a MAD solution

Essayet tar for seg spørsmålet om militærteknologi (spesielt atomvåpen) kan stoppe krig.
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A MAD solution

Throughout history, war and science have been inextricably linked to one another. This codependent relationship originated as the first combatants realized that the side with superior weapons, was likely to prevail. From steel swords to gunpowder, science has played a huge role in warfare from the very beginning to this date. Working with nations’ military forces, the scientific community eventually delivered the means to destroy all of humanity. As the characteristic of this relationship has been to create more effective means of killing, one might ask if not science also has the potential to end war? Which Everett Carl Dolman, poses as: “perhaps the most important question of our age” (Dolman, 2016, s. 4). This essay will briefly look at the relationship between science and war, and particularly nuclear weapons to show that science can end war in theory, but not in practice.

Firstly, it is essential to understand why wars are fought. Machiavelli presents three main motivations for going to war: security, wealth, and prestige. (Machiavelli, 1960) He insists that humans’ priority is to keep what they have, and until that need is satisfied the desire to obtain more is modest. Once the greed motivates them to look outwards, and as their interests multiply, they begin to wish for the admiration of others to justify their gains. “In this order, for these reasons, are wars begun or avoided – first not to lose, then to gain more, and then to be recognized as having done so the right way.” (Dolman, 2016, s. 12). Based on this, there are several theoretical solutions to ending war. One could, for example, focus on the factors of security and greed. When it comes to these factors, the risk of going to war needs to be substantial enough compared to the gains. This translates into everyone having an impenetrable defense or unstoppable force. Attacking a defense you cannot penetrate is pointless, and going to war against someone that can destroy you back is irrational. In other words, it is possible to think that there would be no war if every nation had the means of an unstoppable attack or impenetrable defense.

Although the search for an impenetrable defense has been without luck so far, a form of unstoppable force was delivered through the invention of the atomic bomb. This invention brought with it the ability to destroy all of humanity, but simultaneously it became a contributing factor to the avoidance of a clash between East and West during the Cold War. The mutual assured destruction that both the USSR and the US faced at that time, made any attack against the counterpart a self-destructive act. The reason for this being that if one side fires it’s nuclear weapons, the other side would have time and incentive to do so as well, making for a mutual destruction of both parties. Therefore, it is possible to think that equipping all nations with nuclear weapons could be proposed as a theoretical solution to end war, as no sane nation would want to go to war against another nation knowing there is a possibility of a nuclear war.

The problem with a “nuclear” solution, however, is that it relies on rationality and trust. If every nation in the world had nuclear capabilities, there would be an enormous risk of someone making an irrational decision. And although this concept, in a way, ended war (briefly) between the USSR and the US, it was not without any “near destruction of everything” experiences. During the Cuba crisis, the world was extremely close to being annihilated, as neither the US or USSR wanted to back down. A similar situation as the Cuba crisis, might not end the same today as it did then. One misinterpreted signal could lead to the end of humanity.

The conclusion is therefore that, in theory, the mutual assured destruction concept has the potential to end war, but in practice the risk is far too great and might lead to what Dolman poses as a “last resort solution”: “If scientists are given the task of eliminating war, defined as violent conflict between groups seeking governing legitimacy, the most efficacious means might simply be to wipe out humanity – if there are no people there can be no war.” (Dolman, 2016, s. 140), and although this solution would solve the problem in theory, there would be no one there to witness it.









Dolman, C. E. (2016). Can science end war? Cambridge: Polity Press.

Machiavelli, N. (1960). The prince and the Discourses. New York: McGraw-Hill.



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