U MAD, Professor?

Back during the Cold War, we relied on a doctrine of MAD, or “mutually assured destruction,” to ensure the U.S. and Soviet Union didn’t go to war against each other. Each side had enough nuclear weapons to destroy the other many times over. Launching an attack would have been suicidal.

Nowadays the focus for nuclear weapons policy has shifted to the issue of proliferation, with conventional wisdom holding that more nuclear powers make for a more dangerous world. But Indiana University political scientist Sumit Ganguly argues that’s not necessarily so.

Sumit Ganguly

Sumit Ganguly

Ganguly, director of the Center on American and Global Security at IU, is a widely published authority on military power and international relations. In an interview last week with the influential media site Vox, he argued the spread of nuclear weapons to Pakistan and India, for example, has been a good thing — as with the U.S. and Soviets, it has produced mutual deterrence.

“In South Asia it has, for all practical purposes, done away with the prospect of full-scale war,” he said. “It’s just not going to happen. The risks are so great as a consequence of the nuclearization of the subcontinent that neither side can seriously contemplate starting a war.”

Vox’s Dylan Matthews points out that, while the U.S. and Soviet Union didn’t go to war, there were nuclear near-misses during the Cold War. Ganguly says that’s because the U.S. and Soviet arsenals were “tightly coupled,” with the risk that a mistaken air-defense signal could set off a counterattack.

“The danger is that the Indians and Pakistanis will start emulating the Soviets and the United States and build this panoply of nuclear weapons, and have an extensive command and control system where the likelihood of this kind of accidental launch becomes much greater,” he said.

The interview runs nearly 3,000 words, covers a lot of ground and never lapses into wonk-speak or inside baseball. Ganguly is reliably outspoken, weighing in on the “useful myth” that Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan acted independently in sharing nuclear know-how with other countries and the controversial question of how big a threat would result from a nuclear-armed Iran.

 

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