Nuclear weapons in the Cold War changed how wars were fought because it was the beginning of an era where wars were no longer fought in the conventional sense. The creation of nuclear weapons meant that people lived in a constant state of fear of nuclear war. In order to ensure national security and protection states, primarily the United States and Russia the leading superpowers in the Cold War, needed to have a strong deterrence policy to prevent the other state from launching a nuclear attack.
In theory deterrence is an effective approach as it prevents nuclear war and states are successfully able to protect themselves and are therefore not viewed as vulnerable. The film “Dr. Strangelove, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb” illustrated what will happen when deterrence breaks down; it shows that the threat of nuclear war has been replaced with a situation where nuclear war is the outcome. Deterrence failed in Dr. Strangelove because of an imbalance between national pride and infatuation of power.
It is important to have pride and faith in one’s nation but it is essential not to be blinded by hate and hubris when making important decisions that will directly impact many other people. It is a natural instinct for a nation to want to ensure national security; no country wants to seem vulnerable because then it becomes a target for other states to attack. It is important to show dominance and strength to preserve reputations and maintain respectable credibility within the international community and this is done primarily via deterrence.
Deterrence is a successful approach because a nation is able to maintain its integrity and national security without causing large-scale destruction of human life. Deterrence is “achieved not through the ability to defend but through the ability to punish” (Waltz, 5). Deterrence is effective because states use the approach to punish others if they are ever attacked. Threatening is an effective approach because it sends a strong and clear message regarding a state’s intentions if its security is ever jeopardized.
Nuclear weapons help preserve security through deterrence, but credibility is required to establish second-strike capability. Deterrence is effective if it meets three requirements “[f]irst, at least a part of a state’s nuclear forces must appear to survive an attack and launch one of its own. Second, survival of forces must not require early firing in response to what may be false alarms. Third, command and control must be reliably maintained; weapons must not be susceptible to accidental or unauthorized use” (20).
To help control and stabilize nuclear weapons they must be kept close to reliable people and guarded with extreme caution. The movie shows how deterrence breaks down because an authorized general makes the decision to launch a nuclear attack. In doing so the general’s actions have caused a lot of confusion, chaos and eventually complete destruction. The general’s actions were the result of an infatuation with power and pride, General Ripper’s high position of authority clouded his judgment when he gave the orders to attack Russia.
His desire to attack the enemy launched a full nuclear war and his actions confused and terrified his fellow American officers because he exceeded his authority. This shows that nobody can be trusted with access to nuclear weapons, no matter their position in society or their intelligence level. Ripper’s actions illustrate that he was clearly not thinking about the long-term consequences of his actions, all he could visualize was attacking the Russians. This limited view had catastrophic consequences for human life “[i]n a nuclear world, one is uncertain about surviving or being annihilated.
If force is used, and not kept within limits, catastrophe will result” (9). If a nation is able to implement a successful deterrence program, then it is ensuring that the result of a nuclear war remains relatively low. Ripper’s actions were too hasty as he did not have all the crucial information, he remained unaware of the doomsday device meaning that he proceeded to attack without knowing how dire the consequences would be. The film shows that there was a breakdown in communication and the United State’s deterrence policy as a result a nuclear war happened.
Nuclear weapons are lethal and there are no do-overs as the film shows, Mandrake: “I mean after all, well let’s face it we… We don’t want to start a nuclear war unless we really have to do we? ” (Dr. Strangelove). The movie takes a real world problem and applies it to a fictional situation and shows what happens when people become power hungry and infatuated with power and dominance, but violence is not always the answer. The movie successfully illustrated the dangers of nuclear war and the importance of deterrence and diplomacy.
Starting a nuclear war is not a decision that is made without a great degree of consideration, which is why all other options for defending a state need to be evaluated before resorting to nuclear war. Deterrence is an effective approach because the threat of an attack is enough to keep war from happening, the threat of war remains a possibility but it is a threat not an action. During the Cold War political tensions were always elevated and the threat of war remained a possibility, however states were able to cooperate to ensure that the world remained somewhat peaceful.
These efforts demonstrated that “the chances of peace rise if states can achieve their most important ends without using force” (Waltz, 5). Deterrence is essential when nuclear weapons are involved because when “countries armed with conventional weapons go to war knowing that even in defeat their sufferings will be limited… If countries armed with nuclear weapons go to war with each other, they do so knowing that their suffering may be unlimited” (9). If or when nuclear weapons are ever used in the aftermath of their launching devastation is inevitable but the exact outcome is unknown.
Nuclear weapons are so powerful that its creators do not know the full capabilities of their creation, people are aware that nuclear weapons are capable of large-scale destruction but are not completely confident in how they will react once launched. This uncertainty of nuclear weapons shows that people cannot be trusted with the weapons and that if they are used the only thing that is for certain is that they cause damage; “[d]eterrence works because nuclear weapons enable one state to punish another state severely without first defeating it” (34).
In international security nations strive to protect themselves at all costs but must consider the consequences of the approaches they take when ensuring their country’s safety. Nuclear weapons will provide safety for a nation but once they are used catastrophe is unavoidable, “[a] war between the US and the Soviet Union that got out of control would have been catastrophic. If they had set out to destroy each other, they would have greatly reduced the world’s store of developed resources while killing millions outside their own borders” (35).
When deterrence is used it frightens a state, which prevents it from attacking the state resists attacking not because it is incapable of doing so, but because it acknowledges that it too may face punishment too (it may also feel the effects from its attack). When nuclear weapons are used nobody gains anything there are no winners only losers, human life is destroyed and the planet’s future is questionable all because of human pride.
There are some situations where violence is necessary and using violence becomes inevitable, but because of the destruction and force that comes with violence it needs to be avoided whenever possible. Violence is used to try and gain an advantage over one’s opponent but it is pointless to engage in violent activity if an individual’s violent actions cause harm not only to the enemy but to themselves as well. The film showed how quickly violence can get out of control and soon it only does harm to people and brings no amount of good.
General Ripper decided to launch a nuclear attack on Russia however the fallout of his decision not only harmed the Russians but the rest of the world as well. The Russian’s had constructed a much stronger device that would retaliate and harm everybody if they were ever in danger. In addition to destroying the world Ripper’s actions also went against his nation’s belief of never being the one that attacks first “Muffley: General, it is the avowed policy of our country never to strike first with nuclear weapons”(Dr. Strangelove).
This shows that even though the United States has the ability to use its powerful nuclear weapons to cause damage to its enemies it prefers to settle disputes in other ways. Deterrence allows for nations to continue co-existing in a relatively peaceful manner, even though threats remain danger of nuclear war is kept to a minimum, “deterrent strategies induce caution all around and thus reduce the indigence of war” (Waltz, 36). Nuclear states are able to use deterrence to ensure their own protection by threatening other states with the launching of their nuclear weapons.
This threat of nuclear war is designed to prevent other states from threatening it, if a state is attacked, feels threatened or vulnerable then they are able to go on the defensive side and use their weapons. Deterrence prevents situations where there are massive amounts of human lives lost: Turgidson: it is necessary now make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless, distinguishable post-war environments: one where you got twenty million people killed, and the other where you got a hundred and fifty million people killed.
Muffley: You’re talking about mass murder, General, not war (Dr. Strangelove). In this situation no matter what millions of innocent people are going to die, this shows that a lot of consideration needs to happen before using nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are designed to destroy so if the decision is made to launch them officials need to be confident that they are confident in their actions and that their thoughts are rational because there is no going back. As a result deterrence is an effective method for ensuring national security when nuclear weapons are involved.
The threat of an attack is enough to prevent states from utilizing nuclear weapons, the threat alone of an attack allows for states to remain secure without resorting to nuclear destruction. The film showed that national pride is vital but one cannot be blinded by nationalism and blinded by hate as it makes them incapable of thinking rationally when important decisions need to be made. Nuclear weapons dissuade states from going to war much more surely than conventional weapons because of mutually assured destruction, there is no point of starting a nuclear war if both sides are going to be destroyed.
Therefore deterrence is an effective means of international security as it allows states to keep their pride without demolishing the entire human population. Deterrence is about producing fear in the minds of the enemy and scaring them into not taking any action, and if a nation’s deterrence program is effective then it will not need to employ the use of nuclear weapons in order to defend itself. “Dr. Strangelove” reinforces the importance of deterrence because when it is disregarded destruction is inevitable.