Which Of The Following Is The Best Definition Of The Term Nuclear Deterrence? ?

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Know how popular culture of the 1940s and 50″s reflected the threat of nuclear warfare through informational films and propaganda
An overview of the atomic bomb and the threat of nuclear warfare as reflected in the popular culture of the 1940s and “50s, particularly in the “duck and cover” campaign and the film Godzilla.

Commencing with U.S. Pres. John F. Kennedy’s administration, greater emphasis was placed on a doctrine of all-purpose flexibility, including a larger conventional ground force as well as counterinsurgency forces to deal with “brushfire wars” such as the one in Vietnam. In the ensuing atomic era, SAC yielded in delivery importance to guided missiles fired either from permanent silos or from nuclear submarines. All three of these systems—manned bombers, land-based ballistic missiles, and nuclear missile-armed submarines—would comprise the so-called nuclear triad of U.S. defense capability. The rationale for maintaining so many nuclear weapons with such varied delivery systems was to ensure that the United States could carry out a second strike against any preemptive nuclear attack. Although the U.S. employed civil defense techniques such as those spelled out in the “duck and cover” campaign, strategic planners understood that these measures would be effectively worthless in the face of an actual nuclear attack. The arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union continued.

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The Cuban missile crisis (October 1962) brought the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara responded with a dramatic shift in U.S. nuclear doctrine. McNamara had previously promoted a counterforce or “no cities” strategy that targeted Soviet military units and installations. Under this paradigm, it was believed that a nuclear conflict of limited scope could be fought and won without it escalating to a full nuclear exchange. This strategy relied on both superpowers abiding by such a limitation, however, and neither believed that the other would do so. In 1965 McNamara instead proposed a countervalue doctrine that expressly targeted Soviet cities. McNamara stated that this doctrine of “assured destruction” could be achieved with as few as 400 high-yield nuclear weapons targeting Soviet population centres; these would be “sufficient to destroy over one-third of population and one-half of industry.” McNamara proposed that the guarantee of mutual annihilation would serve as an effective deterrent to both parties and that the goal of maintaining destructive parity should guide U.S. defense decisions. McNamara based this tenuous equilibrium on the “assured-destruction capability” of the U.S. arsenal.


Robert S. McNamara
Robert S. McNamara, 1963.

The term “mutual assured destruction,” along with the derisive acronym “MAD,” was not actually coined by McNamara but by an opponent of the doctrine. Military analyst Donald Brennan argued that attempting to preserve an indefinite stalemate did little to secure U.S. defense interests in the long term and that the reality of U.S. and Soviet planning reflected continued efforts by each superpower to gain a clear nuclear advantage over the other. Brennan personally advocated on behalf of an antiballistic missile defense system that would neutralize Soviet warheads before they could detonate. Such an obvious break with the status quo would thoroughly undermine the Soviets’ “assured-destruction capability” and would likely trigger a new arms race. Nevertheless, Brennan’s plan would find supporters in the U.S. government, the most prominent of whom was U.S. Pres. Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, proposed in 1983, would become the centrepiece of disarmament negotiations throughout the 1980s, despite the fact that the technology behind the program was far from proven. The Soviets did indeed attempt to pursue their own antiballistic missile defense system for a time, but shrinking military budgets and, finally, the collapse of the Soviet Union spelled the end of the superpower model that had enabled the mutual assured destruction doctrine.

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The Editors of Encyclopaedia brianowens.tvThis article was most recently revised and updated by Michael Ray, Editor.


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