How about this. Russia should have been nuked in Operation Unthinkable, because this would have prevented them from attacking the 2016 American election, which was another Pearl Harbor and Annuda Shoah.
I realize this is sarcasm, but let’s entertain this seriously anyway.
General Ripper (LeMay, McArthur), Dr. Strangelove (Edward Teller, John von Neumann), etc. – they all sort of had a defensive point in terms of utilitarian ethics.
Here is the choice they’d have faced in the late 1940′s-mid 1950′s, when America’s nuclear stockpile soared into hundreds and then thousands of warheads, while the USSR was still racing just to attain a credible deterrent.
Nuclear war now
Perhaps 20 million guaranteed Soviet deaths in the atomic democide, versus maybe 2 million Western deaths (almost all military).
USSR is destroyed, risk of future nuclear war fades out as the US become a global singleton.
Nuclear war later
Possibility of tens of millions of both Soviet and Western deaths – say 50 million each – in a nuclear exchange during the later Cold War.
Assume these Strangelove people viewed the percentage likelihood as 50% (e.g. von Neumann viewed it as almost inevitable).
Then you have 50%*50 million –> 25 million Soviet deaths and 25 million Western deaths. Slightly discounted for them being future deaths, that’s almost exactly comparable to the “nuclear war now” scenario with respect to Soviet deaths, and much less favorable with respect to Western deaths.
Overall, you have 22 million deaths in the first scenario, and 50 million deaths in the second scenario. “Tragic but distinguishable postwar states.”
Moreover, it is perfectly human and understandable to (a) attach more value to your people’s continued existence, and (b) most Westerners at the time viewed Russians as being sort of subhuman anyway (just to give you an idea of how utterly foreign that world was to modern sensibilities… pacifist philosopher Bertrand Russell opposed Russia – because he believed it promoted race mixing).
Consequently, it would have been understandable for them to attach much more weight to the impact on the West. From their point of view, 2 million Western deaths (mostly military) now – and who cares about the Soviets? – is clearly and unambiguously preferable to 25 million Western deaths (mostly civilian) in the medium-term future.
Even if the probability of future nuclear war that they used was 10% rather than 50% (informed with retrospect, this is the most typically cited probability of the Cold War going nuclear), 10%*50 million = 5 million Western deaths (mostly civilian) in the medium-term future is still worse than 2 million Western deaths (mostly military) now.
Of course, modern Effective Altruism is supposed to leave parochial concerns such as national identity behind, so the value of Soviet lives would be equated to Western lives in modern ethical analyses. Moreover, it also has the benefit of hindsight, so the probability of nuclear war can be set at 10%. In this case, 20 million Soviet plus 2 million Western = 22 million total deaths in the late 1940s-mid 1950s would be an inferior outcome to 5 million Soviet plus 5 million Western = 10 million total deaths at some point in time during the rest of the Cold War.
So from an observer neutral point of view, and with the benefit of hindsight, it’s probably quite good that the US didn’t nuke the USSR in the late 1940s-early 1950s.
Or is it? An especially mischievous thinker – a heterodox effective altruist, let’s say – would also raise other questions to achieve a fuller analysis.
(1) How many lives were prematurely ended by the continued existence of a powerful Communist state in the form of the USSR above what things would have otherwise been throughout the world?
(2) To what extent are Western (or Soviet) lives more valuable in terms of the lives saved by the innovations produced by those parts of their population that were at risk of getting destroyed by nuclear democide?
This would greatly complicate the analysis. Probably beyond the point of the results having much validity. After all, even the estimates of potential nuclear deaths and probability of the Cold War turning nuclear are highly uncertain.