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Report | 14 February 2022

Nuclear decision-making, complexity and emerging and disruptive technologies: A comprehensive assessment

Image of Dr Jacek Durkalec

Dr Jacek Durkalec |Senior fellow at the Center for Global Security Research (CGSR) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)

Image of Dr Anna Péczeli

Dr Anna Péczeli |Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Center for Global Security Research (CGSR) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Image of Dr Brian Radzinsky

Dr Brian Radzinsky |Postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Global Search Research (CGSR) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Emerging technologies Nuclear Security Nuclear Weapons Global Security

The complex interactions of emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs) could significantly impact nuclear decision-making, particular in an escalating regional conventional conflict. Such conflicts may present governments with a range of nuclear decisions, including how to respond to nuclear threats and limited nuclear attacks. At each decision point, EDTs are likely to influence both the context in which decisions are made and the choice of a course of action.

This new ELN report by Jacek Durkalec, Anna Peczeli and Brian Radzinsky finds that in some scenarios, EDTs could affect the decision-making context and available choices in ways that could exacerbate nuclear escalation, while in other circumstances EDTs could encourage nuclear restraint. While the interactions of EDTs are likely to introduce additional complexity to a nuclear decision-making process, EDTs are also not the only source of complexity. Broader strategic, military, operational, moral, and emotional factors are also likely to play an important role. These factors may continue to predominate in some cases.

The report recommends:
  • Decision makers should seek to understand the limitations and potential consequences, intended and unintended, of more widespread adoption of EDTs.
  • Even if a comprehensive risk reduction agenda seems currently elusive, decision makers should focus on laying the foundation for risk reduction measures. Such efforts should cover a number of unilateral and cooperative measures.
  • Unilateral measures to identify opportunities for risk management could include:
    – Improved risks assessments that seek to understand not only the ‘good’ but also ‘the bad and the ugly.’ This includes seeking better understanding of how EDTs could impact nuclear decision-making during all phases of an escalating conflict.
    – Assessing the performance and resilience of EDT-dependent systems during nuclear deterrence posture reviews.
    – Incorporating greater reliance on EDT-enabled systems into nuclear exercises.
    – Building resilience into the elements of nuclear decision-making which are
    likely to rely on EDTs.
  • These unilateral efforts can highlight opportunities for cooperative measures, including political commitments, legally binding agreements, and cooperative dialogues to jointly identify problems and solutions.

Read the full report here.

The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network (ELN) or any of the ELN’s members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges.

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