The video game DEFCON
illustrates how devastating this theory could be in practice.
"And he yelled, 'My Blue-Gooer is working just fine!
And I'm here to say that if Yooks can goo Zooks,
you'd better forget it. 'Cause Zooks can goo Yooks!'"
meets Lensman Arms Race
meets Weapon of Mass Destruction
Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD
) was the doctrine that nuclear weapons, if deployed against another nuclear power, should be deployed en masse with the objective of completely destroying the other country's capacity to retaliate, and vice versa. In other words, if either the USA or the USSR ever used nuclear weapons against the other, it would be assured that neither the USA nor the USSR would exist anymore
. Naturally this assumes both countries have a large enough stockpile to accomplish this - and they did
The goal of a MAD strategy is counter-intuitive: it is actually to prevent
a nuclear war. The theory goes that if each side knows that there is no way it can survive a nuclear war, it will get too scared to start one. Unless one or more of the superpowers decides a Taking You with Me
or is ruled by an Omnicidal Maniac
Related to this is the Game of Chicken
, also known as the hawk-dove game or snow-drift game. It is an influential model of conflict for two players in game theory. The principle of the game is that while each player prefers not to yield to the other, the worst possible outcome occurs when both players do not yield.
Needless to say, this theory made people on all sides of the Cold War
very nervous. Indeed, before the end of the cold war
, most academics thought the acronym "MAD" was appropriate - the strategy seemed insane.*
It may come up in hypothetical World War III
scenarios or works set in the late-era (1980s) of the Cold War
. With the fall of the Soviet Union, MAD has lost its value as the focus shifts to combating terrorists
who do not have access to a large stockpile of nuclear weapons.
One of the theories for why the Cold War
ended as peacefully as it did
is that belief in this doctrine prevented the US and USSR from fighting any war directly against each other, for fear it would escalate to nuclear weapons and destroy both powers. Instead, it became a war of ideologies and economics, and according to the victors
, the US eventually out-converted and out-spent the Soviets, who then collapsed under the weight of their own system.*
Where there is no parity between the two nuclear belligerents, The Moscow Criterion
is used. This was developed by the British, who could not build and fire the same number of rockets as the Sovs and who did not trust the Americans to launch their own missiles to back up a MAD doctrine - instead, the aim is to have the ability to slaughter as many of the enemy civilians as possible, thus attaching a prohibitively high human cost to a nuclear release by the more heavily-armed power.
- The backstory of Fallout: Equestria was that the megaspell was created and given to both sides to invoke this scenario and end the pony/zebra war. However, when the zebras believed they were doomed to lose the war anyway, they decided to go the "Taking You with Me" route and both sides ended up flinging them off.
- Visually deconstructed in WarGames, when Joshua plays out every possible nuclear strike scenario.
- Dr. Strangelove is based around this, because the Russians have a doomsday device raring to go if they get hit with a nuke. One rogue general in the US air force ignored MAD and sends nuclear bombers at Russia.
- The Creator/Dr.Seuss book The Butter Battle Book features two cultures (the Zooks and the Yooks), seperated by a wall and, competing in an arms race to destroy the other side; however, each new Zook weapon (ranging from giant slinshots to bipedal mechs armed with chemical goo) turns back due to the Yooks developing the same weapon. Eventually, each side creates an apocalyptic bomb called the "Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo", and the story ends with with the generals of both sides on the wall poised to drop their bombs, waiting to see who will do it first.
- One such deterrent is devised in Harry Turtledove's Homeward Bound. Before that, this was far from the case, as the Race has better anti-missile technology than the major human powers and could be reasonably expected to intercept a large number of human nukes. Additionally, since the Race's larger Empire was unreachable, the destruction of their colonists on Earth would not cripple the Empire but would doom humanity. Throughout the Colonization books, Fleetlord Atvar is musing launching an all-out nuclear strike against all Tosevite territories in order to prevent them from spreading out into the galaxy, knowing that this would likely result in the planet becoming uninhabitable. One of the purposes of the Admiral Peary is to place a nuclear launch platform in orbit of Home, the Race's homeworld in Tau Ceti, a clear case of Gunboat Diplomacy: either the Race deals with humans on equal turms, or both Earth and large areas of Home will be destroyed. When the first ever FTL-capablestarship, the Commodore Perry, arrives to show that humans have the ultimate first-strike capability, the Race manages to device a MAD-like counter. Should humans launch a FTL strike against the three Race worlds, the Race will launch their STL starships on a collision course with Earth. An impact of even one ship traveling at 50% of the speed of light is likely to cause an extinction-level event.
- The Tom Lehrer song "We Will All Go Together When We Go" is a bleak look at the enormous scale of devastation a nuclear war would bring set to a jaunty tune.
Oh we will all char together when we char.
And let there be no moaning of the bar.
Just sing out a te deum when you see that I.C.B.M.
And the party will be "come as you are!"
- DEFCON is essentially a Mutually-Assured Destruction Simulator, directly inspired by the War Games example above.
- Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker discusses this and whether it works or not. Coldman intends to use the titular Peace Walker to prove that nuclear deterrence works (specifically that no man wants to go down in history as the great annihilator) by launching a nuclear strike.