Because the doctrine of MAD played a large role in the Cold War (much more on the American than on the Soviet side), it is useful to repeat a succinct definition of it: 1. Don’t attack weapons, aim at people; and, 2. Don’t defend against the adversary’s weapons. Each of these rules had a voluntary and an existential aspect. Justification for the first proposition might be, don’t attack weapons because that would be destabilizing and lead to an arms race; or, don’t attack weapons because it can’t be done successfully. Justification for the second might be, don’t defend because it’s a bad idea; or, don’t defend because, although it might be desirable, it isn’t feasible. These different justifications produced some confusion.And the impact of MAD?
Through the 1960s, the Defense Department and successive presidential administrations allowed mutually assured destruction (MAD) to be perceived as strategic doctrine. And, indeed, MAD did have significant subsequent influence over plans and technology, blunting calls for greater weapons accuracy. However, MAD never became, in practice, America’s strategic doctrine.And what did those crazy Soviets make of it?
Soviet strategists recognized that deterrence was, to some extent, mutual because each side was capable of launching a retaliatory strike and of inflicting unacceptable damage on the other. They nevertheless considered their nuclear power the only guarantee of security from war, and they never examined the question of mutually assured destruction as a condition that they should accept, much less pursue. The Soviet Union never embraced vulnerability as desirable. The Soviets also believed that, given the military uncertainties, mutually assured destruction was only a theoretical conclusion. This is because there was no guarantee in practice that a retaliatory strike would be launched or inflict unacceptable damage on the enemy.