In the Independent newspaper, Slavoj Žižek unpacks the bizarre logic (or illogic) underlying the escalating nuclear threats exchanged by Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. Whereas Cold War nuclear brinksmanship was governed by the logic of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), Žižek writes that the current showdown is governed by something he calls Nuclear Utilisation Target Selection, or NUTS. Here's an excerpt from the piece:
This escalation more and more resembles the struggle for recognition between the two subjects described by Hegel, the struggle in which the winner is the one who proves his readiness to die rather than make a compromise on behalf of life. Trump thereby inadvertently got caught into a game which does not become a true superpower – something that can be understood as a strategy of North Korea, a small and weak country, is simply ridiculous in the case of the US where a discreet stern warning would be enough...
If the basic underlying axiom of the Cold War was MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), the axiom of today's War on Terror seems to be the opposite one, that of NUTS (Nuclear Utilisation Target Selection) – in other words, the idea that, by means of a surgical strike, one can destroy the enemy's nuclear capacities while the anti-missile shield is protecting us from a counterstrike.
More precisely, the US adopts a differential strategy: it acts as if it continues to trust the MAD logic in its relations with Russia and China, while it is tempted to practise NUTS with Iran and North Korea.
The paradoxical mechanism of MAD inverts the logic of the “self-realising prophecy” into a “self-stultifying intention”: the very fact that each side can be sure that, in the case it decides to launch a nuclear attack on the other side, the other side will respond with full destructive force, guarantees that no side will start a war.
The logic of NUTS is, on the contrary, that the enemy can be forced to disarm if it is assured that we can strike at him without risking a counterattack. The very fact that two directly contradictory strategies are mobilised simultaneously by the same superpower bears witness to the illogical nature of this reasoning.
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