Today, December 7th 2021, marks the 80th anniversary of the attacks on the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in 1941. This attack, in which new technologies (such as code breaking technology, modified torpedos, and early detection systems) enabled a dramatic element of surprise, changed the course of world history and shaped and foretold military innovations thereafter. Eighty years since the ‘bolt from the blue’ attack, we are at a precipice where emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs) individually and in combination threaten to destabilise peace and security in ways that are significantly different from the past. These EDTs pose a paradigm of new challenges whilst also giving rise to opportunities for conflict reduction.
We are at a precipice where emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs) individually and in combination threaten to destabilise peace and security in ways that are significantly different from the past.
As we wrestle with the development of EDTs and what this means for nuclear weapons, the ELN and its project partners – the Oracle Partnership, BASIC, and the Heinrich Böll Foundation – hosted a workshop in September 2021 funded by the German Federal Foreign Office and the Heinrich Böll Foundation. The workshop brought together a group of emerging experts to think about the changing landscape of the nuclear policy field and to assess risks, challenges, and mitigation strategies for nuclear weapon decision making under technological complexity.
While security-related nuclear weapons risks are exacerbating, the nuclear-decision makers of tomorrow are thinking seriously about conflict reduction and risk mitigation efforts.
This report, Emerging & disruptive technologies and nuclear weapons decision making: Risks, challenges & mitigation strategies, comes out of this workshop and explores the risks and challenges that EDTs pose to nuclear weapons decision-making and reflects on mitigation strategies. It demonstrates that while security-related nuclear weapons risks are increasing, the nuclear-decision makers of tomorrow are thinking seriously about conflict reduction and risk mitigation efforts. This new generation of experts is advocating for governments to develop off-ramp strategies, maintain open lines of communications, train professionals from diverse backgrounds, and build bridges between policymaking communities and technologists.
Risks and challenges
- Non-linear escalations
- Emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs) might impact the 3C’s (Capabilities, Communications, Credibility) of nuclear deterrence and challenge classical deterrence
- Premature technology deployment and deployment of technologies to premature environments.
- The impact of bias and culture
- Lack of awareness of being in or out of the loop
- Trust in advice
- Risk manipulation
- Domestic communications, public pressures, and audience costs
- Credibility of information
- The challenge of attribution
- An acute lack of understanding or awareness of adversaries’ EDTs capabilities and decision-making processes
- Miscalculations, inadvertent escalations, and unintended consequences
- Understand the subject better
- Clarify intent
- Keep communication lines open and have off-ramps to correct misinformation and misunderstandings
- Reduce biases
- Do not assume everybody wants to reduce risks
- Train a diverse cadre of nuclear decision-makers, mid-career professionals and leaders of tomorrow
- Encourage the private sector to understand the security implications of their innovations.
- Community integration
- Use existing structures to design risk mitigation strategies
The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.
Image: Giphy, Matthew Butler