What it is: A course of action taken by one side intended to prevent hostile action by another.

What it means: During the nuclear arms race of the Cold War, it was believed that a hostile country would be discouraged from launching a ‘first strike’ nuclear attack if it knew that its opponent could strike back and cause ‘unacceptable damage’. At the height of Cold War tension, when both sides had manufactured enough powerful nuclear weapons to devastate each other, deterrence was regarded as a sensible policy for preventing war. The policy was called Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). It depended on ‘credibility’: each side being convinced that the other really had the weapons and the will to use them if attacked. This horrifyingly high-risk stand-off came close to nuclear disaster more than once, as a result of errors, misunderstandings and accidents. The world had a narrow escape.

Think about it: This was a kind of reverse dare, each side trying to stop the other rather than challenging them to risk danger. Yet the way in which they did this was itself hugely dangerous, with as many risks as a dangerous dare. Neither side was convinced that the other side would not start a nuclear war if they thought they could win it. But in fact a nuclear war could have no winners. Put together an argument to show the stupidity of this way of dealing with ‘the nuclear threat’. Can you think of similar maximum-risk contests on a smaller scale in ordinary social life at school/work and on the street? How could they be defused so that although nobody wins nobody feels they’ve lost (or plans to fight back another day)? People may sometimes find dares exciting, but tragic outcomes of dares are not at all exciting – and neither was the Cold War.