Mutual assured destruction (MAD) was the Cold War doctrine that proposed nuclear war could best be prevented if neither side could expect to survive a full-scale nuclear exchange.
To maintain the credibility of this threat each side had to invest enormous sums in their nuclear arsenals even though these were never intended for use and the use of a single bomb by either side would invoke massive retaliation by the other escalating to the ultimate demise of both.
According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, from 1940-1996, the United States spent a minimum of $5.5 trillion on its nuclear weapons program and its total military expenditures during the same period is estimated at $8 trillion.
It is difficult to determine the full cost to the Soviet Union of the Arms Race but many point to it as a significant factor in the demise of the world’s largest country, even though Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader at the time of the dismantling, says the explosion of Chernobyl was the cause.
For a forum dedicated to energy and climate this in itself should be instructive.
The Doomsday Clock, produced by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is emblematic of the perils posed by nuclear weapons and now climate change and the closer the minute hand is set to midnight, the closer it is assumed we are to the apocalypse.
Currently the clock (below) is set at 3 minutes to midnight even though the Cold War ended in 1985.
But for 1953 when it was set to 2 minutes to midnight when the United States decided to pursue the hydrogen bomb, it is currently the closest the clock has ever been set to the hour of doom.
The statement accompanying the current setting opens with the words: “Three minutes (to midnight) is too close. Far too close. We, the members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, want to be clear about our decision not to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock in 2016: That decision is not good news, but an expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus their efforts and the world’s attention on reducing the extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change. When we call these dangers existential, that is exactly what we mean: They threaten the very existence of civilization and therefore should be the first order of business for leaders who care about their constituents and their countries.”
The “nuclear club” has never consisted of more than ten members. The five nuclear-weapon states that are signatories to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the (NPT); the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China. The Non-NPT nuclear powers of India, Pakistan and North Korea. Israel, which is an undeclared nuclear power and South Africa, which produced six nuclear weapons in the 1980s then disassembled them in the early 1990s.
The NPT, is an international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.
Although nominally non-proliferation is the international norm on nuclear weapons, energy is seen as essential to life and fossil fuels, the predominant cause of global warming, are the cheapest source therefore their proliferation is seen as warranted in many circles.
Developing nations see fossil fuels as the means to their future prosperity, just as these fuels paved the way for the development of the rest of the world and more and more manufacturing and the carbon belching fuels necessary to run the factories that produce the cheap goods society demands are being off shored to countries that are and will suffer the worst impacts of global warming even as they produce greenhouse gases that blanket the planet and those of use happy to proclaim that our emissions are declining.
Few of us are likely to survive this Faustian bargain.
In terms of global warming there aren’t many non-proliferators and even fewer willing to invest tbe enormous sums necessary to prevent environmental disaster.
We seem set on a course of mutually assured energy destruction in the name of false economy even though some of the worst offenders deemed it rational not long ago to spend trillions on weapons they knew could never be used and even today are planning to spend a trillion more on the boondoggle.
Where is the environmental moral equivalent?
Clearly we are not yet mad enough at such MAD policies but more and more of us are getting there.
Photo Credit: David Lofink via Flickr