A.E. Smith

World renowned dynamite inventor and peace prize distributor, Alfred Nobel once declared “the day when two armies can annihilate each other in one second, all civilized nations, it is to be hoped, will recoil from war”[1]. Instead, the civilized nations of Europe bought stockpiles of his new explosive. The turn of the 20th century saw the beginning of the bloodiest and most brutal period of human history. This era was hallmarked by periodic spasms of savage conflict, results of predominant world powers dragging others via their colonial or economic interests into disputes over territory, resources and ideology. By the end of 1945, somewhere around 218 million people lay slaughtered world wide. Yet,1945 also saw the groundwork laid out for the United Nations and all the relevant international bodies and law which constitute the modern international legal order today. Ever since then global peace has seen an unprecedented rise[2], comparable only to the Pax Romana nearly 1500 years ago.      Even more important, it likewise saw the demonstration of the absolute and decisive destructive capabilities via the atomic bomb. In many ways, certainly during the height of the Cold War, the nuclear arsenals of states have maintained stability far more effectively than the United Nations could ever accomplish on its own. It is seemingly mad to think that a weapon such as an atomic bomb is in any way the foundation of post-1945 global stability, but in the words of former US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, “it’s not mad…mutual assured destruction is the foundation of deterrence”[3].

Mutually Assured Destruction, otherwise known as MAD, is a doctrine adhered to by every nuclear-armed state since it’s genesis by President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State Dulles in 1949[4]. The basic principle can be understood as a Nash equilibrium. Neither party can gain anything from conflict, as any potential profit thereby derived pales in comparison to the cost of total annihilation. It is far more beneficial for both parties to cooperate rather than to engage in a macabre dance of mutual suicide. In essence, the price for war is unacceptably high, so much so that it deters any sort of military action, nuclear or non-nuclear.

The concept of deterrence, wether nuclear or not, is found not just in geopolitics but in the frame work of the European Union. Consider the relationship France and Germany found themselves in for most of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, a relationship of animosity. So high was French animosity for the Germans that they suddenly forgot their disdain for the “nation of shopkeepers” across the channel, and joined the British for an ill fated adventure in the Crimea. Today the thought of Merkel rolling her Panzers through Paris, or Macron invading the Ruhr valley or the United States Air Force firebombing Dresden, is simply absurd. However, the French and Germans invading without end each other was the reality of my grandfather and great grand father and great great grandfather and great great great grandfather’s world. The reason we view the prospect today of Germany flanking France via Belgium as absurd is not because they’ve become great friends who enjoy trading beer and cheese, it is because such an action would spell catastrophic consequences for each other’s economies, whom via the European Union have aligned their interests and harmonized all trans-Rhenian trade. France cannot hurt German interests without hurting themselves and vice a versa. This is a truth for any state actor, even the most belligerent of them: they may be bellicose, threatening, contentious and even pestilent, but no one is suicidal. The Pax Romana lasted for nearly 200 years[5] before it’s foundations collapsed, and we should only hope the Pax Atomica lasts for so long before it’s destructive foundations buckle as well.

[1] Alfred Nobel Organization, ‘Alfred Nobel Quotes’ (alfrednobel.org, 31 December 2015) <http:// www.alfrednobel.org/alfred-nobel-quotes/> accessed 9 March 2018

[2] Steven Pinker, ‘Lecture-A History of Violence ‘ (Egde , 27 September 2011) <https:// www.edge.org/conversation/mc2011-history-violence-pinker> accessed 9 March 2018

[3] Branagh K, Cold War Series, Ep.12 (CNN 1998)

[4] Dulles JF, “Massive Retaliation” (Web Archive) <http://www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/key-issues/ nuclear-weapons/history/cold-war/strategy/articledullesretaliation.htm> accessed March 9, 2018

[5] “Pax Romana ” (Encyclopedia Britannia ) <https://www.britannica.com/event/Pax-Romana> accessed March 9, 2018