Friday, September 5, 2008

Michael Kinsley and MAD

Here are an couple of old articles by Michael Kinsley regarding Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD):

I am linking to them now because in a later post I want to follow Kinsley's argument to its logical conclusion regarding Iran. However, since I do not fully endorse Kinsley's argument, I want to point out the flaw in his argument before I use his logic to make the case about what should logically be done with regards to Iran. Kinsley says the following in one of those articles:

Furthermore, under the theory of MAD, we leave ourselves vulnerable in certain ways ...because it is in our own unilateral self-interest. Specifically, it is important to be vulnerable to a "second strike"—that is, a retaliatory strike by an arsenal crippled by your potential "first strike." Why? Because you don't want anybody with nukes pointed at you to think they have to use 'em or lose 'em. As long as they can rain cataclysmic damage on us by striking second, they have no more incentive than we do to strike first.

The arms race shows that Kinsley was wrong on this point. The whole point of the arms race was to gain an advantage in which one side could unleash a "first strike" to which the other side could not respond. There is no logical reason to engage in an arms race otherwise. If Kinsley were right in his logic, once you have enough weapons to destroy your enemy, there is no logical reason to acquire anymore. Kinsley's logic should have stalemated the arms race at both sides holding only a very few nuclear weapons. The fact that both sides tried to gain a decisive first strike advantage, and then other side responded by trying to get back to par shows that both sides felt that there was a huge strategic advantage in being able to unleash a first strike that the other side could not respond to.