Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Mad about MAD

During the so called "Cold War" – the war you're in when you're not in a hot war – the US and the Soviet Union maintained a "balance of terror", in which a nuclear attack by either would result in a devastating retaliatory attack. In short, a nuclear attack by one would result in the total destruction of both. This situation was sometimes referred to simply as MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction. MAD is thought to have prevented the Cold War going hot because the leaders of both the US and USSR were rational thinkers.

Columbia University's Kenneth N. Waltz thinks the rational thinking that prevented the US and USSR using nuclear weapons during the Cold War will also prevent nuclear wanna-bes like North Korea and Iran using nuclear weapons should they acquire them. Thus, Waltz is actually "for" such nations obtaining nuclear weapons:
But the eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons by those few countries that see fit to pursue them, that he's for. As he sees it, nuclear weapons prevent wars.

''The only thing a country can do with nuclear weapons is use them for a deterrent,'' Waltz told me. ''And that makes for internal stability, that makes for peace, and that makes for cautious behavior.''

Especially in a unipolar world, argues Waltz, the possession of nuclear deterrents by smaller nations can check the disruptive ambitions of a reckless superpower. As a result, in words Waltz wrote 10 years ago and has been reiterating ever since, ''The gradual spread of nuclear weapons is more to be welcomed than feared.''
Interesting theory. Kim and the mullahs haven't yet shown that they're irrational but I think it's a really bad idea to trust that they will always act rationally, especially if they back themselves into a corner. There's also the little matter of a nuclear state passing nuclear technology to another state or even to a non-state entity like al Qaeda.

All things considered, it's not a good idea for any new nations to be added to the nuclear club. Hell, the French are already enough of a worry.


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