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During the Cold War the USSR invested in extensive protected civilian infrastructure such as large nuclear proof bunkers and non-perishable food stores. In the US, by comparison, little to no preparations were made for civilians at all, except for the occasional backyard fallout shelter built by private individuals. This was part of a deliberate strategy on the Americans' part that stressed the difference between first and second strike strategies. By leaving their population largely exposed, this gave the impression that the US had no intention of launching a first strike nuclear war, as their cities would clearly be obliterated in the retaliation.
The US also made a point during this period of targeting their missiles on Russian population centers rather than military targets. This was intended to reinforce the second strike pose. If the Soviets attacked first, then there would be no point in destroying empty missile silos that had already launched; the only thing left to hit would be cities. By contrast, if America had gone to great lengths to protect their citizens and targeted the enemy's silos, that might have led the Russians to believe the US was planning a first strike, where they would eliminate Soviet missiles while still in their silos and be able to survive a weakened counter attack in their reinforced bunkers. In this way, both sides were (theoretically) assured that the other would not strike first, and a war without a first strike will not occur.
This strategy had one major and very possibly critical flaw, soon realised by military analysts but highly underplayed by the US military: Conventional NATO forces in the European theatre of war were considered to be outnumbered by similar Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces, and while the western countries invested heavily in high-tech conventional weapons to counter this (partly perceived) imbalance, it was assumed that in case of a major Soviet attack (commonly perceived as the 'red tanks rolling towards the North Sea' scenario) that NATO, in the face of conventional defeat, would soon have no other choice but to resort to tactical nuclear weapons. Most analysts agreed that once the first nuclear exchange had occurred, escalation to global nuclear war would become almost inevitable.
how then, do you explain the fact that the U.S. and Russia never used nuclear weapons on each other during the cold war?
With countries like Iran and North Korea this may change.
that no matter the amount of shleters built by both sides, that there would literally not be enough populance left to even govern.
Originally posted by smallpeeps
Well that's totally wrong. Nuclear war is very survivable. I refer you to the article, You Will Survive Doomsday for edification.