Donald Sensing has a post denouncing the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (in response to a post by Rosemary on Dean's World), specifically American use of nuclear weapons as a response to the detonation of a nuclear device in an American city by terrorists. The term "Mutually Assured Destruction" isn't really apt anymore (and Rev. Sensing doesn't use it), because there are no other nations (Russia included) with the power to annihilate the United States. What MAD has morphed into is a promise to respond to a nuclear attack with the maximum possible force, rather than "proportional force". We have no desire to trade cities one-for-one with terrorists; as soon as they show a willingness to nuke us, game over -- we will respond with enough force to end the war immediately.

Rev. Sensing claims such a response would be immoral, but this quote makes me wonder if he understands MAD:

I reject a nuclear response that seeks simply to lash out at presumed enemies and make Arabs suffer for suffering’s sake. Killing just to kill would not be warranted even under such grievous circumstances.
There are two parts to MAD: the threat, and the follow-through. The threat is intended to convince our enemies that using nuclear weapons against us simply isn't worth it. Terrorists can't get nukes without the aid of some rogue nation (as Rev. Sensing points out -- North Korea or Iran, most probably), and the threat of MAD should serve to deter those nations from helping the terrorists.

It sounds like what Rev. Sensing most objects to, then, is the possibility that we'd actually follow through on the MAD threat if we were nuked. We've never had to before, but there's no guarantee that the threat itself will deter everyone forever. The threat itself is brilliant and costs no lives, but if we're ever nuked we'll be put in a tough position. Do we retaliate with overwhelming (non-proportional) force, as we threatened to do, or do we back down? If we back down, our future threats will be powerless and we won't have any means to deter future nuclear attacks. If we don't back down, and we actually obliterate a city or two in the nation(s) we determine were involved, we'll be responsible for killing a great many people who were only peripherally involved in the attack against us.

However, contrary to what some of Rev. Sensing's commenters claim, such retaliation would not be "murder" or "revenge" -- such terms have no meaning in war. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed when we nuked Japan, but that action probably saved millions of lives (Japanese and American); it wasn't murder it was a strategic use of force calculated to end the war, and it did. Furthermore, since the utility of the threat wholly depends on our willingness to make good on it, it's not revenge to respond to an attack in the exact manner we guaranteed we would. If a thug pulls a knife on a cop, and the cop tells the thug to drop the knife or he'll shoot, it's not "revenge" for the cop to shoot the thug if instead of dropping the knife he charges to attack.

Far from being immoral, MAD is the only moral policy I've ever heard of that has a chance of deterring nuclear attacks against the United States. Rev. Sensing proposes some other possible methods in his post, but they'd all take years to implement, and would do nothing to prevent future nuclear attacks in the mean time. Rev. Sensing's proposals are all excellent long-term policies (most of which we should be doing now), but such possibilities will not be sufficient to deter our enemies from using nuclear weapons against us. You can't correct a child's behavior by threatening to send him to military school in ten years.

Rev. Sensing has updated his own post in response to mine. First, I'd like to say that I'm sure he's more familiar with MAD than I am -- it was his characterization of deterrence as mere "lashing out" that made me wonder.

By rejecting the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent, Rev. Sensing seems to leave no real purpose for their existence at all. We certainly won't use them pre-emptively, and if we won't use them in retaliation either then there's no reason to have them. We can't even threaten to use them if our enemies know we will never follow through.

He describes many dire consequences that may follow from our retaliatory use of nuclear weapons, and he's probably right about many of them. But are those possible consequences worse than seeing another US city nuked by terrorists? I'm not sure that's the case.

We could continue to deter Russia and other nuclear nations with the rest of our arsenal, and withdraw our soldiers from around the world if need be. It would obviously be a Bad Thing all around, but would it be worse than losing another US city to another nuke?

Would our retaliation prevent another attack? No guarantees, but it could sure motivate some of our enemies to clamp down on the terrorists in their midsts right quick. If not -- if they're determined to fight a nuclear war -- then we have no alternatives anyway.

As for furthering the cause of Christ... I'll have to consider it. Off the top of my head I can't think of an effective nuclear deterrence policy that would also win people to Jesus if it had to be used. War in general doesn't tend to turn people to Christ, but does that mean we should never fight? Some pacifists say so, but their positions aren't convincing.



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