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Nuclear and New Technologies

Rapid technological advances present potential new opportunities for decision-makers. However, the race for technological superiority creates new risks, which are not yet fully understood. Since 2020, the ELN has been engaged in a project of work which seeks to identify the impacts of emerging and disruptive technologies on nuclear decision-making and present practical steps to mitigate the potential disruptive effects 

View the Guardrails and Self-Assessment (GSA) Framework

What?

The project will help set the agenda for a recognised and fast-changing but neglected area of nuclear risk: mitigating the impacts of emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs) on nuclear decision-making. Throughout this project, the ELN will provide innovative and important new tools for concrete nuclear risk reduction within the NPT framework. 

The fundamental aim of this project is risk reduction, assisting States in identifying and mitigating nuclear use pathways and potential mistakes/miscalculations. 

The ELN has previously identified the following emerging and disruptive technologies which could have unintended consequences on nuclear weapons use: 1) autonomous weapons and drones 2) counterspace capabilities 3) cyber offensive capabilities 4) artificial intelligence 5) deepfakes, and 6) quantum technologies. 

Why?

Emerging and disruptive technologies offer potential advantages. However, the rush by many nations to achieve “technological superiority” means that risks do not always receive the attention required. 

Emerging and disruptive technologies have the potential to amplify decision-making complexities, exacerbating current ambiguities and escalating the likelihood of misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and miscalculations. These factors could culminate in a chain reaction of unintended consequences, potentially resulting in the use of nuclear weapons. 

Recognising that substantial efforts have already been invested in understanding the implications of each individual technology on nuclear command, control and communications systems, the ELN’s unique contribution is to take a holistic approach and examine the technological complexity presented by disruptive technologies operating in aggregate. 

How?

The project will consist of three strands of work to better understand EDTs and technological complexity and produce detailed recommendations risk reduction parties to reduce nuclear risks: 

  1. Strand 1 focuses on developing a framework to address likely challenges of EDTs to nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) and nuclear weapons decision-making, composed of a set of guardrails and self-assessment measures that States can unilaterally adopt to mitigate nuclear risks in light of advancements in EDTs and their integration into the military domain.
  2. Through Strand 2, the ELN seeks to create a developmental prototype digital tool that will simulate the highest-level nuclear weapons decision-making instances, the impact of EDTs in these processes, and the way the framework developed in Strand 1 can mitigate the risks generated by the aggregate effects of EDTs.
  3. Strand 3 will develop a sustained EDTs and technological complexity risk reduction campaign, supported by ELN’s networks and sister networks in Asia and Latin America, to implement the recommendations among nuclear weapons and non-nuclear weapons States, and throughout multilateral and supra-national instances, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review cycle, the Creating and Environment for ND, the Stockholm Initiative, the NATO Nuclear Planning Group, among others.

 

Find out more about our previous iteration of this project

Project publications

Report

Technological complexity and risk reduction: A Guardrails and Self-Assessment Framework for EDTs in NC3 and nuclear weapons decision-making

Emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs) are changing our lives – including in the worlds of defence and security. The ELN has been working since 2020 to understand how future nuclear crises may be affected by the intersection of multiple rapidly evolving new technologies. Building on years of work, this report presents a new Framework to help guide the safe use of EDTs in nuclear command, control and communications (NC3) systems, aiming to reduce risks and manage escalation.

19 July 2024 | Belén Bianco and Rishi Paul
Event

‘Technological Complexity and Risk Reduction: A Guardrails and checklist framework for EDTs in nuclear weapons decision-making’.

On 10th-11th April 2024, the ELN convened a group of diverse experts for a workshop at the German Federal Foreign Office to consider the core ingredients of a guardrails and checklist framework that will help policymakers anticipate and address challenges arising from Emerging and Disruptive Technologies (EDTs) and their aggregate effects on nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) and nuclear weapons decision-making.

10 April 2024
Who's involved?

Funders