When Mutually Assured Destruction is No Longer Mutually Assured

With the continuing crisis in Crimea and the subsequent falling out of relations between Russian and the United States, there is talk of the world heading back into a state of Cold War. As demonstrated by the blatantly premeditated invasion and annexation of Crimea, Russia has been planning and preparing for quite some time for its return to the world stage. With the continuing modernization of Russia’s military and the flexing of its rediscovered muscle in Europe, the United States finds itself once again facing the very real possibility of major conflict breaking out in Europe. After nearly 13 years of constant warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan and the hardships brought about by the Great Recession, the last thing the United States needs is a ground war in Europe, no matter the size. Furthermore, America’s European allies in NATO have allowed themselves to fall short of their commitment to the organization’s mutual defense with only the U.S. , Greece, and Britain fulfilling their commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defense.  The fact of the matter is that NATO is simply not capable of executing and winning a protracted ground war in Europe without the U.S. disproportionately bearing the brunt of the burden.

Additionally, any conflict in Europe would be truly catastrophic for the continent and the world. One need only look at history to see the tragedy of warfare between industrialized countries. With close to 100 million casualties between World War I and II, we can only hope that something such as this does not happen again.

Recently a Kremlin backed journalist kindly reminded the United States that

“Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash. 

Surprisingly I find much solace in this statement. Since the end of WWII the threat of MAD (mutually assured destruction) has kept the world powers from engaging in combat with each other. While there have been numerous wars with countless casualties, the reality is that this nuclear deterrent has kept wide scale industrialized warfare off the table and thus the catastrophic consequences of this have not been experienced.

However, with the new situation in Europe, the United States has begun to posture itself to better defend its allies and in the process calm their nerves. With the announcement of NATO military exercises, the deployment of additional combat aircraft, and the increase in AWAC (Airborne Warning and Control System)  patrols over Poland, the United States is signifying to Russia and the world that Europe is still a priority and any attempt to violate the territorial integrity of NATO members will not be tolerated.

Fortunately I believe that Russian intentions stop at Eastern Ukraine. Putin understands the significance of the nuclear deterrent and will not risk a conflict with the United States while the nuclear option is still viable. Unfortunately for the stability of the world, the days of this nuclear deterrent might be numbered. In addition to more military assets being sent to NATO countries, the U.S. is also deploying, or finalizing plans to deploy missile defense systems to Europe.  Already, Poland has agreed to the deployment of Patriot Missile systems within their territory by 2018, with Denmark and numerous nations in the Balkans also signaling interest. While technology currently limits these systems to combating short range missiles as well as low saturation ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) attacks, there will come a day, sooner rather than later, when the threat of a missile attack will be entirely neutralized. Technology will reach the point in which the success of a nuclear missile attack will be so negligible that the deterrent will no longer hold.

For the better part of seventy years this deterrent is the only thing that has kept the world from experiencing industrialized warfare as seen in WWI and II. With its absence states such as Russia will be emboldened to embark in operations such as the one in Crimea. Russia has already stated interest in “protecting ethnic Russians” in NATO member states such as Lithuania,  Latvia, and Estonia, and with the absence of the nuclear deterrent they might risk a conflict in the future. Regardless of the belligerents, full-scale war between any great power would be catastrophic. Millions would die and countless others would be wounded or displaced. Furthermore, the economic impacts of such a conflict would be far reaching and take significant resources and time to correct. The United States is looking to missile defense to make its allies and itself feel more secure, however the deeper implications are contrary to this goal. Defense officials will have to chose; the risk of nuclear annihilation or the return of global industrialized warfare. No choice is ideal, but I believe the right one is clear. Nuclear weapons have given humanity the ability to end itself at the push of a button, but they have also ushered in an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity the world over. I would take the small risk of nuclear annihilation any day over millions of young men and women slugging it out over the trifles of men far removed from the battlefield.

4N Policy Now is a non- partisan, non-biased organization. All of the views expressed in the content published on this site are the sole opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of 4N Policy Now.

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One response to “When Mutually Assured Destruction is No Longer Mutually Assured

  1. First, I think your belief that eventually nuclear weapons will become obsolete is a bit premature. The United States started research in anti-ballistic missiles in 1983 with S.D.I. and while we have made some progress we are not close to shooting down ICBMs (as you point out). Further, even if we reach the point where we are capable of shooting down ICBMs why would this necessarily remove MAD? Nearly all of our technology relies on computers, and cyberwarfare developments could make all weapons ineffective in combat, including ICBMs AND missile defense systems. Finally, Sir John Keegan proposed the idea that even conventional weapons have grown to the point that it is economically too dangerous to engage in warfare between modern industrialized states. Who is to say that even if nuclear weapons become obsolete that conventional weapons will not replace them?

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