Online library

Pathways to Disaster

22 May 2023 - 11:35
Back to archive

Pathways to Disaster: Russia’s War against Ukraine and the Risks of Inadvertent Nuclear Escalation

The risk of inadvertent nuclear escalation due to policies in the conventional domain is a serious, and underrated, feature of the current stand-off between NATO and Russia that has followed Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. NATO leaders and armed forces need to be conscious of unintended signals that can follow the placement of weapons, the movement of forces, and support to Ukraine, especially considering the state of the Russian armed forces.

Given the growing stresses and strains on Russian capabilities, stocks, and organisation, multiple pathways appear towards inadvertent escalation. We identify four: (1) uncertainty whether intentions are offensive or defensive, also known as the security dilemma; (2) the nature of military organisations; (3) general informational complexity; and (4) comingling or entanglement of conventional and nuclear weapons, delivery systems, and enablers.

The brief applies the four mechanisms to current trends in Russia and notes that evidence exists for all four pathways.


The authors

Paul van Hooft, Davis Ellison & Tim Sweijs - The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS)