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NATO Must Get MAD at Russia

Russia has shown that it is ready to murder innocent Ukrainians, but it is not ready to commit suicide. And that holds the key to preventing further Russian aggression, and more unspeakable tragedies, in Ukraine and elsewhere.

BERKELEY/STOCKHOLM – Anyone who does not want war would do well to recall an enduring lesson from the Cold War: parties will be deterred from fighting if they know in advance that they will lose everything. With Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening to use nuclear weapons if the West tries to intervene militarily in Ukraine, NATO must revive the doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD).

The logic of MAD was dismal but not crazy. Both the Soviet Union and the United States (or any other NATO member) knew that if one attacked the other, it would be annihilated in response. The key to the MAD equilibrium was that the aggressor’s annihilation would be assured if it launched an attack.

This guarantee that the other side would retaliate with full force took a variety of forms, from the nuclear triad to the hardline stance of military commanders like former US Air Force General Curtis LeMay. The result was that neither superpower wanted to attack first, keeping the Cold War cold.

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