The Mutual-Hostage Relationship between America and Russia

The Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex Missile Site Radar in North Dakota was built to detect incoming nuclear missiles and intercept and destroy them outside of the Earth's atmosphere. Library of Congress

For nearly two decades the strategic nuclear armaments of the Soviet Union and the United States have been great enough for each to hold the other's civilian population as hostage against a devastating nuclear attack. Living with this situation has not been and will not be easy: it has become, quite simply, one of the major tensions of modern life. Yet the mutual-hostage relationship has been given credit, and probably justly so, for the prevention of massive world wars.

During the last few years, this relationship has been exposed to broader public scrutiny as a result of the SALT I negotiations and treaty, and a number of articles and statements have appeared criticizing U.S. policy with regard to the situation.1 One critic, Donald Brennan, coined the acronym MAD, for Mutual Assured Destruction, to indicate his view of the policy underlying SALT. While others have not employed quite as harsh terms, they still assert that the terms of the SALT I treaty prohibiting extensive anti-ballistic missile (ABM) deployments do in fact signify a morally repugnant policy of leaving "mass slaughter" as the only option in case deterrence has failed in some way.

The recently named head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Fred Charles Iklé, cites three "far-reaching dogmas" as implied by current U.S. policies:

One: our nuclear forces must be designed almost exclusively for "retaliation" in response to a Soviet nuclear attack-particularly an attempt to disarm us through a sudden strike.

Two: our forces must be designed and operated in such a way that this retaliation can be swift, inflicted through a single, massive, and-above all-prompt strike. What would happen after this strike is of little concern for strategic planning.

Three: the threatened "retaliation" must be the killing of a major fraction of the Soviet population; moreover, the same ability to kill our population must be guaranteed the Soviet government in order to eliminate its main incentive for increasing Soviet forces. Thus, deterrence is "stabilized" by keeping it

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