Maintaining stability and preventing nuclear use in an unstable multipolar world that includes nine nuclear-armed states is impossible using the bipolar logic and inadequate systems of the Cold War. Modern, robustly encrypted, and survivable multilateral communication systems available to nuclear decision-makers are needed to face the perils of the 21st-century nuclear reality. Hotlines are due for an urgent upgrade.”
In Foreign Policy, ELN Policy Fellow Sahil Shah and Institute for Security and Technology Future Digital Security Fellow Leah Walker argue that the P5 and other nuclear-armed states need to rethink nuclear hotlines to meet today’s geopolitical and technical challenges.
They note that despite the nearly one dozen hotline links that now exist, not all countries with nuclear weapons are linked up at the level of heads of state or, in some cases, at any level. In turn, current hotlines are neither universal nor interoperable.
“Our organizations—the Institute for Security and Technology and the European Leadership Network—are looking at nuclear weapon decision-making in the face of technological complexity. In particular, the Institute for Security and Technology team has closely examined global nuclear command, control, and communications systems and outlined what an innovative global hotline—dubbed “Catalink”—could look like. This project has gone beyond the conceptual stage and is ready for evaluation by the nuclear-armed states. Such an evaluation could be undertaken without change to their policies, postures, or arsenals, and it would feature well into their effort to take a more strategic approach to nuclear risk reduction while tensions rise in conflict zones across the globe.
Given the very real risks of nuclear escalation through misinterpretation of rhetoric or actions, or the miscalculation of responses due to ambiguity and secrecy, leaders must have the ability to speak clearly, confidently, and confidentially.