Upsetting a Delicate Balance

Will defensive weapons undermine deterrence and spark a new arms race?

Perverse and paradoxical as it seems, the central assumption underlining attempts to keep the nuclear peace for decades has been that offense is good and defense bad. The superpowers have been deterred from nuclear war by the certainty of retribution. Safety, as Winston Churchill noted in 1955, would be "the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin brother of annihilation." Each side had to have confidence that it could survive an enemy first strike and retaliate with a vengeance. That way, neither side would have the incentive to strike first. This principle, described sardonically as Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD,...

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