Nuclear War as a Global Catastrophic Risk
Nuclear war is clearly a global catastrophic risk, but it is not an existential risk as is sometimes carelessly claimed. Unfortunately, the consequence and likelihood components of the risk of nuclear war are both highly uncertain. In particular, for nuclear wars that include targeting of multiple cities, nuclear winter may result in more fatalities across the globe than the better-understood effects of blast, prompt radiation, and fallout. Electromagnetic pulse effects, which could range from minor electrical disturbances to the complete collapse of the electric grid, are similarly highly uncertain. Nuclear war likelihood assessments are largely based on intuition, and they span the spectrum from zero to certainty. Notwithstanding these profound uncertainties, we must manage the risk of nuclear war with the knowledge we have. Benefit-cost analysis and other structured analytic methods applied to evaluate risk mitigation measures must acknowledge that we often do not even know whether many proposed approaches (e.g., reducing nuclear arsenals) will have a net positive or negative effect. Multidisciplinary studies are needed to better understand the consequences and likelihood of nuclear war and the complex relationship between these two components of risk, and to predict both the direction and magnitude of risk mitigation approaches.
First published in Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, Volume 10, Issue 2
Responding to North Korean Nuclear First Use: Minimizing Damage to the Nuclear Taboo
Erin Hahn, James Scouras, Robert Leonhard, and Camille Spencer
The objective of this workshop, funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) through the Project on Advanced Systems and Concepts for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, was to address issues associated with responding to the first use of nuclear weapons by North Korea, with an emphasis on restoring the taboo against nuclear use. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory conducted the workshop on April 23–24, 2019, to bring together thought leaders from a variety of fields, including norm theory and practice, nuclear strategy, and Northeast Asia. Workshop participants considered scenarios involving North Korean nuclear first use and developed and analyzed options for responding to that first use. The workshop concluded with discussions of key questions. Through workshop contributions and post-workshop deliberations, we developed recommendations for DTRA, US Strategic Command, the intelligence community, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Primary among these recommendations is that all these organizations take restoration of the nuclear taboo seriously as a US objective after an adversary’s nuclear first use and that they conduct appropriate analyses and planning in advance to provide the president with effective nonnuclear retaliatory options that could reduce the severity and duration of damage to the taboo.
Game Theory and Nuclear Stability in Northeast Asia
Lauren Ice, James Scouras, Kelly Rooker, Robert Leonhard, and David McGarvey
This study assesses game theory’s potential to contribute to understanding the North Korean nuclear crisis. Previous APL work suggests that game theory provides a useful framework for formulating and analyzing multilateral nuclear stability issues; however, it seldom provides unique policy-relevant insights. For it to do so, game theorists must work closely with policy and subject matter experts. Thus, APL invited game theorists and nuclear and regional experts to (1) discuss the strengths and limitations of game theory applied to the North Korean nuclear crisis; (2) address the policy community’s skepticism about game theoretic analyses; and (3) explore mechanisms for collaboration. We found that game theory, when correctly applied, is a rigorous framework for understanding interactions in international conflicts; however, its predictive capability is limited. Misguided expectations have led to skepticism about its utility. While collaboration between these communities might increase understanding of nuclear crisis dynamics, obstacles include resolving motivational and communication issues, regulating expectations, and avoiding improper applications of game theory.
Nuclear Deterrence as a Complex System
Edward Toton and James Scouras
We establish that the US system for nuclear deterrence is a complex system in the formal sense, that nuclear deterrence must be regarded as a system-level function, and that the consequence of this is that there is the possibility of system-level failures not obviously connected to any component failures. These are emergent properties not predictable from an understanding of each of its components and interactions that may be candidates for Taleb’s black swan events. To understand the potential risk of failure of the US nuclear deterrence system as it exists in the United States and in the larger context of multiple state actors, it is necessary to understand the potential interactions of components and command authority. For the analyst, this means constructing models that attempt to capture the non-linearities of interactions, the existence of which is increasingly apparent.
Nuclear Crisis Outcomes: Winning, Uncertainty, and the Nuclear Balance
Kelly Rooker and James Scouras
The binomial distribution is widely used across many different disciplines. In cases where data can be represented with a binomial distribution, an estimate for the binomial distribution parameter (for the probability of success) is often produced. However, uncertainty surrounding this estimate is only sometimes reported, partly due to the opacity of the various methods available for determining this uncertainty. Failing to appropriately analyze uncertainty can lead to erroneous, or at least incomplete, conclusions. Here, we explore both Bayesian and frequentist methods for quantifying uncertainty in the binomial distribution parameter, and discuss each method's various advantages and limitations. Our work is motivated by nuclear crisis outcome data. While nuclear crises have been studied to determine the likelihood of the nuclear-superior, compared to the nuclear-inferior, state winning in a crisis, there is great uncertainty in these estimates for the probability of winning. We demonstrate methods that appropriately quantify such uncertainty and use nuclear crisis outcome data to illustrate applications of the methods we present, as well as to demonstrate insights that can be provided by explicitly analyzing uncertainty.
Nonstrategic Nuclear Forces: Moving beyond the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review
Dennis Evans, Barry Hannah, and Jonathan Schwalbe
The United States has a nuclear triad consisting of ballistic missile submarines, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, B-52 bombers, and B-2 bombers. At one time, it also had thousands of nonstrategic nuclear weapons (NSNWs) that were not covered by any treaties until the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty banned several types of US and Soviet weapons in 1987. Today, US NSNWs are limited to unguided bombs on non-stealthy short-range fighters at several bases in NATO countries. Russia, by contrast, has a much larger inventory of NSNWs and is modernizing them. China also has NSNWs, and North Korea either already poses, or soon will pose, a nuclear threat in the western Pacific. This growing asymmetry in NSNWs may pose a threat to NATO and to US allies in the western Pacific. The United States needs to devote more attention to this situation, considering improvements to its NSNWs along with other measures that might help mitigate these asymmetries, such as improved defenses against small nuclear attacks. The United States also needs to consider options for modifications to the INF Treaty in lieu of complete withdrawal.
A Preface to Strategy: The Foundations of American National Security
Richard Danzig, John Allen, Phil DePoy, Lisa Disbrow, James Gosler, Avril Haines, Samuel Locklear III, James Miller, James Stavridis, Paul Stockton, and Robert Work
During World War II, international threats and national goals were clear. That clarity continued, albeit to a lesser degree, throughout the Cold War and into the new century, with the United States as the world’s preeminent superpower and leader in defense, technology, and economic might. Today’s world is a different place, and the need for a clear picture of it is critical. This paper helps to crystallize that picture by first identifying premises that served processes, institutions, and strategies from World War II through the Cold War, seeking to comprehend our inherited predispositions as predicate for rethinking them. It then identifies changes that undermine these premises. To forge new premises, the authors specify foundational American strengths that must be protected and expanded amid and despite these changes. Finally, the authors suggest premises for a new age of strategic thought. This paper does not recommend a new national security strategy. Instead, it serves as a necessary preface to such a strategy by articulating how our national strengths and weaknesses must be understood as foundations for American security and by showing how the premises that have guided us from World War II to the present must be modified for the future.
Resilience for Grid Security Emergencies: Opportunities for Industry–Government Collaboration
Paul N. Stockton
Power companies and US government agencies have an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen preparedness for cyber and physical attacks on the electric grid. In December 2015, Congress authorized the secretary of energy to issue emergency orders to grid operators to protect and restore grid reliability in grid security emergencies. These orders could help sustain electric service to military bases and other vital facilities. However, unless the electric industry and the Department of Energy partner to develop emergency orders before attacks occur, they will miss significant opportunities to help deter and (if necessary) defeat such attacks.
This report examines design requirements for emergency orders. It analyzes decisions criteria that the president might use to determine that a grid security emergency exists, which is a prerequisite for issuing emergency orders. The report assesses possible orders for three phases of grid security emergencies: when attacks are imminent; when attacks are under way; and when utilities begin to restore power, potentially while facing follow-on attacks. It identifies recommendations to strengthen emergency communications plans and capabilities. It concludes by identifying areas for further analysis, including measures to bolster cross-sector resilience between the grid and the other infrastructure systems and sectors on which it depends.
Quantifying Improbability: An Analysis of the Lloyd’s of London Business Blackout Cyber Attack Scenario
Susan Lee, Michael Moskowitz, and Jane Pinelis
Scenarios that describe cyber attacks on the electric grid consistently predict significant disruptions to the economy and citizens’ quality of life. Most offer anecdotal support for the grid’s vulnerability to such an attack and assume the existence of an adversary with the means and intent to launch the attack. An estimate of risk, however, also requires knowledge of the probability that an attack of the required caliber can be successfully executed. Quantifying the probability of success for a large-scale cyber attack is hard because of the lack of precedent and the changing nature of threats and vulnerabilities. This report uses the grid cyber attack scenario outlined in the Lloyd’s of London and the University of Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies 2015 report, Business Blackout, to demonstrate how a probabilistic assessment could be used to quantify the likelihood that the scenario could occur. The analysis is subject to the limitations inherent in any probabilistic risk assessment; however, it serves to highlight some interesting phenomena that deserve further investigation, such as the importance of some individual power plants in influencing the adversary’s probability of success. In addition, it describes feasible data collection that would materially increase the validity of such an analysis.
Parametric Cost and Schedule Modeling for Early Technology Development
There is a need in the scientific, technology, and financial communities for economic forecast models that improve the ability to estimate new or immature technology developments. Engineering design or conceptual technical requirements with which to drive parametric estimates or translate analogous system costs are often unavailable in early life-cycle stages of technology development. The limited availability of comparable systems, design or performance parameters, and other objective bases makes it challenging to produce even rough-order-of-magnitude cost and schedule models. Often compounding the limited availability of information is the proprietary or protected nature of technology research and development efforts and related intellectual property. Consequently, executives, program managers, budget analysts, and other decision-makers must often rely on historical information from related yet often very dissimilar systems or the subjective opinion or “best guess” of subject-matter experts. This paper first investigates available industry modeling concepts, frameworks, models, and tools. A representative project data set is identified and selected for cost and schedule modeling, leveraging macro-parameters generally known or available in early technology development stages. Several model forms are then created and evaluated based on key performance criteria.
Sony’s Nightmare Before Christmas: The 2014 North Korean Cyber Attack on Sony and Lessons for US Government Actions in Cyberspace
Antonio DeSimone and Nicholas Horton
The cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in late 2014 began as a public embarrassment for an American company and ultimately led to a highly visible response from national leaders after the purported criminals threatened 9/11-style attacks on movie theaters showing the film. The cyber attack was triggered by the imminent release of The Interview, a comedy by Sony Pictures Entertainment in which an American talk show host and his producer are recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency to travel to North Korea and assassinate Kim Jong-un, the country's supreme leader. The cyber attack was discussed everywhere: from supermarket tabloids, delighting in gossip-rich leaked emails, to official statements by leaders in the US government, including President Obama.
The events surrounding the attack and attribution provide insight into the effects of government and private-sector actions on the perception of a cyber event among the public, the effect of attribution on the behavior of the attackers, and possible motives for North Korea's high-profile cyber actions. The incident also illuminates the role of multi-domain deterrence to respond to attacks in the cyber domain.
The Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) Cruise Missile and Its Role in Future Nuclear Forces
Dennis Evans and Jonathan Schwalbe
The United States has a nuclear triad that consists of ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), B-52 bombers, and B-2 bombers. The non-stealthy B-52 relies entirely on the AGM-86 Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) in the nuclear role, whereas the B-2 penetrates enemy airspace to drop unguided bombs. The current SSBNs, ICBMs, ALCMs, and B61 bombs will all reach end of life between the early 2020s (for the B61 bomb) and the early 2040s, whereas the B-52 should last until at least 2045 and the B-2 should last until at least 2050. Programs are well under way for a new SSBN, a new bomber, and the B61-12 guided bomb, whereas programs have just started for a new ICBM and for the Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) cruise missile that is planned to replace the AGM-86. Among these programs, the LRSO is the most controversial and (probably) the one at most risk of cancellation. Analyses presented here suggest that LRSO is critical to the future of the triad and should not be terminated or delayed.
Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons at an Inflection Point
Michael Frankel, James Scouras, and George Ullrich
The world has changed greatly since the last Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) was formulated only some seven years ago, and US nuclear policy must be responsive to these changes. In particular, the 2010 NPR assessed that Russia and the United States are “no longer adversaries” and their “prospects for military confrontation have declined dramatically.” This assessment has been directly confronted in the intervening years by Russia’s steady stream of nuclear saber rattling, its naked aggression in Ukraine, and its palpably bellicose willingness to project its military might beyond Europe. Moreover, large asymmetries in nonstrategic nuclear capabilities, coupled with Russia’s escalate-to-deescalate doctrine and earlier abandonment of its commitment to a no-first-use nuclear posture, suggest that Russia views nuclear weapons as useful instruments of intimidation and warfighting. We argue that Russian first-use of nuclear weapons in Europe should be addressed as a high priority nuclear threat in the trump administration’s NPR. We address the roles of allied nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Europe; the challenges posed by asymmetries in numbers, systems, and doctrine; and NATO’s potential response options. Looking forward, we anticipate key nuclear policy decisions the trump administration must face, and suggest that the issue of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, heretofore treated as a nearly irrelevant epicycle orbiting the greater strategic nuclear issues at play, can no longer be neglected.