Mutual Assured Destruction

The Cold War is over, but surprisingly, America's Cold War nuclear policy has become a hot-button issue in this year's election. Governor Bush has advocated reducing our stockpile of offensive missiles and building a missile defense system instead. Vice President Gore and the Pentagon lashed back, defending the current policy. Is there a Christian perspective on nuclear arms? I think there is, and Christians must pay careful attention to this year's debates. Under the Scriptures, government has the clearly ordained task of preserving order. Paul writes in Romans 13 that we're to obey authorities who wield the sword. But since God has created a moral order and delegated authority to government, government must preserve order in the most moral way. That's a real challenge when confronting weapons that can destroy the world. During the Cold War, we embraced a policy called Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). We held the cities of our adversaries hostage while they held our cities hostage, threatening nuclear holocaust. Like two rattlesnakes in a barrel, neither side could strike the other without lethal consequences. I was personally involved in these policies when I served in the Nixon White House. None of us liked the idea of threatening to annihilate civilian populations. But we saw no option. In 1972, we even signed the Anti-Ballistic-Missile Treaty (ABM) with the Soviets, which prohibited both sides from deploying national missile defenses. But that left us committed to maintain the nuclear stalemate -- a "balance of terror." But much has changed since then. For one thing, we're the sole remaining superpower, and we need to consider whether it makes sense to continue targeting Russian and Chinese cities. Wouldn't it be better to defend against an attack rather than threatening to annihilate civilians? Second, defensive technologies have advanced by leaps and bounds, thanks to the computer revolution. We now have the potential to develop a system capable of protecting America and her allies from attack. Defensive weapons would not target population centers, so, by definition, they offer a more moral alternative than threatening retaliation -- one consistent with Augustine's formulation of a "just war." This makes sense, as well, because the threat to our national security has changed. It's bad enough that Russia and China still have nuclear-tipped missiles, but suddenly rogue states like North Korea and Iran are developing them as well. We need to defend ourselves. Finally, our ABM treaty partner, the Soviet Union, dissolved in 1991. So why do we need to honor this Cold War relic? Despite these arguments, the Clinton administration still believes we should honor the ABM treaty, and I believe that's a mistake. Adherence to this Cold-War fossil prevents effective missile defenses and serves as no deterrence at all to Third World despots who are building missiles capable of incinerating our cities. As Christians, we have an obligation to ensure that our government adopts moral policies. It's time to junk the morally bankrupt policy of Mutual Assured Destruction, an outdated Cold War posture that's based on avenging lives rather than saving them. And it's time to get serious about deploying a robust national missile defense. I for one welcome this long-overdue debate. UPDATE: A Comment After this broadcast was recorded, the White House announced that the President's effort this weekend to persuade President Vladimir Putin of Russia to amend the ABM treaty has been futile. If the Clinton Administration does not change course and make a unilateral decision, the Russians can effectively block a defensive missile system. This would be a tragedy. Our government should get the Russians' support if possible; if not, announce the treaty invalid and move on. A defensive system is imperative to the nation's nuclear security, and the world's. And there could be no more timely issue to be debated in this year's presidential campaigns.


Chuck Colson



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