Mutual assured destruction and the ethical dilemmas that come with it.

Essay by cleonUniversity, Master'sA-, December 2003

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Mutual assured destruction or MAD is the doctrine of a situation in which any use of nuclear weapons by either of two opposing sides would result in the destruction of both the attacker and the defender. The doctrine assumes that each side has enough weaponry to destroy the other side and that either side, if attacked for any reason by the other, would retaliate with equal or greater force. The expected result is that the battle would escalate to the point where each side brought about the other total and assured destruction and potentially, those of allies as well. I would like to consider some of the moral questions surrounding mutual assured destruction. I shall try to present the moral dilemmas that arise, although it would be useless to try to conceal my own response to these dilemmas. Nuclear weapons are so uniquely powerful and destructive that the moral issues presented by them must be on the same vast scale.

MAD is a product of the 1950's US doctrine of massive retaliation, and despite attempts to redefine it in contemporary terms like flexible response and nuclear deterrence, it has remained the central theme of American defense planning for well over three decades. But, MAD was developed during a time of unreliable missile technology and was based on a mortal fear of Communism, by ignorance of unknown enemy that lurked behind the iron curtain. Times have changed. The primary application of this doctrine occurred during the cold war which was between the 1950's and 1990's between the United States and the Soviet Union. MAD was seen as a tool that helped to prevent any direct full-scale conflicts between the two nations while they engaged in smaller proxy wars around the world. The credibility of the threat being critical to such assurance,