Balance of terror

Balance of terror

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The phrase "balance of terror" is usually used in reference to the nuclear arms race
Nuclear arms race
The nuclear arms race was a competition for supremacy in nuclear warfare between the United States, the Soviet Union, and their respective allies during the Cold War...

 between the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 during the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

.

It describes the tenuous peace that existed between the two countries as a result of both governments being terrified at the prospect of a world-destroying nuclear war
Nuclear warfare
Nuclear warfare, or atomic warfare, is a military conflict or political strategy in which nuclear weaponry is detonated on an opponent. Compared to conventional warfare, nuclear warfare can be vastly more destructive in range and extent of damage...

. The term is usually used for rhetorical purposes, and was probably coined by Lester Pearson in June 1955 at the 10th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter: "the balance of terror has replaced the balance of power".

Some political scientists use this phrase as a means of differentiating the world situation that followed World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 from that which preceded it. Previously, empire
Empire
The term empire derives from the Latin imperium . Politically, an empire is a geographically extensive group of states and peoples united and ruled either by a monarch or an oligarchy....

s had prevented war between each other by maintaining a relative balance of their ability (economic, military, and political) to wage war against each other—the phrase "balance of power
Balance of power in international relations
In international relations, a balance of power exists when there is parity or stability between competing forces. The concept describes a state of affairs in the international system and explains the behavior of states in that system...

" was often used to describe this kind of tentative peace.

The atomic bomb created a new political reality, in which two superpower
Superpower
A superpower is a state with a dominant position in the international system which has the ability to influence events and its own interests and project power on a worldwide scale to protect those interests...

s had the ability to destroy all of human civilization. The obstacle to war between the communists
Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 and capitalists
Capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

 was no longer the fear that the other side was more powerful, but rather the realization that nuclear arsenals were now large enough and deadly enough that winning would still likely result in the destruction of one's country (and the rest of the world as well).

In this counterintuitive way, the existence of the most powerful weapons ever created actually supported a kind of peace: while many wars were fought around the world during the Cold War, the superpowers never fought each other directly, nor have atomic bombs been dropped in combat
Combat
Combat, or fighting, is a purposeful violent conflict meant to establish dominance over the opposition, or to terminate the opposition forever, or drive the opposition away from a location where it is not wanted or needed....

 since Nagasaki.

Uses

  • John F. Kennedy
    John F. Kennedy
    John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

     used the phrase in his 1961 inaugural address, when he described the U.S. and the Soviet Union, "both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind's final war." http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres56.html
  • Albert Wohlstetter
    Albert Wohlstetter
    Albert Wohlstetter was an influential and controversial nuclear strategist during the Cold War. He was major intellectual force behind efforts to deter nuclear war and avoid the further spread of nuclear weapons to more nations...

     of the RAND Corporation wrote a paper entitled "The Delicate Balance of Terror" in 1958. http://www.rand.org/publications/classics/wohlstetter/P1472/P1472.html

See also

  • Balance of power in international relations
    Balance of power in international relations
    In international relations, a balance of power exists when there is parity or stability between competing forces. The concept describes a state of affairs in the international system and explains the behavior of states in that system...

  • Deterrence theory
    Deterrence theory
    Deterrence theory gained increased prominence as a military strategy during the Cold War with regard to the use of nuclear weapons, and features prominently in current United States foreign policy regarding the development of nuclear technology in North Korea and Iran. Deterrence theory however was...

  • Mutual assured destruction
    Mutual assured destruction
    Mutual Assured Destruction, or mutually assured destruction , is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of high-yield weapons of mass destruction by two opposing sides would effectively result in the complete, utter and irrevocable annihilation of...

  • Nuclear peace
    Nuclear peace
    Nuclear peace is a theory of International Relations which argues that under some circumstances nuclear weapons can induce stability and decrease the chances of crisis escalation. In particular, nuclear weapons are said to have induced stability during the Cold War, when both the U.S. and the...

  • Peace through strength
    Peace through strength
    "Peace through strength" is a conservative slogan supporting military strength for the purpose of creating peaceful international relations.For supporters of the MX missile in the 1970s, the missile symbolized "peace through strength." The phrase was popular in political rallies during 1988...

  • Reagan Doctrine
    Reagan Doctrine
    The Reagan Doctrine was a strategy orchestrated and implemented by the United States under the Reagan Administration to oppose the global influence of the Soviet Union during the final years of the Cold War...