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Is the concept of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutual_assured_destruction less applicable today compared to say 40 years ago as seen by the West? My contention is that it is. I claim that MAD is becoming obsolete in ways that favor the West.

I contend that the West has built and maintained centers of higher learning and research that has attracted the best and brightest from around the world. The student visa and other filtering processes ensure that the crème de la crème end up studying at MIT, Cambridge, Oxford and similar institutions. Institutions of this caliber are nonexistent in Russia. This “brain infrastructure”, has allowed us to innovate and push the domains of healthcare, deep space exploration, fundamental physics, electronics and software engineering beyond that of our adversaries.

How can this technological prowess not translate into effective defensive systems capable of destroying hostile nuclear and other weaponry during its flight phase if not during the launch and pre-launch phases? How hard of an engineering problem can it be in a time of war, to track, target and destroy the vast majority of hostile missile platforms whether on land (fixed or mobile), shipboard, airborne, spaceborne or under the sea? The number of such platforms to worry about is not infinite, indeed not even large.

I happen to be a technocrat and have personally worked with brilliant engineers, scientists and mathematicians from, Australia, Bangladesh, England, Germany, Israel, Japan, the US and other nations. This genetic and cultural diversity is a problem solving strength. And of course, these countries share research/technology at the nation level. Some cooperate in joint military exercises.

Although much research in the area of the EM spectrum still needs to be done, we have made great strides in exploiting sections of it.

https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/AD1115153.pdf

https://www.militaryaerospace.com/unmanned/article/16712118/pentagon-wants-more-money-for-directedenergy-weapons-for-droneswarm-and-missile-defense

And once weapon design optimization becomes driven by artificially-intelligent “design departments”, the technological gap will widen further. All of this of course requires a continuous pipeline of quality, freedom-loving human wetware; which apparently there is a good supply of from the above listed countries. One could say this began after WWII with the German-American Aerospace Engineer, Wernher Von Braun, Adolf Busemann and others under Operation Paperclip.

I contend that although an all-out thermo-nuclear war with Russia would have a cost, it is nonetheless not mutually suicidal (as required by MAD) but winnable by the West without us needing to strike first. However, and if required, a first strike would be preferrable and less costly.

The continued advancement of an effective, multi-layered anti-ballistic/anti-hypersonic defense system of systems can be reduced to an engineering and probabilistic problem. Such a problem statement might be articulated thusly:

“In dealing with a first strike by Russia, how much and what mix of defensive weapon redundancy do we need in order to ensure the survival of 50% of the population and the survival of 50% of our offensive capability with a reliability of 90% at a 90% confidence level so that we can retaliate and destroy all of our adversary’s remaining military infrastructure within hours?”

I contend that we have the required brain power, innovation engines, money, economy, military-industrial complex and political motivation to accomplish such goals thus relegating the concept of MAD to Ronald Reagan’s “ash heap of history”.

I have to believe that Monte-Carlo and similar simulations are being conducted around the clock by defense strategists and war planners to answer this and related questions.

https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_memoranda/2008/RM3489.pdf

The challenge of course is in the construction of the proper probability density functions. But there are analytical methods to bound that problem while minimizing computational uncertainties.

If/when/since 50/50/90/90 has been achieved, we would restate for 90/90/95/99 or whatever strategic goal is deemed achievable or affordable by the relevant government(s) and/or NATO. There is an inverse relationship between these 4 values and the degree to which we would experience a nuclear winter and other environmental damage, providing even more incentive to strive for ever higher levels of military superiority.

For what it’s worth, here are a few statements at this site that do not oppose my thesis. united states - Why does the US care so much about China's hypersonic weapons? - Politics Stack Exchange

“Historically, neither the US nor the USSR officially adopted MAD as part of their policy on nuclear weapons. The official Soviet policy was that nuclear wars were survivable and therefore winnable, which contradicts MAD. Official US policy at several times included the possibility of limited nuclear strikes that would not necessarily entail mutual destruction (e.g. "tactical" nuclear strikes to blunt potential Soviet armored advances through the Fulda Gap).”

“Firstly, the US has leaned towards the idea of developing an anti-missile shield, and withdrew from the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 2002 to enable it to pursue this goal.”

“Part of the problem with MAD is it requires the other side to be able to respond and there are ways to prevent that. It can be as simple as destroying the weapons first or preventing anyone with authority from ordering a counter strike.”

Obviously this is a national-security-sensitive subject so please do not share any classified information. But I would like to know what are the flaws in my analysis and the evidence that MAD is still relevant.

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    TLDR, what is the question?
    – Joe W
    May 10 at 0:48
  • It is your question, you should be able to summarize it and make a simple statement of what you are asking. Your question is very long and includes a lot of things that don't appear relevant at all to the question.
    – Joe W
    May 10 at 12:07
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    Joe, read the subject title. The title is simple.
    – Steve
    May 10 at 13:31
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    Clear to you but not others as 6 people agreed with my comment.
    – Joe W
    May 10 at 13:37
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    re. Monica who tried to answer it. I answered the title after initially ignoring the body entirely. The title is much better than the body, to the point without pushing an agenda. The question would not be sitting at -8 if asked succinctly and without trying to overwhelm us with claimed technical "facts" and jargon. May 10 at 16:11

1 Answer 1

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There are a host of very wrong assumptions here at this current point in time. It is very, very, hard to guarantee avoiding letting through a few dozen warheads out of several hundreds, possibly using decoys, frequently using variable delivery systems - ICBMS, SLBMS, cruise missiles, bombers (and in the future hypersonics), which is a what major nuclear power can throw at another.

To date the interception tests have frequently failed or been softballs and the ABM systems in place are not even designed to stop a full peer-on-peer attack. Now, that "few dozen warheads that could get through" could means tens of millions of deaths and a potential collapse of the targeted nation's industrial infrastructure.

Doesnt seem obsolete to me.

Another indication that it is still alive and kicking lays both in the West's current extreme apprehension at Russia's nuclear intentions wrt the "special military operation" in Ukraine. And the lack of a strong preceding crisis from Russia/China: if MAD had indeed dissolved, to their disadvantage, they would have raised holy hell before that happened. Much like Russia claims to be preemptively defending itself in Ukraine, but in this with considerably more justification. Make no mistake, if and when MAD starts to fall apart, we will enter a period of massive uncertainty, posturing and risk, which will not pass unnoticed.

This might bring some perspective to all the "certainty from wargaming" word salad in the question ;-)

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  • No idea if it's hidden in the OP's wall of text, but one of the things that led to the initial MAD doctrine were Cold War era war game simulations of what would happen with Cold War era tech. And Cold War era nukes, in particular. Which were largely monstrous obliterators; city destroyers, one and all. Modern tech has much smaller "tactical nukes" which are far less destructive than any of the nukes the MAD doctrine was derived from. A few tactical nukes are, in principle, not a serious threat to humanity or all but the smallest of nations. May 10 at 1:06
  • As such they would not reasonably trigger a full scale retaliation leading to global devastation. Or so goes the arguments for those who suggest MAD may no longer be applicable, anyway. May 10 at 1:06
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    Tactical nukes isn't where we are at yet when it comes to MAD. Trident 2s are in the 100-500kt range. Yes, comparatively to early cold war they are smaller, mostly because their CEP (circular error probability) is small enough that they can destroy hardened targets without MT-level payloads. And they are MIRVed. Also, modelling showed, IIRC, that 2-3 100KTs outperformed a 1MT to kill a city. Could some tac nukes get thrown around somewhere to make a point? Possibly, but that doesn't void MAD itself. May 10 at 1:16
  • Monica, I addressed ICBMs, SLBMs and hypersonics in my question. Your answer is not satisfying. What does mRNA vaccines, the cell phone in your pocket or purse, man working on the surface of the moon, powered flight, gun powder, a sharpened pole and a twig suitable to fish for termites all have in common? They were "very, very" hard problems to solve (add a few more "verys" if you like). And yet they were all in fact solved. That's what us technocrats and our teams do 24/7/365 around the globe. We solve "very, very" hard problems. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engineer
    – Steve
    May 10 at 11:40

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