On Oct. 28, the Russian navy conducted a successful test flight of their submarine-launched Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The missile, purported by Russian officials to have onboard a guidance system capable of defeating any missile defences it may come up against, was fired from the submerged nuclear-powered submarine Yuri Dolgoruky and travelled 5,500 kilometres to accurately deliver its lethal cargo. One Bulava missile has the ability to deliver a payload 100 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
I heard about it on the radio; it came during the briefs, right after a summary of the latest events in the Neepawa hazing incident, a review of the ridiculous 9-8 win of the Jets over the Flyers, and a description of the Halloween costumes of a local kindergarten class. More succinctly put, a submerged Russian submarine that can fire a nuclear delivery system from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and is able to dodge missile defences and accurately plant a total of 10 nuclear warheads, each one 10 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, literally anywhere from Halifax to Vancouver, seems to have received barely an honourable mention in the news briefs. Granted that our relations with Russia are at a high point compared to most of the last century, one might still think that people should generally show some concern that these weapons even exist in the first place.
Only a little while ago, this would have been news to shake the Western world. As the Cold War era reached its peak in global tensions, and well-off families built backyard bomb-shelters in the hopes of surviving what seemed to be an inevitable nuclear apocalypse, the only thing that had been keeping the U.S. and USSR from effectively annihilating one another in an atomic firestorm was a very simple military doctrine termed “Mutually Assured Destruction,” which aptly becomes the acronym MAD. Simply put, MAD assumes that if both sides of a competition have an arsenal of weaponry so destructive that neither side can have any possible hope of ever “winning” a total engagement with the other, without dooming themselves and half of the planet, then neither side should theoretically ever feel an especial urge to utilize such weapons. Paradoxical though it may be, the idea is essentially stable peace achieved through unlimited potential violence.
Today, as we move further into the 21st century, a full score into the post Cold War era, a period that sees MAD doctrine at its apex with every superpower pointing every nuclear weapon in existence in every possible direction, we curiously find that advanced nuclear weapons research no longer carries the same terrifying “oomph” with the public that it once did. Without the same open tensions that rattled the latter half of the last century, the U.S. designs missile-defence systems just as Russia designs missile-defence-defeating systems. As these technologies emerge, which ought to be ensuring that no person on Earth gets a wink of peaceful sleep at night, simply because they exist we find that people no longer live in the same fear of nuclear war they once did.
While international peace is forcibly maintained in MADness, the powers that be can no longer look at the nuclear arsenal as the same platform of national defence and international power that it once was. Nuclear weapons are no longer weapons, but rather symbols of a strange sort of victory for world peace. Even the Russian name for this new project, Bulava, reflects this. Although it’s largely noted in the press that “Bulava” means “mace” or “club,” a primitive bludgeoning weapon to our Western sentiments, what isn’t noted is that to modern Slavic countries the term “Bulawa” also refers to a decorative, ceremonial weapon that is conferred upon high-ranking military officials. It’s a reference to a symbol that, while technically a weapon, is never meant to be used for its intended purpose — an appropriate metaphor for today’s nuclear arms.
It’s a new world emerging before our eyes, and new worlds need new strategies. As time goes on, we find that modern international competition is no longer played out in terms of manpower, big guns and military tactics, but rather networking, diplomacy and economics. For the first time in history, the strength of our day is not popularly counted in swords or bullets or tanks but in dollars, pounds, euros, yuan and rubles. The true world peace we have always dreamed of is not developing as a result of political systems or any direct human planning or action, but instead seems to be taking baby steps out of the apocalyptic standoff of the old world, all on its own; we’re nowhere near complete success quite yet, but there are fewer belligerents in the world than there used to be.
Who succeeds today? It’s not the weapon builders or shield rattlers; it’s the people who ensure that the world absolutely depends on them for one thing or another. One country may not destroy another who can destroy them back, but they also won’t destroy a people they uniquely depend on. Our cultures mesh, our economies entwine, and our weapons become useless in the hands of an authority unwilling to use them, be it as we depend on other economies, or as the scent of blood fades and we all finally begin to forget why it seemed like a good idea to succeed at the expense of annihilating another people.
MAD is out of style. The need for nuclear arsenals is disappearing entirely on its own, and that deserves a new acronym. I propose SANE: Survival Achieved by Networking and Economics.
Gerald R. Jacobs thinks you would have to be MAD not to believe in SANE.