Back in the “good old days” of the Cold War, we had this little policy called “Mutually Assured Destruction” which said that if country A initiated a first strike nuclear attack, country b would retaliate on a massive scale with its nuclear arsenal in a “second strike”. Many strategies evolved to maneuver us around this policy, like detent, flexible response, and eventually the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (I and II).
Now we know that the Bi-Polar world has melted away, and new centers of gravity are rising across the globe, and many of them are equipping themselves with their own nuclear arsenal, and have not considered (or perhaps do not have the capacity) the implications of MAD in today’s world. India and Pakistan both went nuclear as a defensive measure (yes, nuclear missiles are defensive weapons, as opposed to things like tanks and cruise missiles that are offensive weapons.) Israel acquired its nuke for the purposes of defense, and other countries like France, U.K., and China went nuclear not so much for defense, but to raise their stature on the world scene and cement their power in the region.
Russia’s nuke program isn’t much of a threat to us nowadays, and the Russians realize it, which is why I found this article very interesting:
MOSCOW – The cold-war paradigm of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) between the US and Russia never really went away, and experts warn of a replay of the old superpower arms race.
“There are many nuclear-armed countries in the world, but only Russia and the US have this MAD relationship, in which each sees it as necessary to maintain the means to deter the other,” says Dmitri Suslov, an analyst with the independent Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow. “We need to get away from that, to find a new basis of stability, but I’m afraid we’re not going in that direction right now.”
An article in the current issue of US journal “Foreign Affairs” rang alarm bells in Moscow this month. “The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy” argues that the deterioration of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, coupled with recent US technology breakthroughs, means Russia can no longer count on deterring the US with its nuclear capabilities.
The authors, American professors Kier Lieber and Daryl Press, say Russia’s fraying radar and satellite systems “would give Russian leaders at most a few minutes of warning before American weapons destroyed Russia’s retaliatory forces.” By contrast, they say, the US is actively modernizing its nuclear arsenal with stealthy and highly accurate new weaponry. “Unless they reverse course rapidly, Russia’s vulnerability will only increase over time,” the authors say.
While Russian experts concede there’s truth in the article, the reaction to it in Russian security circles was “very nervous,” says Mr. Suslov.
“Many people think it’s not a coincidence, that such an article was ‘ordered’ by someone,” he explains. “At the very least, this article has postponed any chance of talking about removing the MAD framework from our relations with the US.”
This is framing things in a Bi-Polar fashion, and playing up (too much I think) the threat of a US attack on Russia. But is also cuts to the heart of a new issue: Iran. Russia no longer has the deterrent ability to prevent us from using nuclear weapons in any theatre –a huge change from the Cold War. If we went nuclear in any of the proxy wars we fought from 1949-1990, the Russians could have credibly retaliated –they no longer possess that advantage now, and it is making them nervous.