MAD, not the juvenile magazine from the 1950s but, rather, the nihilistic notion of Mutual Assured Destruction, from the same era, which said that peace could be assured because the USA and the USSR could, with the flicks of a few switches, annihilate each other and, as collateral damage, make the planet a poisonous hell, is still with us, in a way.
The third article in a series of nine in a special report in The Economist on future wars suggests that MAD is under threat because, while “So far, the best argument for nuclear weapons has been that the fear of mutually assured destruction (MAD) has deterred states that possess them from going to war with each other. MAD rests on the principle of a secure second-strike capability, which means that even if one side is subjected to the most wide-ranging first strike conceivable, it will still have more than enough nuclear weapons left to destroy the aggressor. When warheads became accurate enough to obliterate most of an adversary’s missiles in their silos, America and Russia turned to submarines and mobile launchers to keep MAD viable … [but] … disruptive new technologies, worsening relations between Russia and America and a less cautious Russian leadership than in the cold war have raised fears that a new era of strategic instability may be approaching. James Miller, who was under-secretary of defence for policy at the Pentagon until 2014, thinks that the deployment of increasingly advanced cyber, space, missile-defence, long-range conventional strike and autonomous systems “has the potential to threaten both sides’ nuclear retaliatory strike capabilities, particularly their command-and-control apparatuses”, and that “the potential of a dispute leading to a crisis, of a crisis leading to a war, and of a war escalating rapidly” is growing.“
“Nuclear weapons, like the poor,” the article opines, “seem likely always to be with us … [because] … Even though arms-control agreements between America and the Soviet Union, and then Russia, have drastically reduced overall numbers, both countries are committed to costly long-term modernisation programmes for their strategic nuclear forces that should ensure their viability for the rest of the century … [thus, for example] … Russia is about halfway through recapitalising its strategic forces, which include a soon-to-be-deployed road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM); a new heavy ICBM; eight new ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs), most of which will be in service by 2020; upgraded heavy bombers; and a new stealth bomber able to carry hypersonic cruise missiles. America will replace every leg of its nuclear triad over the next 30 years, at an estimated cost of $1.2trn. There will be 12 new SSBNs; a new penetrating strike bomber, the B21; a replacement for the Minuteman III ICBMs; and a new long-range air-launched cruise missile. As Tom Plant, a nuclear expert at RUSI, a think-tank, puts it: “For both Russia and the US, nukes have retained their primacy. You only have to look at how they are spending their money.”“
“For now,” the article goes on to say, “the prospects of a successful disarming strike remain sufficiently remote to leave the strategic balance intact. Mr Miller argues that it would require a “fundamental transformation in the military-technological balance…enabled by the development and integration of novel military capabilities” to upset the balance … [but] … Ominously, he thinks that such a fundamental transformation may now be on the horizon, in the shape of conventional prompt global strike (CPGS) and new missile-defence systems. Both China and Russia fear that new American long-range non-nuclear strike capabilities could be used to deliver a disarming attack on a substantial part of their strategic forces or decapitate their nuclear command and control. Although they would still launch their surviving nuclear missiles, improved missile-defence systems would mop up most of the remainder before their warheads could do any damage … [but, again] … Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, reckons that for now those concerns are overblown. As much as anything, he says, they are talked up to restrain investment in the enabling technologies: “They [the Russians and the Chinese] are saying to the US, the trouble with you guys is that you never know when to stop.”” We must hope (never a really good course of action, especially if it’s the only one) that Michael Elleman is more prescient than James Miller.
Any war, even a small, local one started by miscalculation (see Future wars (2)) would be a human tragedy but a strategic nuclear exchange would be a global disaster.
There is not much Canada can do, besides using diplomacy and, for example, free(er) trade, to try to lower tensions between the USA, Russia and China, by binding them closer in talks and trade, and providing good intelligence to the “Five Eyes” pool so as to help minimize the risks of miscalculation by the USA. But those things can help, in their indirect way, to save MAD.