Cyber and Space Weapons Are Making Nuclear Deterrence Trickier

Members of the 576th Flight Test Squadron monitor an operational test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III missile March 27, 2015, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

Members of the 576th Flight Test Squadron monitor an operational test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III missile March 27, 2015, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

December 4, 2017 | Source: Defense One, defenseone.com, 26 November 2017, James Miller and Richard Fontaine

If you can’t trust your networks or satellite communications in a crisis, ‘use-or-lose’ scenarios get a lot closer.

Stability was an overriding concern at last week’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on nuclear command authority, the first in four decades. Senators wondered aloud whether one individual — the American president — should have the sole authority to direct a nuclear attack. The focus is understandable, but there are other challenges to nuclear stability that deserve more attention than they’re getting.

In particular, advances in cyberweapons and counter-space capabilities are creating new pressures on concepts of nuclear deterrence as traditionally construed. As a result, and as we outlined in a recent report, there exists a real and growing possibility of rapid and unintended escalation of any U.S.-Russia crisis or conflict.