors of the essay seem to agree.
Or do they? They call for America retaining “a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear stockpile primarily to deter a nuclear attack […].” (That’s a good thing.)
But other than that, it appears about all the authors come up with in rounding out their suggestions to eliminate MAD is to strengthen international cooperation. Negotiations are needed, they say, to encourage nuclear-inclined proliferators to give up the notion — presumably by adjudicating whatever regional gripes they have through some international regime, which is not specified. In fact, no specifics are given concerning “cooperation” or “negotiation,” including the call for a mutual U.S.-Russian “build-down” that the world — presumably including China — should follow.
To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, one dog is not barking: missile defense. The irony here is that these national leaders who decry MAD as a relic of the Cold War are the very ones to keep MAD in play by denying the need for missile defense.
Some observations are in order.
MAD has never been anything more than a dangerous half-loaf of what the nation needs to protect itself. The other half — missile defense — has never been anything, not even a respectable crumb.
For these true believers about the dangers of growing proliferation, not even to mention anything about the effective defenses needed to deter would-be attackers calls into question just how serious they are. The very blatancy with which the matter is ignored by the authors suggests an element of contempt toward the 60 percent or so of Americans who do care about missile defense and are worried about it.
This is a sad thing, for these distinguished gentlemen have long been regarded and trusted as part of the mainstream of American policymakers. Whether they realize it or not, they have sold the American people short in three ways:
- First, not respecting their right to be defended as the Constitution clearly states;
- Second, taking a serious subject and ignoring it as a non-subject that further suggests that it is non-worthy of the elitists’ attention, implying that only the lesser and unwashed worry about such mundane things; and
- Finally, trivializing the notion that defending yourself is the thing to do when someone bad can come at you with a weapon — rather than appeasing him to go away, which seems to be the reigning conventional wisdom of the day.
Sometimes populism isn’t all that bad, especially if it involves defending hearth and home when you’re unable to climb into a jet and fly away to safety.
Perhaps if some of our elitists were to listen more carefully…
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