USA, China, Russia, Iran - how much does nuclear power matter today?

5 November 2023

Ludovica Castelli

Ludovica Castelli, nuclear expert at the University of Leicester within the “Third Nuclear Age” project, highlights how the atomic component remains relevant in the policy of today’s main world powers. But also how each of them reduces nuclear policy according to its own objectives.

In the unstable multipolar system that has emerged in recent years (and continues to take shape today), nuclear power remains one of the main aspects of international relations,  with different objectives and purposes depending on the case. In these times, we are witnessing Russia’s withdrawal from the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, following a direction opposite to that of the People’s Republic of China, which instead could open a dialogue with the United States precisely on the control of nuclear arms. How much (and how) does nuclear power still weigh on world powers? talked with Ludovica Castelli from the “Third Nuclear Age” project at the University of Leicester, UK.

Note: original article appears in Italian.

Ludovica Castelli

Accommodating Nutopia: The nuclear ban treaty and the developmental interests of Global South countries

18 August 2023

Review of International Studies

This publication by Andrew Futter and Olamide Samuel argues that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) would not have been possible without protecting the inalienable rights of states to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. While some Western states and NGOs have pushed to ban all applications of nuclear technology, this was unacceptable to a large number of disarmament-supporting states from the Global South and the Non-Aligned Movement. Without support from states across the Global South, the TPNW would not have achieved the required number of signatories to be adopted. 

Thus, we argue that to properly understand the TPNW, an appreciation of states’ interests and motivations beyond their more widely discussed frustrations with the pace of nuclear disarmament is essential. We also argue that nuclear weapons scholarship must pay more attention to perspectives from the Global South and the concept of Nutopia – a belief in both the dystopian potential of nuclear weapons and the utopian possibilities of nuclear energy – in its understanding of nuclear politics, past and present. Global South perspectives are often overlooked, and as such, current regimes of nuclear arms control and disarmament remain only partially understood in Western literature.

Dr Olamide Samuel

We’ll never have a model of an AI major-general: Artificial Intelligence, command decisions, and kitsch visions of war

7 August 2023

Cameron Hunter & Bleddyn Bowen


Military AI optimists predict future AI assisting or making command decisions. We instead argue that, at a fundamental level, these predictions are dangerously wrong. The nature of war demands decisions based on abductive logic, whilst machine learning (or ‘narrow AI’) relies on inductive logic. The two forms of logic are not interchangeable, and therefore AI’s limited utility in command – both tactical and strategic – is not something that can be solved by more data or more computing power. Many defence and government leaders are therefore proceeding with a false view of the nature of AI and of war itself.

Cameron Hunter

The NPT: the cornerstone or headstone of the global non-proliferation regime?

25 July 2023

Olamide Samuel

Without a doubt, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) has cemented its place as the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation regime. Referring to the NPT as the cornerstone is one of the few things that NATO and ICAN agree on, albeit for different reasons. 

The Former UN Secretary-General, the late Kofi Annan, even went further to hail the NPT as a “true cornerstone of global security”, as has every UN Secretary-General after him. It is obvious that the NPT is of great significance to global security, but the notion of a ‘cornerstone’ is a rather specific characterisation that the NPT enjoys. This specificity begs the question: what really is a cornerstone?

Photo of Olamide Samuel
Olamide Samuel

Five Nuclear Reflections on the Ukraine War

European Leadership Network (19 June 2023)

Andrew Futter

On 24th February 2022, Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. While the phenomenon of a stronger nuclear-armed state going to war with a less powerful non-nuclear armed state is far from unprecedented – even in the 21st century – the overt nuclear dimension to this conflict feels different to those in Afghanistan, Iraq, Georgia, Libya, and Syria, and even to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. 

This is because nuclear threats, nuclear signalling, nuclear coercion, and nuclear deterrence have played a central role in how the conflict is playing out. None of the previous conflicts of the 21st century have included thinly veiled threats of nuclear use on this scale, and none of these conflicts involved such close interaction between nuclear-armed protagonists (Russia and, indirectly, NATO).  

Dr Andrew Futter

The Fragile Balance Between Israel’s Domestic Crisis & Its Nuclear Status

The Stimson Center (4 May 2023)

Ludovica Castelli

Amid domestic strife and an erosion of democratic values, Israel’s nuclear politics may also face a reckoning.

In a recent interview with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Ze’ev Snir, the former head of Israel’s Atomic Energy Committee, repeatedly emphasized that the “survival” of his country is extremely dependent on its close relationship with the United States.

In his conversation with journalist Nadav Eyal, Snir didn’t dwell much on the substantial military, economic, or security assistance the U.S. has historically given to Israel. His emphasis and deep anxiety centered on U.S. backing for Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal.

Ludovica Castelli

Rightness, prestige, and a grain of securitisation: Saudi Arabia’s nuclear politics

The Stimson Center (3 March 2023)

Ludovica Castelli

Why does Saudi Arabia want to acquire the nuclear fuel cycle?

In January 2023, Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman announced that, given a recent discovery of indigenous uranium reserves, the Kingdom intends to advance its plans to develop a front-end nuclear fuel-cycle infrastructure, with both a domestic and an international dimension. The Saudi minister specified that this might involve joint ventures with willing partners and that Saudi Arabia would comply with international standards of transparency.

His comments were not particularly surprising. At a meeting in 2022, bin Salman had stated that the Kingdom planned to exploit its vast uranium resources “in the most transparent way.” That did not prevent international concern from growing over Saudi intentions amid a regional context in which Iran is reported to be enriching uranium at ever-higher levels. 
Ludovica Castelli

nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)'s
Review Conference - first session

23 January 2023

Olamide Samuel

With the eleventh Review Conference (RevCon) of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) slated for 2026, the first session of its Preparatory Committee will be held this year in Vienna. 

As the NPT cycle has been cut to four years instead of five due to pandemic-related delays, there is limited time for considered reflections on the ‘failure’ of the Tenth NPT RevCon to produce a final consensus document.

Given the prevailing international security environment, the near possibility of a ‘successful’ tenth RevCon was surprising. The Russian delegation’s last-minute decision to block consensus was equally surprising and ultimately led to the conference’s failure. 

Russia’s actions were especially disappointing, considering that numerous delegations were prepared to set aside their misgivings about the final document and join the consensus. With the exception of Russia, the symbolic importance of adopting a ‘middle-ground’ outcome document on the 50th anniversary of the treaty was widely understood to be of paramount importance.

Photo of Olamide Samuel
Olamide Samuel

Simulating the Cuban Missile Crisis on the 60th Anniversary

Written by Dr Cameron Hunter
9 November 2022

We gathered to mark the 60th anniversary of a showdown that brought the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe. In November 2022, University of Leicester students, staff and guest experts gathered to simulate the Cuban Missile Crisis. Borne from the team’s sheer interest, this extra-curricular event had two goals: 1) to gain new perspectives on the historic crisis; and 2) to kindle interest in conflict simulation amongst a new generation.

A simulation cannot hope to replicate every aspect – some variables necessarily loom larger in the design construct than others. For our game, we emphasised the limitations of communications technology in 1962. This meant that players could only talk in person if they arranged meetings, with appropriate delays added for travel or bureaucratic wrangling. Otherwise, players were reliant on telegrams (and telephone calls, but security fears kept teams from using the phone on the day) – readers will recall that the Washington-Moscow hotline was not established until after the crisis.

Beyond communications technology, we structured the game with a full-fledged Cuba team, reflecting recent literature that revealed the heavy influence of Castro’s government in shaping the crisis. For the curious, the result of our simulation was a sort of limited Cuban “victory.” The Cuban team successfully played the superpowers off against each other to finish 1962 with newfound prestige and independence.

In our post-game discussion, however, our participants were convinced that Cuba could not have maintained this fragile “win” for long into 1963 or 1964 because of the irreparable damage to Cuba’s trustworthiness enacted by its double-dealing. Our game managers were especially pleased to see emergent gameplay dynamics. That is, politically credible choices and knock-on effects that were not directly due to the game mechanics, but rather from the interaction of players with one another (within the scenario’s restraints). We saw aspects of nuclear deterrence and risk management in player decisions, who tended to assume the worst-case scenario would be the result of their own provocative responses.

A broader question for anyone in the conflict simulation community is whether nuclear politics can be usefully simulated at all. In reality, players know that in the game the fate of their loved ones, fellow citizens or country is not actually resting in their hands. The weapons themselves can be difficult to manage under a crisis scenario, so the game designers’ decisions on how (or whether) to simulate these aspects powerfully and subtly also shape the game result. Nevertheless, the emotional engagement that a game can provide through immersion did capture a convincing sense of the historical crisis as relayed in the literature.

Regarding our objective of drawing in a new generation of crisis and war gamers, we polled our participants and found that they had a new sense of confidence in creating simulations for themselves. Our academic faculty now has a core group of simulation-savvy students eager for the next step, and those of us at the Third Nuclear Age project will be continuing to do our part to support the next generation of experts and practitioners.

Dr Cameron Hunter
Dr Robert Domaingue, former US State Department, briefs some of the players on how conflict simulation is used by government officials
Third Nuclear Age game managers and student participants pose after the Cuban missile crisis simulation

Nuclear Strategy in the 21st Century: Continuity or Change?

Research Paper #27 by NATO Defense College

16 December 2022
Cameron Hunter

Dr Cameron Hunter has contributed an article, “Bernard Brodie’s strategic theory in the third nuclear age” to NATO Defense College’s 27th research paper entitled, “Nuclear Strategy in the 21st Century: Continuity or Change?

Appearing first from six in the publication, Dr Hunter’s article explores three key points from Brodie’s most important text, “Strategy in the Missile Age”:

  1. The centrality of technology; 
  2. Nuclear strategy, speed, and precision;
  3. Data integration, sensors, and interceptors.

Dr Cameron Hunter