Joe Biden and Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD): An Integral Take

Joe Biden and the Doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction
by Charles Marxer

Mainstream talk supporting the “wisdom” of President Biden’s early-announced determination not to engage Russia militarily, at least directly, in Ukraine is based on the following assumption: either the US avoids war with Russia or a nuclear WWIII will be triggered. We integralists ought to be all over that binary. I maintain it’s a false dichotomy and that therefore Biden should directly intervene in Ukraine to prevent the horrific bloodbath unfolding there now from becoming even worse.

A few nights ago MSNBC’s Chris Hayes “dusted off” the old doctrine of mutual assured destruction to explain the US/NATO’s adamant refusal to engage Russia militarily in defense of Ukraine. Here’s the doctrine in its simple form, commonly assumed to govern superpowers’ policies and actions during the Cold War and afterwards, saving us all from nuclear annihilation:

Mutual assured destruction (MAD) is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender. (Wikipedia)

President Biden, as early as December 8, said he would not directly intervene in Ukraine. Fear of provoking a wider war by sending troops was the stated reason. By “wider war,” of course, he meant a nuclear war with Russia, a meaning which he has clarified more than once since. Looks like good reasoning at first; no one wants a nuclear war as per MAD. Best not to poke the bear. But let’s look more closely.

There are two possible interpretations of the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. The weak interpretation says that a nuclear attack - even a limited one - by a nuclear power against another would trigger an all-out nuclear Armageddon. The strong interpretation says that even a non-nuclear or conventional direct attack by one nuclear superpower against another would likely be answered by a nuclear counter-strike, resulting in the MAD scenario. The former is regarded by most analysts as true, even self-evident. But what about the latter interpretation? Not so obvious.

Suppose Russia deliberately destroyed, with conventional weapons, a US submarine cruising in Russian waters just off the Russian coast in the Baltic Sea. Would the US immediately launch a nuclear attack on Russia? Not likely; the US can spare a sub, and the Russians would respond in kind which, according to MAD logic, would be suicidal. Conversely, if the US deliberately destroyed a Russian submarine cruising in American waters in the Atlantic Ocean, the Russians would almost certainly not launch a nuclear strike in response. Why not? Because of MAD, of course. Leaders of the superpowers are not suicidal, not even Putin. They know that nuclear weapons cannot be used in a war without fatal consequences for both sides. It follows that a conventional attack by a nuclear power against another nuclear power is not likely to trigger a nuclear holocaust (especially when the attack takes place on third-party soil). The strong interpretation of MAD doctrine is false.

President Biden seems to be operating on the basis of the strong interpretation of MAD. If he sends US fighter jets to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine, Putin will probably respond with a nuclear attack on US bases in Europe or on the US itself. But why would he? There is no reason to believe he is insane or suicidal. If the US entered the war with a limited tactic, such as imposing a no-fly zone, Putin could leave his nukes in mothballs, take a few punches to the gut, and then sue for peace on some sort of face-saving basis, thus avoiding destruction of his beloved Mother Russia.

Ok, so maybe Biden just thinks, better to be safe than sorry. But here is the flaw in that logic. He says, no US troops or planes in Ukraine, but on March 1 in his State of the Union address, he said, " “The United States and our allies will defend every inch of … NATO territory with the full force of our collective power—every single inch.” That means presumably, in the event of Russian aggression against, say, Slovakia, the US will defend that country with its military even at the risk of nuclear war. Would he really? Yes, the US is obligated to defend any member of NATO, but it has a record of breaking all kinds of "obligations" when it perceives its national interests are threatened. But, given his belief in the strong version of MAD, he should not rally to the defense of Slovakia, despite the NATO commitment, for the same reason he is refusing to directly engage Russia in Ukraine - the danger of provoking a nuclear war.

Do I think Biden would not move to defend Slovakia or any other member of NATO if attacked by Russia? No, of course he would do it, because his stated fear of a “wider war” is bullshit. He doesn’t really believe the strong version of MAD. He knows a conventional war against Russia in Ukraine would not likely go nuclear.* He has simply decided that Ukraine is expendable (green light for Putin), because direct involvement would have negative political consequences for him and the Democratic Party at home, e.g. soaring gas prices, hyperinflation, bad publicity in an election year. Biden has drawn his red line around the NATO countries bordering on Russia and is willing to let the chips fall where they may in Ukraine in the hope that non-direct assistance by NATO countries will make the crucial difference.

My point is, if Biden is willing to risk nuclear war (hardly likely as I argue above) in defense of a NATO country, why not risk* it in the case of Ukraine, which is a NATO country in all but name? Contemplate the suffering that might have been prevented if he had been so willing from the beginning. Ask yourself: if the US had used Russia’s build-up year to position its own military force along the southern border of Ukraine, would Putin have dared to invade? Not very likely; Russia can’t win a conventional war against the US. The same goes for establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine now.

With his cowardly refusal to intervene with the most powerful military force in the world, Biden has enabled Putin’s aggression and is sending a dangerous message to other unfriendly nuclear powers: bullying works. In his recent essay, “How Russia is Catalyzing the Transformation Age,” after praising the wisdom of Biden’s non-engagement policy, Robb Smith asks “What to do when a nuclear power decides to violate the UN Charter [doctrine] of national sovereignty and bully their neighbors, up to and including nuclear saber-rattling?” The answer is, first, to refuse to buy into the saber-rattling, because everyone knows nuclear weapons cannot be used without incurring MAD. Secondly, when a nuclear bully commits an unprovoked aggression against a neighbor, as Russia is doing now in Ukraine, get your superior army in gear and, if fair warning doesn’t work, smack the aggressor with every conventional weapon in your arsenal.

Integralists are not pacifists. We would prefer a cease-fire immediately, followed by good-faith negotiations to end hostilities permanently. But, with neither in sight any time soon, we can with good conscience advocate for a strong NATO intervention to rescue an innocent liberal democracy from extinction.

@Charles_Marxer You’ve posed a very straight forward question but have seemingly stuck a nerve.

I think the question for the Integral community is why little to no “Integral” critique of the DNC majority government and their decisions. No long ruminating psycho-analysis of defective leadership, no questioning of obvious corruption, no questioning of the negative impacts on humanity here in the US and globally.

And finally why no “Integral” critique of every DNC majority government’s decisions just coincidentally pushing both the US and the world into a twisted dystopian vision of a “Great Reset”. Does the Integral community really think that gutting the US, destroying all individual agency, enabling global relevance of clearly very low altitude leaders and cultures, and driving humanity into the resulting apocalyptic hell gives you a better odds of a “Teal Noosphere” emerging from the rubble?

I too lament the dearth of integral critiques of Democratic governments and their policies. Some years ago, I heard Jeff Salzman valorize Barack Obama as the first integral president. I replied with a list of about 10 terrible decisions Obama had made during his terms of office, including authorizing weekly assassinations of presumed terrorist operatives in other countries, drone attacks, surging troops into Afghanistan (even contrary to the advice of his vice-president), record deportations of migrants, etc. Jeff’s reply was something like, “Look how much worse the other guy would be.” I have no doubt the view of the integral elite today is, “Thank God Trump is not the president.”


I wonder Charles about the “law and order, rules and regulations, boundaries and limits” element here in terms of NATO admission requirements being somewhat sacrosanct. Do you think this is any justification for the U.S. not risking nuclear war in defense of Ukraine? Or merely defensive rationalization? I don’t like seeing the suffering either and have followed some of your train of thought on my own, and keep coming back to this point around law. Much in the same way I do when thinking about the laws relevant to boundaries and borders in regard to immigration.

As I understand it, Ukraine’s application for immediate admission to NATO has been denied and while they may be a NATO country “in all but name,” they still have to go through the long process, meet various requirements as other NATO countries have and do. I would be interested in your thoughts on this. Are we hanging on to outmoded laws/rules that in themselves may be contributing to suffering, or are those laws/rules preventing even greater suffering by providing a foundational chance for sustaining a global sense of order?

All discussions will be to mitigate any criticism of the DNC majority government.

  • It’s beyond their control
  • it’s not their fault
  • It’s Trumps fault

The more articulate will weave the deep web of “they’re following the rules”, “it’s what’s best”, “they’re trying hard”, “the consequences were unforeseen”, “all must sacrifice for the greater good”.

Salzman and Da Boulder Boys are making a renewed “rebranding” push, but offer nothing but regurgitated ideologies wrapped in slightly updated vernacular.

When in reality if you simply look at their actions, EVERY action coincidentally aligns withdriving the US into a “Great Reset” so they can Build Back Dystopian Authoritarian Collectivist as defined by the DNC elite and their religious disciples.

Sadly they left out all the “costs” to the American Citizens of what they’ve unleashed on humanity.

Unforeseen consequences and incompetence? I think not. Part of the strategy. It is what they said they were going to do - “Transform America”.

One line of discussion that falls on deaf Integral ears is “Why do you want to change the very best societies and government on the planet? Why don’t you blow in to Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Guatemala, Thailand, and China to work your magic?”

Those countries would absolutely benefit from the “any change, ALL CHANGE is better than what they’ve got”. Almost impossible to make them worse so have at it.

On the subject of NATO ascension:

Allowing countries to join NATO is not as simple as people apparently seem to believe it is.

There are several aspects of this that require time to implement changes in the prospective NATO country.
When a country is in NATO, every act they do from then on can reflect on NATO. If a country starts a war, NATO is obligated to act. That is what the treaty means. If we just allow a country in without thoroughly vetting them, it could be a disaster for the organization. What if a country is accepted and they start something that every other NATO country disagrees with? Well, then NATO will not participate. For example, Iraq was not a NATO mission but Afghanistan was - and by the end of it NATO countries wanted to just be done with it.

Then there is the issue of the fact that you have thousands of men shooting and throwing explosives and bombs everywhere and you better make sure they work well as a team and have some kind of unified way to make sure mistakes don’t happen. This is at the tactical and the strategic level. Russian / Soviet - and yes, Ukranian strategy and tactics are virtually the opposite of NATO’s. The two cannot operate side by side effectively. Highly mobile Western Armies will be bogged down if they have to include slower units that use Russian tactics. It just doesn’t work.

Communications is another factor, and the security of communications and intelligence. First there’s the obvious problem of trust and telling and army you might not trust all the locations of all your troops and assets and where they will go when ant what they will do and exactly how they will do it - you better be 100% sure that information won’t be leaked. Then there is the issue of technical security. NATO uses communications gifted from the USA that cannot be monitored by outside forces and requires special equipment. If their allies do not have that equipment, then they have to use open channels that the enemy can easily monitor. If this radio secure equipment is captured by the enemy, each time there is an increased chance it can be reverse engineered and compromise it forever. The equipment NATO Officers use to program all his platoons radios requires secret clearance for this reason.

There are a dozen other issues as well, such as language and the countries’ respective intelligence services, and lost more.

Thank you, La Wanna, for your thoughtful reply. To be willing to ask questions, not just spout one’s own opinions is the mark of a good conversationalist.

  • You are correct in thinking strict rules and criteria govern the process of entry into NATO and that it cannot happen overnight. In any case, Ukraine could not become a NATO member anytime soon, because part of it - Crimea - is actually Russian territory now. Also Pres. Zelenskyy has given up the goal in hopes of a cease-fire, but I don’t think that concession by itself will bring Putin to the negotiating table.

  • The NATO treaty obligates members to come to the aid of one another when attacked by an enemy nation but does not prevent a member for intervening on its own in a war that doesn’t involve NATO. That’s why the US could attack Iraq in 2003 without full NATO support (Canada refused) and bomb countries like Syria and Somalia unilaterally. The US could have legally and unilaterally put its own massive military force on the southern border of Ukraine in January and dared Putin to invade. If it had done so, there would be no war at all.

  • I described Ukraine as a NATO country “in all but name,” because conventional opinion in the west is that there is something sacred about NATO membership, n.b. Biden: “Russia will not take one inch of a NATO country’s territory.” But the problem is deeper than that; Russia’s aggression is a threat to the very concept of liberal democracy. Ukraine is a liberal democracy under threat, so it should be defended with the same commitment as in the case of a NATO member. Otherwise, the road is open to any other powerful autocrat to attack a democratic country.

  • The root problem is the existence of NATO itself. From the beginning it was created to exclude Russia - a colossal blunder. Any final resolution must involve the dissolution of NATO, replacing it with a comprehensive security treaty that includes the Russian Federation.

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We already have the UN as our “global authority”.

If memory serves, China abstained and Russia of course vetoed sanctions and military action against UN military action to defend Ukraine in the UN Security Council.

Little different than Covid19, UNs World Health Organization, China and the global devastation sanctioned by WHO.

As we look for global “authorities”, closest to Teal Alitirudw, why not simply support our UN, UN Security council, World Health. World Monetary Fund, et al?

We can use these higher altitude orgs to dismantle our current nationalistic structures of oppression and exploitation.