New Technologies and the Nuclear Threat

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Winning Proposals

1CEIP

Proposal Title:
Escalation Through Entanglement: How Developments in Non-nuclear Technology Could Lower the Nuclear Threshold

Lead Researcher:
James Acton, Co-Director, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

“As U.S.-Russian and U.S.-Chinese relations become more strained, it’s critically important to understand whether and how new military technologies could make a conventional conflict turn nuclear. I’m thrilled to be leading a team of American, Chinese and Russian experts focused on understanding the risks and identifying solutions.”

2CNAS and Harvard University

Proposal Title:
Project Pathways: Disruptive Technologies and the Future of Strategic Stability Between the United States and Russia

Lead Researchers:
Elbridge Colby, Robert M. Gates Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security & James Miller, Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government

“The introduction and interaction of emerging military capabilities, including cyber, space, long-range conventional strike, and missile defense, are rapidly changing the face of military operations – and will have significant implications for deterrence and strategic stability between the United States and Russia. A joint CNAS-Belfer Center study, involving extensive interaction with Russian thinking, will make a major contribution to understanding the nature of these changes and how best to manage them in a way that maintains both deterrence and stability.”

3Georgetown University

Proposal Title:
Disruptive Technologies, Strategic Vulnerability, and the Future of Deterrence

Lead Researcher:
Keir A. Lieber, Associate Professor, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

“Technological change is dramatically undermining nuclear deterrence and strategic stability.  The computer revolution has made nuclear weapons arsenals more vulnerable to attack than ever, and the increasingly secret nature of military capabilities is complicating traditional strategies of deterrence, reassurance, and escalation control.  Scholars, policymakers, and the broader public need to better understand technology’s impact on nuclear deterrence in order to identify real policy options for avoiding nuclear crises and war.”

4Georgia Institute of Technology

Proposal Title:
The Dynamics of Command, Control and Coordination in Cyber-Conflict Escalation: A Scenario-based Examination

Lead Researchers:
Dr. Michael Salomone, Professor & Dr. Jenna Jordan, Assistant Professor, The Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Institute of Technology

"Cyberspace ties together vast swaths of the private sector, public sector and both domestic and international constituencies, how might such connections complicate issues of escalation during international conflict?"

5King’s College London

Proposal Title:
Understanding How Missile Defense Will Affect Nuclear Deterrence and Stability in the New Strategic Environment

Lead Researchers:
Professor Wyn Bowen, Co-Director and Ivanka Barzashka, Research Associate, Centre for Science and Security Studies, King's College London

"We don’t understand nuclear crises – especially, how new technologies like missile defense might affect them. Gaming can provide useful insights into such rare, dangerous and highly uncertain events."

6The RAND Corporation

Proposal Title:
Hypersonic Missile Nonproliferation: Hindering the Spread of Hypersonic Glide Vehicles and Hypersonic Cruise Missiles

Lead Researcher:
Richard Speier, Senior Political Scientist, The RAND Corporation

“Hypersonic missiles, which have the capability to fly at many times the speed of sound, will present a challenge to existing missile defenses and significantly compress response decision timelines. Their proliferation could destabilize already tense regions. This project explores potential approaches to restrict the spread of such missiles.”

Are we entering a new age of nuclear vulnerability? Many national security experts in the United States, Russia, China, and elsewhere warn that the nuclear status quo is less stable than most people realize. The main driver of this uncertainty is today’s rapid pace of technological change, which is leading to new or evolving weapons systems that threaten to upend the strategic balance.

These systems include cyber, high-precision conventional, hypersonic, space and anti-space weapons, and the next generation of ballistic missile defenses. Technological diffusion has given more countries access to these systems, which will soon be introduced into existing conflicts. On a longer time horizon, concerns include future autonomous weapons systems powered by advanced artificial intelligence. Although each of these technologies creates uncertainty, it is the complex interaction of multiple systems that may be of greatest concern.

In order to examine these threats to nuclear deterrence, Carnegie Corporation of New York announced a request for proposals earlier this year. We received nearly fifty applications from teams at a variety of universities, research centers, and think tanks. Proposals were reviewed internally and by a panel of external jurors with expertise in these topics, and we are now pleased to announce the six winners of this competitive grant. Each will received up to $500,000 in support over the course of the next two years.

What do these winners share in common? They incorporate innovative research designs that provide a new angle on problems. They reflect teams with a strong track record—often with both technical and policy expertise. They all include a plan to integrate policymakers into the research process from the start, and a clear and well-designed dissemination strategy to get research products into the right hands.

Several winning proposals feature research teams that offer international perspectives. Others have teams of experts with diverse political views and outlooks. And all include support for mid-career scholars, a population traditionally underserved by grantmaking strategies that tend to emphasize seniority or support for graduate students and postdocs. 

Another common thread is the use of open-source analysis and modeling. We believe that these issues affect all of us, and consideration of these challenges should not be limited to people with security clearances. By using open sources, the results could be discussed and debated across national borders and by academics, think tankers, and concerned citizens.

What does the future hold for this initiative? For the time being, the Corporation is only supporting research on this topic through the RFP process, but it is certainly a subject of interest. We are also interested in the emergence of new technologies that could make nuclear weapon acquisition easier. While we did not focus on these proliferation-related technologies in this first round, these are issues we will continue to look at and learn about.

Check back soon for updates on the research initiative, blog posts, and multimedia reports, including insights into the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit to be held March 31-April 1, in Washington, DC.