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Nuclear Command and Control and Strategic Stability

02 Sep 2023 - 10:19
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Paper series - Strategic Stability: Deterrence and Arms Control

Strategic stability refers to the ability of states to interact during crises without escalating diplomatic and conventional military disputes to the use of nuclear weapons. This essay evaluates the effects of nuclear command and control systems on strategic stability in crisis scenarios. The essay argues that states with command and control systems that delegate the ability to use nuclear weapons to lower-level commanders early in a crisis create conditions that endanger strategic stability and risk unintended nuclear escalation. Concerningly, such nuclear command and control arrangements increase the likelihood that nuclear weapons are used in conflict, even if neither side in a crisis formally crosses an established red line beforehand. This study defines the concept of nuclear command and control, details the challenges that command and control systems pose for strategic stability, identifies challenges to strategic stability in Europe and East Asia, and discusses opportunities for policymakers to reinforce strategic stability in those regions. Although nuclear command and control systems are difficult to shape directly, policymakers can promote strategic stability by engaging in near-term efforts to strengthen nuclear deterrence and long-term efforts to achieve limited arms control agreements between countries.


The authors

Giles David Arceneaux

Edited by Paul van Hooft - The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS)