Nuclear weapons caused something new in military strategy more than a half-century ago: Concepts based on threats to incinerate the planet. Hyper-rational models called “escalation ladders” explained how lower levels of conflict were connected to higher ones and vice-versa. At the highest levels, all-out intercontinental nuclear exchanges destroyed civilization for failure to heed the warnings of Armageddon. “Balance-of-terror” thinking now seems outrageous, but it worked! There was a “MAD” stability in Mutual Assured Destruction.
We are not in Kansas anymore. Twentieth-century nuclear theory is no longer valid. The credibility of a threat to escalate to global nuclear warfare has been eroded by time, nuclear proliferation, and experience. Old notions concerning the relevance of nuclear weapons have changed. For decades, MAD thinking stunted the growth of military strategy by limiting sophisticated thought about the use of nuclear weapons at lower and intermediate levels of conflict. Americans and their policymakers still harbor outdated notions about nuclear war.