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Emerging technologies and nuclear stability


In June 2021, the Centre for Science & Security Studies (CSSS) at King’s College London published a report on the impact of emerging technologies on crisis stability.,,,,  This short article is intended to summarise the report’s high-level findings and deal with some of the feedback the author has received in the first month of its publication.


Emerging technologies and nuclear stability
Marina Favaro
 |Consultant, Centre for Science and Security Studies (CSSS); Research Fellow, Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (IFSH)  n June 2021, the Centre for Science & Security Studies (CSSS) at King’s College London published 
a report on the impact of emerging technologies on crisis stability.

”……………………………….Which emerging technologies are affecting the nuclear realm, and in what ways?

………..I contend that emerging technologies are affecting the nuclear realm in three ways:

Technological change is accelerating, and the locus of innovation has shifted towards private actors

Technological innovation is outpacing nuclear policymaking

Nuclear risks are rising, but there is no clear path forward for risk reduction

So, which technologies are most likely to escalate a conflict past the nuclear threshold? And how can policymakers and scholars alike better understand this impact?

  1. The report identifies ten technologies with the potential to impact crisis stability in the next ten years. These are: AI-powered cyber operations; AI for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); deep-fake technology; directed energy weapons; hypersonic missiles; kinetic anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities; Rendezvous and Proximity Operations (RPO) in space; satellite jamming and spoofing systems; small satellites (‘smallsats’) for ISR; and swarm robotics.

Evidently, this is a heterogenous group of technologies, spanning multiple operating domains, at different maturity or Technology Readiness Levels (TRL), with different barriers to implementation, and will impact different elements of the global nuclear order to varying extents and in varying timescales.

Policymakers need a way to compare different technologies in terms of common parameters to determine where a state should allocate its limited resources.

Clustering the technologies enables us to identify similarities and differences in the ways these technologies might impact crisis stability
I use Machine Learning to group emerging technologies with similar risk profiles into four technology clusters. (For more information on the method, please see Annex A of the report, where this is discussed in detail.) Technology clusters can help policymakers to understand which technologies are most likely to escalate an ongoing crisis past the nuclear threshold, in what ways, and what can be done to mitigate these risks.

Cluster 1: Distort. The technologies in Cluster 1 (i.e., deep fake technology and satellite jamming and spoofing systems) were assessed by experts as capable of interrupting data flows and distorting the information landscape. This cluster is the most concerning in terms of nuclear risk, due to its potentially high impact and high feasibility of implementation. These technologies are likely to escalate an ongoing crisis in a nonlinear fashion. ……………

Cluster 2: Compress. The technologies in Cluster 2 (i.e., kinetic anti-satellite capabilities, AI-powered cyber operations, hypersonic missiles, Rendezvous and Proximity Operations, and swarm robotics) affect the pace of conflict and could compress decision-making timelines. Suggested risk reduction measures include more ‘traditional’ arms control, a strategic cyber no first use policy, and nationally assured space situational awareness.

Cluster 3: Thwart. The technology in Cluster 3 (i.e., directed energy weapons) can credibly thwart or blunt a nuclear attack. However, augmenting defence may also be destabilising if it has the intended or ancillary effect of diminishing a country’s second-strike response. Suggested risk reduction measures include limiting the number of directed energy weapons that can be deployed and norms against placing directed energy weapons in space.

Cluster 4: Illuminate. The technologies in Cluster 4 (i.e., AI for ISR and smallsats for ISR) provide more accurate and comprehensive data flows to decision-makers. This technology cluster presents an opportunity for augmenting crisis stability. The suggested risk reduction measure is a commitment on behalf of nuclear weapon states not to target each other’s nuclear command, control, and communications infrastructure.

Broader risk reduction recommendations for nuclear possessors and non-possessors


In addition to cluster-specific recommendations, the report proposes broader risk reduction measures for nuclear possessors and non-possessors…………………

To ignore emerging technologies increases nuclear risks

The objective of this report is to help policymakers identify how emerging technologies might increase nuclear risks and which technologies should be the focus of multilateral efforts to reduce those risks. It offers a framework for evaluating diverse technologies in a way that makes them comparable, by grouping technologies with similar risk profiles into technology clusters.

July 20, 2021 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, safety

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