Debate:Were both sides in the Cold War morally equivalent?

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Jazzman had written elsewhere:

  • This stuff is Cold War 101: missile defense worries have always been about first-strike capabilities. Granted, it's not as real a threat as it was in the 60's (or 70's or 80's, for that matter), but if we had a way to reliably stop all (or enough) incoming Russian missiles, the opponent loses the protection he gets from assured destruction. So, in terms of game theory and logic, if we had a working MDS, and we decided to strike, Russia can't do anything about it. That's a very scary thing to Russians. And it would be very scary to us, if the Russians had a first-strike capability.
  • This has nothing to do with moral equivalence (and it's kind of hard to derive a definition of moral equivalence from that page you linked, but that's a seperate issue). It's about the idea that if the US wanted to launch an attack, there's nothing to stop them. Without an MDS, if the US wanted to launch an attack, the Russians could still completely destroy us. It's one of the reasons that MD hasn't been persued seriously until the last 20-30 years. We have even signed treaties stating that neither we nor the Russians would create an MDS -- that's how scary these things are. (And if I remember correctly, Reagan broke that treaty.)

Jazzman implies that the "Russians" (meaning the government, I suppose) were genuinely "worried" about a U.S. first strike. Every anti-MD argument I've ever heard asserts this, but I've never seen any evidence that (1) the Russian government actually had this worry or (2) more importantly, that it was a well-founded concern.

Anyway, the real MD question is about aggression, which involves a conflict between the Judeo-Christian concept of "good and evil" (undefined at the moment!) and moral equivalence (which I just took a crack at outlining).

The actual political conflict is between an aggressive totalitarian dictatorship (the USSR) or an aggressive, imperialist former dictatorship (Russia in the current decade) - and a meek, innocent country which just wants to left alone and not conquered.

The Czech Republic doesn't want to be the victim of Iran's aggression, and it naturally resents any threats from Putin to destroy its MD installations. CR isn't going to attack Moscow. They want to be able to prevent an invasion (or other aggressive pressure) from foreign bullies. --Ed Poor Talk 11:01, 21 August 2007 (EDT)

Well, this is again off topic, but since you told me to post here I guess it's ok. Moral equivalence has nothing to do with whether or not Russia feels threatened, it has to do with whether or not Americans think Russia is justified in taking action. There's a huge difference between how we perceive actions and how Russia perceives them.
You have never seen any evidence that Russia had this worry?! That's what the whole arms race was about! The Cold War was two competing realist powers -- a classic case of the security dilemma. The fear of a first strike is why arms limitation talks started as early as 1966 (between Johnson and Kosygin), why the Soviets wanted to ban MIRVed missiles in SALT I, and why we created the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. You simply can't chalk it all up to warmongering Commies.
Finally, deterrence theory is not about agression, and it's certainly not about good and evil! How can it be good and evil when both sides think they are the good guys? And it's not necessarily about agression, nearly as much as it is about perceived agression (as I mentioned before) or possible agression. So even if Russia doesn't think we are going to nuke them today, having an MDS in the Czech Republic still gives us a first-strike capability. Russia has been growing more and more wary of our activities over the last couple of years; it's perfectly in their interest to fear a first-strike capability -- if not for now, then somewhere down the road.
It seems I have some red links to fill in. In the meantime, I would highly suggest (as I did on the mainpage before the dissent got deleted) that you research the political theory analysis of the Cold War -- it really is fascinating stuff. Jazzman831 14:14, 21 August 2007 (EDT)
You seem thoroughly confused, if I may venture to make a personal remark. First of all, there is nothing "off-topic" here. Were you using off-topic as code for "something you would prefer not to have discussed"?
You also seem unaware of the meaning of moral equivalence. Is this because you don't know anything about ethics, or perhaps (as I guess) because you reject the concepts of good or evil - as so many moral relativists do? Don't worry about being honest; I won't ban you for revealing a fondness for relativism. Bans are for intellectual dishonesty, not for partisanship!
Finally, you seem to think that the Soviets just wanted to survive (not to conquer) and that whether they "struck first" or not is not a matter of ethics. In short, you regard them as having precisely the same moral standing as America: this is the textbook definition of moral equivalence, so I can't understand why you repeatedly reject my application of that concept, unless it is because you are unaware of the definition. --Ed Poor Talk 15:20, 21 August 2007 (EDT)
I thought it was off-topic because I was not answering the question "were both sides in the Cold War morally equivalent?" It's not a question I have an interest in answering; on the main page I was answering the question "is Russia being deceitful when they say they feel threatened?", which is also what I'm answering here.
I think you give me too much credit (or not enough, I guess...); I do not have a "fondness for relativism". There are good deeds, and there are evil deeds, but rarely will you find an "evil doer" who thinks they are actually doing evil. (Or sometimes, they know they are doing evil, but they think it is justified because it is for the common good; either way they place themselves in the "good" category). I don't know if that makes me a relativist, but that's where I stand. Ed Poor thinks that the USSR was evil, but Comrade Edski Pooravich thinks that the US was evil. It's not a matter of who is actually evil, but what each side thinks about the other side.
The bigger issue here is that you are talking about deterrence from an ethics point of view, and I am talking about it from a political theory point of view. I'm not denying that there are ethics involved with a decision to push the big red button, but deterrence theory is not about that at all. It's a logical, cause-and-effect emotionless analysis at the problem of nuclear proliferation, and how to ensure you won't be attacked -- whether or not the opposition has the credible will to attack you. Whether or not moral equivalence happens to apply is not relavent to the argument at all; it's coincidence that it does, not design. Jazzman831 18:01, 21 August 2007 (EDT) PS: I realize this overlaps Az's excellent points below. I wrote this, then didn't post until I had finished deterrence theory, which is the crux of my whole argument)
Don't sweat it, you're educated in a field in which I can only be described as a fascinated outsider. I'm learning - keep typing. :D Aziraphale 18:23, 21 August 2007 (EDT)
  • Comment : Ed has it exactly correct, the proposal to build the Czech radar is a deterent move to a Russian Federation client state, Iran, and not the Russian Federation proper. Putin argues its unfair, that the dissolution of the Warsaw pact was part of an agreement for NATO to be non-threatening to Russian Federation security, and upsetting the balance of assurances that Russian Federation arms dealers are making to Iran. So just as the Russian Federation has introduced new clauses into previous agreements by entering into arms trade modernization agreements with Iran, the US has proposed to NATO to likewise countermove with a junior NATO partner, and former Warsaw pact actor. (emphasis added for the humor of it). Rob Smith 17:01, 31 August 2007 (EDT)


Er... I feel like the point was missed, although that may be *me* missing the point. From my point of view, the moral equivalence issue, while interesting, isn't the first concern. No country, I would venture, thinks of itself as evil. I doubt that evil people do, either. And before you say it, I believe in good and evil just fine, thanks.

Instead, again from my POV, what matters is that a country feels legitimately threatened. Given the Bush Doctrine of preemptive action against threats to the US (which is a subject for its own debate page), is it really that far-fetched that Russia, or Iran, or anybody else that doesn't get along with the US, to harbor some suspicion of an attack? And in that heightened environment, is it really far-fetched for Russia to vehemently oppose a technology that would unbalance MAD?

I mean, really, you can start from the assumption of an Evil Russia and a Good United States and still have the problem that Russia doesn't want missile defense technology deployed. In fact, an Evil Russia would be even more likely to preemptively strike us, nuclear-ly speaking, wouldn't they? Aziraphale 17:26, 21 August 2007 (EDT) <-Pointer Brother...