thethirdnuclearage

Prof Futter’s Zoom presentation is available online at: Link

This exciting presentation included discussion of this project, outlining the priorities of NUCLEARREV.

By Andrew Futter, Professor of International Politics at the University of Leicester, UK.                            
15 February 2021

This work is funded by the European Research Council grant number: 866155. For more on the Third Nuclear Age research project see: https://thethirdnuclearage.com.

Seventy-five years after two nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there appears to be a recognition in both academic literature and policymaking circles that a “new nuclear era” could be upon us.  This shift is being driven by a mixture of political, normative and technological dynamics, which together are challenging the thinking and frameworks upon which global nuclear order is based, the way nuclear stability is maintained, and the nature of nuclear risks.  We can think of this as the start of a Third Nuclear Age.

For sure, characterising nuclear history into “nuclear ages” (a first nuclear age is said to have existed during the Cold War and focussed on the US-Soviet arms race, and a second nuclear age that focussed on regional proliferation and nuclear terrorism in the years that followed) is historically imperfect and overly Western-centric notion.  But using such constructs help focus attention on the most pressing problems and risks we face, and hopefully prevents us from sleep-walking unprepared into a more precarious and uncertain chapter in our nuclear story.

Arguably the most prominent feature of the Third Nuclear Age is the impact and importance of “disruptive technologies”.  Of course, the influence of military technological developments upon nuclear order is not new, but today the challenge is different because it is a whole suite of weapons and enabling technologies, many of which are non-nuclear, intangible and dual use, and at the same time a transformation in the nuclear information space.  It is also an inherently global phenomenon.

The incorporation of Artificial Intelligence into nuclear planning, possible uses of Computer Network Operations (cyber) across the nuclear realm, 3D printing, the rise of non-nuclear counter-space capabilities, moves towards full-spectrum missile defence, uninhabited weapons systems, quantum computing, advances in remote sensing, tracking and the development of long-range precision conventional weapons (including hypersonic missiles), as well as a nuclear real-time digitised nuclear ecosystem, all create different pressures for stable deterrence relationships, secure-second strike forces, escalation, crisis management and proliferation. 

The Third Nuclear Age also seems set to be characterised by the weakening of previous international arms control mechanisms and norms of nuclear restraint.  Part of this is a recognition that many of the treaties and negotiating bodies established in the First and Second Nuclear Ages are either under pressure and don’t reflect the current nuclear reality (the Non-Proliferation Treaty), risk falling away (the Treaty on Open Skies), have been badly damaged (the “Iran deal”), or in the case of the INF Treaty, which helped bringing stability to Europe for a generation, have been abandoned altogether.  The recent decision to extent New START is welcome, but it is less clear what will follow in five years’ time.

Some of this erosion can be explained by the impact of new military capabilities and rekindled geopolitical rivalries, but it is also a reflection of what appears to be a growing nuclear apathy among global publics and policymakers.  This in turn may be contributing to what some have mooted as a withering of the nuclear taboo (and the return of warfighting and aggressive nuclear rhetoric), and a general disinterest in nuclear issues as an existential threat to humanity more broadly. 

While we may still be living in a predominantly US-led nuclear world, the Third Nuclear Age will be far more geographically interlinked and interdependent, whereby actions or developments in one region will have global implications.  Indeed, nuclear balances and risks in the Middle East, South and Northeast Asia will be on a par if not exceeding the historical focus on the Euro-Atlantic.  Consequently, we must move to adjust our theoretical and conceptual nuclear frameworks, and the largely Western and Euro-Atlantic-focussed arms control and governance architectures, to account for this. 

At the moment, all nuclear-armed states are modernising and, in some cases, expanding their nuclear and strategic non-nuclear capabilities, which suggests nuclear weapons may be becoming more rather than less important in international politics.  It also suggests that we have probably reached the end to the 30-year trend of reducing global nuclear stockpiles, at least for the time being.  This may even have been compounded by the Nuclear Ban Treaty, which seems to have further widened the fissures and differences between the nuclear haves and have-nots rather than creating a viable pathway to achieving nuclear reductions. 

Thus, the Third Nuclear Age will be conceptually and materially different from the two nuclear ages that preceded it and require a concerted global reengagement with the challenge of ensuring nuclear peace.  Consequently, new, innovative and perhaps flexible frameworks and mechanisms of managing nuclear risks will be required as we go forward.

This may look daunting considering the clear complications of pursuing arms control for disruptive technologies, particularly given their very different nature to what we have experienced in the past, and especially in such an unconducive and fractious geopolitical climate.  The task is not made any easier by the fact it will also involve seeking to reengage global public opinion and the attention of policymakers in an environment where the challenges of climate change and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic continue to take centre stage.  But the world has faced similar challenges before, including during times of heightened geopolitical tension and transition, and determined thinking about risk reduction, informal mechanisms of restraint, different types of confidence building mechanisms, and education across all levels of society, can help to prepare us what seems likely to be a more dangerous nuclear world as we move into the Third Nuclear Age.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent the institute’s policy.

Prof Andrew Futter and Dr Benjamin Zala have had their article on strategic non-nuclear weapons published in the European Journal of International Security

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2021

Abstract

Three decades after what is widely referred to as the transition from a First to a Second Nuclear Age, the world stands on the cusp of a possible Third Nuclear Age where the way that we conceptualise the central dynamics of the nuclear game will change again. This paradigm shift is being driven by the growth and spread of non-nuclear technologies with strategic applications and by a shift in thinking about the sources of nuclear threats and how they should be addressed, primarily, but not solely, in the United States. Recent scholarship has rightly identified a new set of challenges posed by the development of strategic non-nuclear weaponry (SNNW). But the full implications of this transformation in policy, technology and thinking for the global nuclear order as a whole have so far been underexplored. To remedy this, we look further ahead to the ways in which current trends, if taken to their logical conclusion, have the capacity to usher in a new nuclear era. We argue that in the years ahead, SNNW will increasingly shape the nuclear order, particularly in relation to questions of stability and risk. In the Third Nuclear Age, nuclear deployments, postures, balances, arms control, non-proliferation policy, and the prospects for disarmament, will all be shaped as much by developments in SNNW capabilities as by nuclear weapons. Consequently, we advocate for an urgent reassessment of the way nuclear order and nuclear risks are conceptualised as we confront the challenges of a Third Nuclear Age.

To continue reading this article, please visit the European Journal of International Security website, at https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/european-journal-of-international-security/article/strategic-nonnuclear-weapons-and-the-onset-of-a-third-nuclear-age/91EEB3B77D348252815F9F7B59DB8A32

Prof Andrew Futter is on a panel at this event, taking place on 3rd February 2021.

Invitation to attend SCRAP’s webinar: Beyond Aegis: Strategic Stability and Emerging Technologies, on the 3rd February 2021 between 17:00-18:30 GMT

In November 2020, for the first time ever, an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICMB) was shot down by a U.S. warship: the Aegis Combat System. Such recent advancements in Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) systems and nuclear and conventional weapons pose a serious threat to global security.

How are emerging technologies shaping global security and stability? What implications do capabilities like the Aegis Combat System have for geopolitical dynamics? What changes in U.S. foreign policy can we expect to see with the Biden administration?

Our webinar is amongst the first to discuss the significance of the successful Aegis test for global stability. The webinar will explore the most recent developments in international relations alongside the politics and policies behind global security and powerful emerging technologies.

Panel:

Mr Ankit Panda, Stanton Senior Fellow in Nuclear Policy

Ms. Eva-Nour Repussard, Researcher, SCRAP Weapons

Mr Eric Gomez, Director, Defense Policy Studies, Cato Institute

Ms. Nancy Ehrenberg-Peters, Researcher, SCRAP Weapons

Professor Andrew Futter, University of Leicester

Mr Pavel Podvig, Director, Russian Nuclear Forces Project

Professor Dan Plesch, Director, CISD, SOAS

Register Here

Andrew Futter

Three quarters of a century after the first atomic device was exploded in the New Mexico desert, and three decades after the end of the Cold War, there appears to be a recognition in both academic literature and policymaking circles that a “new nuclear era” could be upon us. 

This shift is being driven by a mixture of political, normative and technological drivers, which when taken together, are challenging the central axioms and apparatus upon which global nuclear order is based and nuclear stability is maintained, and at the same time changing the nature of nuclear risks.  We can think of this as the start of a Third Nuclear Age.

The drivers of this Third Nuclear Age include: the emergence of-often non-nuclear and intangible-disruptive technologies that are creating a plethora of new nuclear dangers and pathways to nuclear use; a gradual realisation that many of the central mechanisms of global nuclear governance are coming under significant pressure or even being eroded; a reduction in interest in nuclear weapons as a global existential risk amongst both elites and the public; and the fact that we are witnessing a return to great power nuclear politics, dangerous rhetoric and aggressive posturing, at the same time as the global nuclear order is becoming genuinely multipolar and more complex.  

Given this considerable flux, it is essential that we consider the implications of this transition into what portends to be a distinctly new era of nuclear politics.  At the very least we need to act now to reassess the continued validity of established ideas and frameworks and their ability to keep us safe in this more complex and potentially dangerous Third Nuclear Age.  

For sure, characterising nuclear history into “nuclear ages” (a first nuclear age is said to have existed during the Cold War and focussed on the US-Soviet arms race, and a second nuclear age that focussed on regional proliferation and nuclear terrorism in the years that followed) is historically imperfect and can be accused of being an overly Western-centric notion.  But using such constructs helps focus the mind on the most pressing problems and risks we face, and hopefully prevents us from sleep-walking unprepared into a more precarious and uncertain chapter in our nuclear story.

The argument here is that the unfolding milieu of changes in the global nuclear space mean that we need to reorient our focus again, away from an overtly post-Cold War, post-9-11 focus.  Thus, it is useful to think of the current moment as the beginning of a distinct Third Nuclear Age, were the rules, challenges and central dynamics of the global nuclear game will be different from that which came before.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of the Third Nuclear Age is the impact and importance of new “disruptive technologies”.  Of course, the influence of military technological developments upon nuclear order is not new, but today the challenge is different because it is a whole suite of weapons and enabling technologies, many of which are non-nuclear, intangible and dual use, and at the same time a transformation in the nuclear information space.  It is also an inherently global phenomenon. 

The incorporation of Artificial Intelligence and Automation into nuclear planning, possible uses of Computer Network Operations across the nuclear realm, 3D printing, the rise of non-nuclear counter-space capabilities, moves towards full-spectrum missile defence, the possibility of unmanned weapons systems, quantum computing, advances in remote sensing, tracking and the development of long-range precision conventional weapons (including hypersonic missiles), as well as a nuclear real-time digitised nuclear ecosystem, all create different pressures for stable deterrence relationships, secure-second strike forces, escalation, crisis management and proliferation.  

The Third Nuclear Age also seems set to be characterised by the erosion or at least weakening of previous international arms control mechanisms and traditional norms of nuclear restraint.  Part of this is a worrying recognition that many of the treaties and negotiating bodies established in the First and Second Nuclear Ages are either under pressure (the Non-Proliferation Treaty), risk falling away (New START and the Treaty on Open Skies), have been badly damaged (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the “Iran deal”), or in the case of the INF Treaty, which helped bringing stability to Europe for a generation, have been abandoned altogether.  

Some of this erosion can be explained by the impact of new military capabilities and rekindled geopolitical rivalries, but it is also a reflection of what appears to be a growing nuclear apathy among global publics and perhaps also amongst many policymakers.  This in turn may be contributing to what some have mooted as a withering of the nuclear taboo (and the return of warfighting and aggressive nuclear rhetoric), and a general disinterest in nuclear issues as an existential threat to humanity more broadly.  

Paradoxically, this may even have been compounded by the 2017 Nuclear Ban Treaty, which seems likely to further widen the fissures and differences between the nuclear haves and have-nots rather than creating a viable pathway forward to reduce nuclear risks.  

The final piece of the Third Nuclear Age puzzle is the very public return of great power nuclear politics, especially rhetoric and posturing, but also nuclear modernisation and vertical proliferation, and a genuine move towards a multipolar nuclear world.  For sure, the nuclear order essentially become multipolar in the 1950s and 1960s as the UK and then France joined the nuclear club, but today it is clear that the nuclear balances and risks in the Middle East, South and Northeast Asia are on a par if not exceeding the historical focus on the Euro-Atlantic.  

Thus, and while we may still be living in a predominantly US-led nuclear world, this nuclear order is now far more geographically interlinked and interdependent, whereby actions or developments in one region will have truly global implications.  Consequently, what happens in other parts of the world is increasingly shaping the overall nuclear picture and we must move to adjust our theoretical and conceptual nuclear frameworks, and the largely Western and Euro-Atlantic-focussed arms control and governance architectures, to account for this.  

At the moment, all nuclear-armed states are seeking to modernise and, in some cases, expand their nuclear and advanced/strategic non-nuclear capabilities, which suggests nuclear weapons may be becoming more rather than less important in international politics.  It also suggests that we have probably reached the end to the 30-year trend of reducing global nuclear stockpiles, at least for the time being.  Indeed, this snapshot of recent history suggests that new, innovative and perhaps flexible frameworks and mechanisms of managing nuclear risks will be required as we go forward into the Third Nuclear Age.
The global nuclear order is in a state of flux, with myriad new pressures that need to be understood if we are to continue to safely manage the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. 

This Third Nuclear Age will be conceptually and materially different from the two nuclear ages that preceded it and require a concerted global collaborative reengagement with the challenge of ensuring nuclear peace.

The starting point is probably a recognition that we are entering into a different type of nuclear world, where some (though not all) nuclear risks and challenges have altered and where new thinking and measures will be necessary.  This may look daunting considering the clear complications of pursuing arms control for disruptive technologies given their very different nature to what has gone before, especially in such an unconducive and fractious geopolitical climate, and seeking to reengage global public opinion and the attention of policymakers as the challenges of climate change and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take centre stage.  

But the world has faced similar challenges before, including during times of heightened geopolitical tension and transition, and determined thinking about risk reduction, informal mechanisms of restraint, different types of confidence building architectures, and education across all levels of society, can help to prepare us what seems likely to be a more dangerous nuclear world as we move into the Third Nuclear Age.          

https://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/towards-a-third-nuclear-age/?fbclid=IwAR0pCSuYBkJMU4t4jBDKiIkNDl7vVsrJ2HylCEfB-fHwGMv-ckpqSogO1yQ

In this Oslo Nuclear Project Roundtable, we discuss whether modern conventional military capabilities can supplant nuclear weapons for deterrent and warfighting purposes, and the future relationship between nuclear and conventional deterrence.  

Time and place: Jan. 13, 2021 2:30 PM–4:00 PM, CEST, Zoom

If you would like to participate in this online seminar, please register here. All participants will receive a Zoom invitation in advance.

In a new research paper published in the Journal of Strategic Studies (Russian nuclear strategy and conventional inferiority), Dr. Kristin Ven Bruusgaard argues that the conventional balance of forces directly impacts nuclear strategy, and describes how conventional deterrence increasingly plays a role in Russian deterrence strategy.

But can modern conventional capabilities supplant nuclear weapons for deterrent and warfighting purposes, and what will the relationship between nuclear and conventional deterrence be in the future? How do other states beyond Russia perceive of the utility of conventional versus nuclear deterrence?

The Oslo Nuclear Project is convening a roundtable discussion on how nuclear and conventional deterrence is evolving in the contemporary era. The conversation will focus on how different actors such as Russia, the United States and NATO make use of nuclear and conventional capabilities to deter adversaries and contemplate how emerging technologies affect the future of nuclear and conventional deterrence. The panel will include:

Kristin Ven Bruusgaard, Postdoctoral Fellow (Assistant Professor) of Political Science, University of Oslo  

Alexander Lanoszka, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Waterloo, Canada

Andrew Futter, Professor of International Politics, University of Leicester, UK

Corentin Brustlein, Director of the Center of Security Studies, French Institute of International Relations (Ifri)

Speaker bios: 

Kristin Ven Bruusgaard is a Postdoctoral Fellow (Assistant Professor) of Political Science at the University of Oslo. Her research focuses on Soviet and Russian nuclear strategy, nuclear and conventional deterrence, and crisis dynamics. She has previously been a Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow and a Stanton Nuclear Security Predoctoral Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), Stanford University, a Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies (IFS), and a senior security policy analyst in the Norwegian Armed Forces. She holds a Ph.D. in Defence Studies from King’s College London and an MA in Security Studies from Georgetown University and is a certified language officer in the Norwegian Army. Her work has been published in Security Dialogue, Journal of Strategic Studies, Survival, War on the Rocks, Texas National Security Review, and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Alexander Lanoszka is Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Waterloo. His research agenda encompasses international security, alliance politics, and theories of war, with special focus on Central and Northeastern Europe. He sits on the editorial board of the journal Contemporary Security Policy and is an Honorary Fellow at City, University of London, where he previously taught prior to coming to Waterloo. He held fellowships at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dartmouth College upon finishing his PhD at Princeton University. He has published articles in such journals as International SecurityInternational AffairsSecurity Studies, and The Nonproliferation Review. His book Atomic Assurance: The Alliance Politics of Nuclear Proliferation (with Cornell University Press) examines how alliances can best deter, and reverse, efforts at nuclear proliferation by states that receive security guarantors from the United States.

Andrew Futter is Professor of International Politics, and former Director of Research for Politics and International Relations, at the University of Leicester, UK.  He has written widely on nuclear weapons issues and the impact of disruptive emerging technology, publishing seven books and dozens of peer reviewed and professional articles.  His most recent publication is the second edition of his “Politics of Nuclear Weapons” textbook (Palgrave 2020) and his most recent monograph is “Hacking the Bomb” (Georgetown 2018), which unpacks the cyber threat to nuclear weapons.  He is an Honorary Fellow at the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security at the University of Birmingham and a member of the Cyber-Nuclear Threats Task Force run by the US-based Nuclear Threat Initiative.  Andrew was previously a Visiting Fellow at the Norwegian Nobel Pease Institute in Norway, the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation in Washington DC, and the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, and a member of the Euro-Atlantic Next Generation Leaders Network.  He is currently working on a 5-year, £1.5million project funded by the European Research Council investigating the technological and political drivers of a shift towards a Third Nuclear Age.

Corentin Brustlein is the Director of the Security Studies Center at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri). Before assuming this position in 2015, he had been the head of the institute’s Deterrence and Proliferation program. His areas of expertise include nuclear and conventional deterrence, strategic stability and arms control, U.S. and French defense policies, and force projection and conventional warfare. At Ifri, he is also the editor of the Proliferation Papers, and he has contributed since 2008 to the various activities conducted by the joint civil-military research unit established at Ifri (LRD). Dr. Brustlein holds a Ph.D. in political science from the Jean Moulin University of Lyon, and has taught strategic studies, strategic analysis, and international relations theory at Sciences Po Paris, the Jean Moulin University of Lyon, and other academic institutions. He blogs at Ultima Ratio.

Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Strategy, Security Studies, Military operation, Europe, Russia

Published Dec. 15, 2020 4:03 PM – Last modified Jan. 5, 2021 11:47 AM

The current COVID-19 pandemic has focused attention on the vulnerability of the human race in the face of communicable disease. But the pandemic also serves as a wake-up call to the cataclysmic impact that would befall the world if nuclear weapons were ever to be used again. Overwhelming pressure on health-services, considerable disruption to normal life, difficult choices regarding suspension of civil liberties, how to protect key workers and ensure society continues to function – these would all be magnified many times over in the event of a nuclear explosion. Thus, in addition to refocusing attention on the prevention and mitigation of global pandemics, the lessons of the current crisis are much more wide-ranging, and should lead to a renewal of public education, interest, and activism in reducing nuclear dangers.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03071847.2020.1830431

Coronavirus, Brexit, the Integrated Review, Scottish Separatism and the Future of Trident

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03071847.2020.1830431

The coronavirus crisis has exacerbated the challenges posed by Brexit, the Integrated Review and a separatist Scotland, and shined new light on the UK nuclear weapons debate. This combination of issues has bolstered the argument that the resources allocated to sustaining and replacing the ‘Trident system’ should be used to develop societal resilience and support the economy. The pandemic has also highlighted possible vulnerabilities of the Trident system and the opportunity costs for other parts of the military, and aggravated the uncertainties of a fluid domestic political and constitutional context within which decisions about the UK’s nuclear future will be made. But while this climate may lead the UK government and electorate to look again at the broader opportunity costs and geopolitics of remaining in the nuclear club, Andrew Futter and Bleddyn E Bowen argue that the most likely result will be business as usual, making it difficult to see when, if ever, the country will disarm in the foreseeable future.