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In military strategy, assured destruction is where behaviors or choices are deterred because they will lead to overwhelming punitive consequences. It was most often discussed as mutually assured destruction (MAD), assuming there are exactly two parties in the conflict. The concept of assured destruction occasionally arises also in the death penalty debate and biotechnology debate.
For an assured destruction strategy to be successful
- the threat must be known in advance,
- the threat must be credible both in the opponent's ability and moral willingness,
- the target of the strategy must behave based on rational self-interest to the extent that the threat will be effective in preventing the behavior.
The examples of attempts to establish the conditions for assured destruction include:
- Poison pills in stockholder agreements.
- Highly punitive criminal and civil punishments for drug possession.
When the concept of assured destruction is applied in the doctrine of law, it is often criticized by proponents of the restorative justice and transformative justice approaches, who point out that assured destruction doctrines are rarely implemented with rigor or integrity of due process. This contributes to the controversy of the death penalty debate.
Assured destruction tactics are not to be confused with "insurance" tactics such as retaliatory trade tariffs that are merely intended to compensate the aggrieved or to return conditions to the pre-existing "level playing field".