Nuclear explosion The cornerstone of Cold War strategy was the theory of deterrents and the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD): both sides were deterred from using the bomb if a first strike guaranteed national suicide.
The psychology of this 'balance of terror' worked only for as long as the two powers believed themselves evenly matched and able to inflict fatal retaliatory damage on the other in the event of a pre-emptive strike.
The consequent arms race was fuelled by failures in intelligence and mutual suspicion that led both sides to overestimate their opponent's capability and seek to close the gap.
US fears of alleged Soviet technological superiority grew with the successful launch of Sputnik, the first ever satellite, in October 1957.
This suggested that the Soviet Union had stolen a vital lead in the development of long-range missiles that would give them the military edge over NATO.
The reinforcement of the strategic bomber fleet with swift, deadly and unstoppable intercontinental ballistic missile delivery systems during the 1960s shifted the balance of deterrents as it opened the way for a possible successful first strike that would prevent retaliation against an aggressor.
In this exhibition
- World War Two
- Cold War begins
- Balance of Power
- New millennium