"...U.S. and Soviet caution in strategic relations stemmed from a fact we still tend to take for granted: Both leaderships actually cared about the well-being of those they ruled, even if in the Soviet case the population’s production capability rather than human value was uppermost. But we saw repeated demonstrations of mass murder inside Iraq by the Sunni ruling elite against Kurds and the majority Shiite population during Baath rule, without regard for the injury done the state, and it is not unreasonable to wonder whether the fragility of the civil bond between rulers and ruled in multiethnic and highly stratified Middle Eastern societies weakens significantly the fundamental social basis of deterrence." Worldviews are exceptionally powerful filters for perception and the integration of information. Much of the debate about problems in the intelligence community in the run-up to Iraq revolved around questions of "groupthink" and " stovepiping" and that was an intra-societal question where everyone held the same overarching worldview as Americans, if not the exact same worldview as individuals. Inter-societal questions are far more problematic than the former kind.
The Russians may have been ( to quote a former Soviet MoD official active at the time) "shitting in their pants" during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but that did not mean that Soviet leaders entertained the same concepts regarding nuclear deterrence as did Robert McNamara. The subsequent, "heavy" throw-weight ICBM nuclear build-up that was maniacally pursued by Brezhnev, indicates the USSR did not. "They" or " the other" does not think like you do, nor could they reasonably be expected to do so, even if "they" are receiving perfectly accurate and timely information about our moves from unbiased sources. Which, of course, "they" are not (and neither are we, for that matter. An important point that frequently gets forgotten).
Which, to put it mildly, undermines some of the deterrence assumptions drawn from decision models like game theory.
While worldviews can be important I don't see the point re: the Soviets. They practiced deterrence in much the same way as the US except they placed greater emphasis on capabilities and less on reputation than we did. We both persued high yield weapons in large numbers--larger than necessary for deterrence. And both had war-fighting plans for their nukes which required the larger yield, larger numbers of weapons. Plus, I am not aware of an instance where deterrence 'broke-down' because of the Soviet's worldview...
I'm wondering if you're trying to say that we're facing mad dogs with nukes in Iran, not like the deterrable Soviets, and all bets are off.
I would (no surprise!) strongly disagree with that. We can go to the politics of it, which others have argued and I won't detail here because you and I disagree.
But, specifically on the subject of nuclear weapons, those who have dealt closely with nuclear weapons and still think they're just another weapon are in a tiny minority. I'm talking about scientists, engineers, and military people; national leaders may be different. Presumably those with closer experience of nuclear weapons would try to make those leaders understand what they're dealing with.
And there's still Harold Agnew's idea, which keeps looking more and more attractive as national leaders have less and less memory of the bad old nuclear threat days and more and more ideological bent.
# posted by Anonymous : Tuesday, 05 September, 2006
Well, not quite.
The Soviets were successfully deterred but they never bought into MAD per se - as their military doctrine, robust civil defense, ABM defense (both legal and the cheating at Krasnoyarsk) amply demonstrated.
Only at the very end, with their empire disintegrating, did the Soviets shift their conventional and nuclear forces away from a forward offensive stance to a more defensive posture. You could see this in the late 1980's where Soviet heavy armor was replaced by mechanized infantry divisions and their intermediate range missiles were being dismantled in E. Europe.
No, I'm saying that old assumptions regarding deterence theory ought to be reexamined in light of the fact that Iranian mullahs are not Soviet commissars with turbans. That does not mean they cannot be deterred, just that assuming Iranian leaders will see things as the politburo did is a conjecture for which we have no evidence.
The problem is that the Iranians have *not* dealt closely with nuclear weapons yet, not having any.
New nuclear powers are prone to gross overestimation over what political or diplomatic goals can be accomplished by being a member of the nuclear club -at least for a while until reality settles in.
But before that reality set in we have had some pretty dangerous moments of brinksmanship between the US-USSR, USSR-China and India-Pakistan. That none of those cases resulted in a nuclear exchange is no guarantee that future standoffs will have similarly happy endings.
And every increase in proliferation lowers the odds that our lucky streak will continue.