The Soviets Really Did Have a Doomsday Machine
| Peter Klein |
According to the new issue of Wired (via the Economist), the Soviets really did have a doomsday machine and, as in Dr. Strangelove, didn’t tell anyone about it. Interestingly, the interpretation is that the Soviets, like Schelling’s rational addict, were directing the credible commitment not toward their opponents, but toward themselves:
The silence can be attributed partly to fears that the US would figure out how to disable the system. But the principal reason is more complicated and surprising. According to both Yarynich and Zheleznyakov, Perimeter was never meant as a traditional doomsday machine. The Soviets had taken game theory one step further than Kubrick, Szilard, and everyone else: They built a system to deter themselves.
By guaranteeing that Moscow could hit back, Perimeter was actually designed to keep an overeager Soviet military or civilian leader from launching prematurely during a crisis. The point, Zheleznyakov says, was “to cool down all these hotheads and extremists. No matter what was going to happen, there still would be revenge. Those who attack us will be punished.”
This wouldn’t deter a Jack D. Ripper type, I suppose. Still, fascinating discussion for those who teach about strategic commitment.