Fri. Sep 22nd, 2023
Dr. Burkhard Luber

The current nuclear deterrence strategy is based on the concept of “Security via Mutual Assured Destruction” (MAD). The pitfalls of this strategy are often overlooked, since people do not like “to think the unthinkable”, i.e. the catastrophe of a nuclear war. People do not imagine (or do not want to imagine) that a nuclear war can happen, because after Hiroshima no other nuclear bomb has been launched since 1945. Behind this thinking is the total but not guaranteed confidence that the deterrence rationale of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) holds “in eternity”.

So far the argument that MAD makes nuclear warfighting impossible, is based on the fact that both nuclear superpowers (US and Russia) have an assured nuclear 2nd strike capacity based on SLBMs (Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles) mounted on submarines which continuously navigate worldwide deep under the surface of the oceans and cannot destroyed completely and simultaneously. Since the nuclear destruction capacity of the SLBMs is so large, that in the case of a nuclear 1st strike of one country, they can make a 2nd nuclear counter strike which would destroy an immense amount of population, industry and surface of the other side which launched the 1st nuclear strike. Since both sides know that, they are therefore afraid to launch a nuclear 1st strike.

BUT: This mutual deterrence strategy is no absolute eternal guarantee that a nuclear war will never happen, because:

1) A nuclear war can happen by accident (wrong result of the perception devices, wrong interpretation in a period of international crisis of what the intention of the other side is), which so far luckily could be avoided in the period after 1945, but sometimes only in the very last moment.

2) MAD is no guarantee against lunatic behavior of politicians or military to press “the red button” in spite of being aware of the 2nd strike capacity of the other side.

3) The more nuclear arms are produced the higher the risk becomes, that enough of them might be stolen for example by terrorists to serve for severe blackmailing.

4) Military and politicians are unfortunately continuously thinking about the option, that they can start a nuclear war, fight it and finally even “won” it. Especially the tendency for miniaturization of nuclear weapons and their combination with AI (Artificial Intelligence) for warfighting IT-programs is a very dangerous development (cf

In this context one might remember the fatal reflection of the former US president Trump when he was informed about the US nuclear arsenal: “Why do we store all these nuclear weapons if we do not use them?”

Summarizing: The “success” of MAD so far is deceptive and in any case it is no guarantee that it spares humanity from a nuclear war in future.

More on that topic:

Chapter 11 “What lies ahead for the World” in the book by Jared Diamond Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis by Jared Diamond (

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