Nuclear Incentive

March 23rd, 2017

The state of nuclear weapons, and what we’ve learned about human nature (part 2 of 2)


Today’s post is by Mike Figueroa, Assistant Director of Customer Services at SafeSourcing

This is a continuation of the blog “Nuclear Negotiation”. I’m setting out to answer the most important questions about nukes by listing facts I deem important by two measures: How severe the effect on human beings could be, and 2. The number of lives it could affect. Then I will conclude with discussing the human factors at play, and how they affect our daily lives.

  •  Global Nuclear war would not end all life on earth: The US and Russia each have detonated thousands of nuclear weapons tests, and these did great harm to the environment, but it did not trigger an extinction level event (though most were in the ocean, to prevent debris fallout that an actual war would not). A war detonating anything above 100-megatons of total yield seems to be the estimate for what it would take to end “modern” humanity, in terms of causing global collapse of infrastructure (Turco et al. 1983) due to its environmental and radiological effects. Most experts seem to agree that some remnant of human life would continue to exist, even if it took thousands of years to recover, though of course there is no guarantee it ever would return to our current level of modernity.
  • The system will only work/stay out of nuclear war for as long as all players behave predictably. Mutually Assured Destruction (or MAD as it’s referred to) is the concept that for as long as it is assured that an attacking company would be destroyed for destroying its intended country, it won’t make the attack in the first place out of its own interest of self-preservation. The problem though of course, is that MAD assumes a. all participants are rational, and b. that no unpredictable cause, such as an accident/malfunction or terrorist nuclear incident, would occur and throw the delicate system out of order.
  • The British philosopher Bertrand Russell called this balance a walk on a tightrope, however: “You may reasonably expect a man to walk a tightrope safely for ten minutes; it would be unreasonable to do so without accident for two hundred years.” There are bills being considered with the aim of limiting the US President’s ability to launch a nuclear strike (Lockie 2017) in an attempt to create a safety net below this “tightrope”. However, this in and of itself could cause nuclear war, by removing the “Assured” part of Mutually Assured Destruction for any would-be attacking nation.
  • Reducing Risk  If you’ve wondered why there has been so much pressure over the years to reduce all nations’ nuclear arsenals, this is it. The assumption is that there needs to be a balance where our weapons of mass destruction are present enough to de-incentivize war, but that there are few enough of these weapons around that we don’t destroy our species over a misunderstanding inept leader. Afterall, the leaders we are trusting not to push that nuclear button are subject to all of the same weaknesses you and I are, and to expect that to go on indefinitely without disaster is to not understand human nature.

Why has MAD worked for the past 70-some years? Because of game theory: Player A makes a move, that forces player B to make a move to get to an optimum point, and both players keep making moves until there is no new move that will improve either player’s condition (equilibrium). In procurement, this means a buyer will switch suppliers that provide better products, pricing, logistics, etc. And conversely, a supplier will adjust pricing in order to retain (or gain new) business, up until the point where any more moves will not gain more benefit/would incur a negative outcome. Sound familiar? It’s the force that drives basically all human activity: Businesses change suppliers, people change relationships, nations create weapons of mass destruction, and the changes continue until all actors have reached a point where change would be less good than the current arrangement, and so equilibrium is reached.

But have you ever seen someone make a decision/change that took them out of equilibrium, to the point that they incurred a loss? Someone destroys a positive personal relationship? Sells product at a loss? Makes an irrational decision? It’s an irrational but very human thing to do. We do have the ability to learn and the capacity to be rational, and avoid making this mistakes in our professional lives. But maybe the most important thing we can do, is ensure our leaders the world over are unflappably rational, by knowing how to be rational ourselves. It’s literally the only thing allowing us to deal with our opponents effectively, in politics and in business.

For more information on how SafeSourcing can assist your team with this process or on our “Risk Free” trial program, please contact a SafeSourcing Customer Service Representative. We have an entire customer services team waiting to assist you today.


Mills, Michael J., Owen B. Toon, Julia Lee‐Taylor, and Alan Robock. 2014. “Multidecadal Global Cooling and Unprecedented Ozone Loss Following a Regional Nuclear Conflict.” Earth’s Future 2 (4). Wiley Periodicals, Inc.: 161–76.

“[No Title].” 2017a. Accessed March 12.

———. 2017b. Accessed March 12.

“Nuclear Arsenals | ICAN.” 2017. Accessed March 12.

Turco, R. P., O. B. Toon, T. P. Ackerman, J. B. Pollack, and Carl Sagan. 1983. “Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multple Nuclear Explosions.” Science 222 (4630). American Association for the Advancement of Science: 1283–92.


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