This week’s blog post is a guest contribution from my brother, Michael, on the topic of the “nuclear option,” a term from nuclear deterrence theory that has come to be applied, sometimes loosely, in those situations when one decides to “push the button,” to risk, and probably lose, everything for the chance to destroy an opponent. Michael focuses his attention on a work of fiction to show how the theory of mutually assured destruction rests on assumptions of human nature that may be flawed. Fiction can’t be taken as scientific evidence, but when the actions of fictional characters ring true with an audience, they invite us to ponder those questions that science can’t answer either. In this case, such questions as: Will mutually assured destruction someday fail just because one fallible human being with his finger on the button gambles that he could come out victorious after launching a first strike? Or would the losing side in a long war, at the moment before an ignominious defeat, scream après moi, l’apocalypse and set off a nuclear exchange? Human behavior in less high-stakes scenarios suggest we shouldn’t expect our luck will always hold out.
Tom: “You’ll do the right thing.”
Historians generally agree that Nixon came to this strategy on his own, though his tactics can be traced back to Machiavelli and fictional characters such as Hamlet. So Nixon may not have been an original in employing the “madman” approach to international disputes, but he was the first to take such a stance in the nuclear age.