By: Robert J. Traydon
Date: 12th January 2023 (Updated: 22nd January 2023)
The phrase “Mutual Assured Destruction” was coined by Donald Brennan back in 1962 to describe the scenario where a full-scale exchange of nuclear weapons between two superpowers would result in the complete annihilation of both sides and, most likely, human civilization. These unspeakable consequences have long stood as the principal deterrence against nations engaging in a nuclear war.
Since the end of the cold war, the world has enjoyed a period where the risk of nuclear war has been relatively low. However, since February 2022, this risk has grown to levels not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
In a Mutual Assured Destruction scenario, one may be inclined to assume that the scale of destruction is similar or equal for the participants since they both face comprehensive destruction. However, this assumption is deeply flawed.
While MAD doctrine focuses on mutual destruction, it overlooks the proportional distribution of this destruction. To simplify, a MAD observer would call both parties of a full-scale nuclear war ‘equal losers’; but a more nuanced observer is likely to call the party that loses more people, infrastructure and arable land, ‘the bigger loser’. Taking this into account, the party that has proportionally more to lose at the outset of a nuclear war, is more vulnerable to a greater loss in a scenario of mutual destruction.
It is this stark reality that the West, and particularly NATO member states, fail to grasp: The West has far more to lose than Russia in the event of a nuclear war, and should thus be far more reluctant to fight one in the first place.
To substantiate this point, refer to the comparison table below:
|NATO Countries||Russia||Proportion Factor
(NATO to Russia)
|Population Size||952 623 446||147 182 123||6,47|
|Cities over 1 million people||63||16||3,94|
|GDP (trillion USD)||$40,020 t||$1,779 t||22,50|
|Per Capita Income (USD)||$42 010||$12 087||3,48|
|Land Area (km²)||26 805 937 km²||17 234 028 km²||1,56|
Effectively, in the event of a nuclear war between NATO and Russia: NATO member states are placing 6,5 times more people at risk of incineration and radiation poisoning than Russia; placing 4 times as many cities with populations over 1 million at risk of obliteration; and at the same time squandering an astounding 22,5 times advantage in gross domestic product and 3,5 times advantage in per capita income.
These figures highlight the irrefutable truth as to who stands to lose more from a nuclear war between NATO and Russia.
Those in NATO who suggest that a limited nuclear exchange might somehow give NATO an advantage over Russia should be reminded of the disproportional consequences that would arise. In the extremely unlikely event that opposing forces were able to call a mutual ceasefire after the exchange of just 10, 20 or even 50 city-destroying nukes, what would be the likely outcome of that limited exchange?
The table in the link below lists the 50 largest cities within NATO vs the 50 largest cities in Russia with their respective populations, as well as the cumulative population counts:
Evident in this table is how rapidly the NATO ‘impacted population count’ rises in relation to the Russian ‘impacted population count’, in a scenario where an equal number of cities are successfully destroyed by each side. In truth, a nuclear war would only have a faint chance of being ended at a ‘limited’ point if there was a similar or equal number of cities lost by both sides.
In the event of a limited exchange with the top ten populated cities being destroyed by nukes on each side, the impacted NATO population would be close to 80 million, while the impacted Russian population would be just below 30 million.
With the largest 50 cities destroyed on each side, the impacted NATO population would be 160 million versus Russia’s 54 million … a factor of 3. This impacted population ratio of three NATO citizens for every single Russian citizen remains constant for limited exchanges of up to 100 cities destroyed on both sides.
In the face of an extinction-level nuclear war, one should be reminded that 950 million NATO citizens would perish as opposed to just 150 million Russian citizens. The bigger loser here is blindingly obvious.
Granted, this is a greatly simplified analysis that excludes targeted power stations, dams, military bases etc., but what it reveals is that while both sides will be annihilated, NATO member states will face a far greater extent of annihilation and loss than Russia.
Some may counter this line of thinking by stating that Russia’s nuclear arsenal is not capable of carrying out such an attack. While no one can say for sure just how prepared Russia’s nuclear arsenal is, it would be extremely foolish to bet the very existence of Western civilisation on this assumption.
In truth, the stakes are orders of magnitude higher for the West and particularly NATO member states in the event of either a full-scale or limited nuclear war. They have so much more to lose than Russia, and should thus be that much more apprehensive about allowing a conventional war to escalate to the point that it could go nuclear.
It would appear, however, that the ‘Mutual Assured Disproportional Destruction’ logic as described above is either unquantified or purposefully disregarded by NATO when one considers the ever-escalating conflict in Ukraine. Right now, it is in the West’s absolute interest to bring the Ukraine conflict to an end by promoting an immediate ceasefire and negotiated settlement.
Having more to lose is as much of a privilege as it is an Achilles heel, and it would be wise for the powers that be to take heed of this MADD reality.
Russia is certainly presented with a target rich environment. Also Russia's strategic targets are spread across a very large land mass protected by the best air defence system in the world. That said, it is a relative proposition and 80% + destruction on both sides is a pretty bleak thing to contemplate.
There seems to be a fixation on numbers without seeing the bigger picture of percentages and a true understanding of MAD. Example;
"With the largest 50 cities destroyed on each side, the impacted NATO population would be 160 million versus Russia’s 54 million … a factor of 3. This impacted population ratio of three NATO citizens for every single Russian citizen remains constant for limited exchanges of up to 100 cities destroyed on both sides."
Yes, but 160 M of 950 M is about 17% verses 54 M out of 150 M is about 36% of the population. Both have 100 cities destroyed. QUITE the difference in terms of percentage of peoples left to pick up the pieces for each side even though an equal number of cities are destroyed. Then;
"In the face of an extinction-level nuclear war, one should be reminded that 950 million NATO citizens would perish as opposed to just 150 million Russian citizens. The bigger loser here is blindingly obvious."
Isn't it "blindingly obvious" that 100% dead each is 100% dead no matter what the numbers of each are? It seems to me that MAD is MAD. The author's approach is nonsensical to the MAD discussion.
Russia GNP according to the 2023 CIA yearbook is approximate to Japan so might want to multiply your figures by X3 and you need to calculate all damage by square kilometre to get a real sense what comparative damage really will be