International Student / Young Pugwash
Third Nuclear Age
New Age, New Thinking: Challenges of a Third Nuclear Age
31 October-2 November 2022, in Berlin, Germany
Context & Relevance
During the “First Nuclear Age,” the confrontation between two nuclear superpowers shaped nuclear policy thinking and practice—including concepts of deterrence as well as systems for arms control and non-proliferation. Much of this thinking persisted after the Cold War, despite the transition from the First Nuclear Age to a “Second Nuclear Age,” which saw changing power dynamics and further nuclear proliferation.
Now, in the “Third Nuclear Age,” unfolding multipolarity combines with advances in “strategic non-nuclear weapons.” This broad term includes advanced delivery vehicles, high-precision strike weapons, and missile defense systems. In addition, new dual-use technologies are finding applications in the nuclear weapons field. In particular, automation, advanced sensors, radars, and space-based technologies improve weapons performance as well as intelligence and early warning capabilities. Growing digitalization of systems enables control and decision-making in real-time. Research and development of nuclear reactor technologies are also advancing, with fourth generation reactors under development, and small-modular reactors designed to be built in factories and shipped to site. The latter may bring new proliferation and diversion challenges.
These technological advancements provide strategic benefits but also harbor significant risks. They have the potential to fuel perceptions of vulnerability and facilitate escalation from a conventional to a nuclear conflict. Nuclear cooperation can help address energy needs, but it can also trigger dual-use and proliferation concerns. Convergence of technologies renders nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities intricately intertwined—a trend that pre-dated current events but is gaining traction in the Third Nuclear Age. It is important to both (a) assess risks posed by such developments from a technical perspective, and (b) gauge policy makers’ perceptions of those risks (merited or not).
The diplomatic structures that maintained stability in previous eras are struggling to adjust to the 21st century. The war in Ukraine and growing geopolitical tensions further cement this deadlock. While the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) remains, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) continues to face stern challenges. At the onset of this Third Nuclear Age, new thinking and approaches are needed to prevent conflict and increase stability.
Nuclear Arms Control & DIsarmament
Nuclear arms control and disarmament efforts (New START, the NPT, several intergovernmental initiatives and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons) appear brittle and fragmented. Still, technological progress provides opportunities for verification and ensuring compliance.
Governments around the globe are turning to nuclear power to help achieve their aims—from decreasing reliance on fossil fuels to powering military vehicles. Novel reactor designs may support those aims, but they also raise new questions regarding safety, waste and non-proliferation.
Delivery Vehichles & Launch Technologies
The range and sophistication of delivery vehicles and launch technologies for nuclear warheads is increasing, as is the number of states who possess them. This includes dual-capable aircraft, ground- and sea-launch systems, and missile technologies for defensive and offensive purposes.
Other Relevant technologies
A number of emerging technologies can have strategic effects when integrated into military operations and systems. This includes, but is not limited to, advanced communication technologies, artificial intelligence (including machine learning), and quantum computing and sensing.
Call for Presentations
International Student/Young Pugwash (ISYP) and its partners invite students and young professionals from around the world to participate in an interdisciplinary conference on the national, regional, international and technological drivers and implications of the “Third Nuclear Age.” This conference will provide early-career individuals with a unique opportunity to assess the impact of developments in nuclear and conventional weapons technology on the international order. The conference will allow participants to explore these questions and engage in dialogue across national divides, in accordance with the goals of ISYP.
Organisers and Partners
Organizers and partners of the ISYP Third Nuclear Age Conference include International Students/Young Pugwash (ISYP), Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, the Third Nuclear Age Project, the University of Duisburg-Essen, and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, with others to be confirmed.
View full details at https://isyp.org/isyp-3na-conference/