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Risk Analysis Methods for Nuclear War and Nuclear Terrorism (2023)

Chapter: Appendix A: U.S. Strategic Assumptions About Nuclear Risks

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Suggested Citation:"Appendix A: U.S. Strategic Assumptions About Nuclear Risks." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Risk Analysis Methods for Nuclear War and Nuclear Terrorism. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26609.
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A

U.S. Strategic Assumptions About Nuclear Risks

U.S. government statements on assumptions associated with nuclear risks can be found in an administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, National Security Strategy, Strategic Guidance, National Strategy for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism, and other publicly available documents. The committee found it helpful to review these assumptions in the context of risk analysis approaches. While certainly not a comprehensive list, the following official government statements from these publicly available documents do provide background context for the committee’s work. It is noted that as of the time of data collection and briefings for Phase I of the report (Appendix D), the current administration had not yet released its Nuclear Posture Review or National Security Strategy.

ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT THE RISKS POSED BY NUCLEAR WEAPONS USE

“There now exists an unprecedented range and mix of threats, including major conventional, chemical, biological, nuclear, space, and cyber threats, and violent nonstate actors. These developments have produced increased uncertainty and risk” (OSD 2018, p. 1).

“The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is a cornerstone of the nuclear nonproliferation regime. It plays a positive role in building consensus for nonproliferation and enhances international efforts to impose costs on those that would pursue nuclear weapons outside the Treaty” (OSD 2018, p. 1).

Suggested Citation:"Appendix A: U.S. Strategic Assumptions About Nuclear Risks." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Risk Analysis Methods for Nuclear War and Nuclear Terrorism. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26609.
×

ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT THE STRATEGIC INTENT OF ADVERSARIES

“Three main sets of challengers—the revisionist powers of China and Russia, the … states of Iran and North Korea, and transnational threat organizations, particularly jihadist terrorist groups are actively competing against the United States and our allies” (White House 2017, p. 25).

“Russia considers the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to be the principal threats to its contemporary geopolitical ambitions. Russian strategy and doctrine emphasize the potential coercive and military uses of nuclear weapons. It mistakenly assesses that the threat of nuclear escalation or actual first use of nuclear weapons would serve to ‘de-escalate’ a conflict on terms favorable to Russia” (OSD 2018, p. 8).

“China continues to increase the number, capabilities, and protection of its nuclear forces. While China’s declaratory policy and doctrine have not changed, its lack of transparency regarding the scope and scale of its nuclear modernization program raises questions regarding its future intent” (OSD 2018, p. 11).

“The Iranian regime sponsors terrorism around the world. It is developing more capable ballistic missiles and has the potential to resume its work on nuclear weapons that could threaten the United States and our partners” (White House 2017, p. 26).

“North Korea is ruled as a ruthless dictatorship without regard for human dignity. For more than 25 years, it has pursued nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in defiance of every commitment it has made. Today, these missiles and weapons threaten the United States and our allies” (White House 2017, p. 26).

ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT THE CAPABILITIES OF ADVERSARIES AND INFORMATION AVAILABLE TO THEM

“Russia possesses significant advantages in its nuclear weapons production capacity and in non-strategic nuclear forces over the U.S. and allies. It is also building a large, diverse, and modern set of non-strategic systems that are dual-capable (may be armed with nuclear or conventional weapons)” (OSD 2018, p. 9).

ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT U.S. STRATEGIC GOALS

“The highest U.S. nuclear policy and strategy priority is to deter potential adversaries from nuclear attack of any scale” (OSD 2018, p. 20).

Suggested Citation:"Appendix A: U.S. Strategic Assumptions About Nuclear Risks." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Risk Analysis Methods for Nuclear War and Nuclear Terrorism. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26609.
×

“The United States has extended nuclear deterrence commitments that assure European, Asian, and Pacific allies. The United States will ensure the credibility and effectiveness of those commitments” (OSD 2018, p. 22).

“Today’s U.S. missile defenses provide significant protection against potential North Korean or Iranian ballistic missile strikes against the U.S homeland, and will improve as necessary to stay ahead of missile threats from rogue states” (OSD 2019, p. v).

“We will modernize our nuclear enterprise to ensure that we have the scientific, engineering, and manufacturing capabilities necessary to retain an effective and safe nuclear Triad and respond to future national security threats” (Trump 2017, p. 30).

ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT DETERRENCE

“The United States will maintain a portion of its nuclear forces on alert day-to-day, and retain the option of launching those forces promptly. This posture maximizes decision time and preserves the range of U.S. response options. It also makes clear to potential adversaries that they can have no confidence in strategies intended to destroy our nuclear deterrent forces in a surprise first-strike” (OSD 2018, p. 28).

“The United States has never adopted a ‘no first use’ policy and, given the contemporary threat environment, such a policy is not justified today. It remains the policy of the United States to retain some ambiguity regarding the precise circumstances that might lead to a U.S. nuclear response” (OSD 2018, p. 22).

The threat of using nuclear weapons in response to a “non-nuclear strategic attack” (including chemical, biological, and cyber) can be an effective deterrent (OSD 2018, p. 22).

ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT NUCLEAR TERRORISM

“Nuclear terrorism remains among the most significant threats to the security of the United States, allies, and partners” (OSD 2018, p. 66).

“The most effective way to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism is to secure nuclear weapons and materials at their sources” (OSD 2018, p. 67).

“Nuclear and radiological terrorism requires materials that even the most sophisticated terrorists have not to date been able to produce. Because these materials must be acquired, whether through theft or illicit purchase, securing them at their source is among the most urgent security requirements of our age” (White House 2018, p. 6).

Suggested Citation:"Appendix A: U.S. Strategic Assumptions About Nuclear Risks." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Risk Analysis Methods for Nuclear War and Nuclear Terrorism. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26609.
×
Page 133
Suggested Citation:"Appendix A: U.S. Strategic Assumptions About Nuclear Risks." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Risk Analysis Methods for Nuclear War and Nuclear Terrorism. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26609.
×
Page 134
Suggested Citation:"Appendix A: U.S. Strategic Assumptions About Nuclear Risks." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Risk Analysis Methods for Nuclear War and Nuclear Terrorism. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26609.
×
Page 135
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The assessment of risk is complex and often controversial. It is derived from the existence of a hazard, and it is characterized by the uncertainty of possible undesirable events and their outcomes. Few outcomes are as undesirable as nuclear war and nuclear terrorism. Over the decades, much has been written about particular situations, policies, and weapons that might affect the risks of nuclear war and nuclear terrorism. The nature of the concerns and the risk analysis methods used to evaluate them have evolved considerably over time.

At the request of the Department of Defense, Risk Analysis Methods for Nuclear War and Nuclear Terrorism discusses risks, explores the risk assessment literature, highlights the strengths and weaknesses of risk assessment approaches, and discusses some publicly available assumptions that underpin U.S. security strategies, all in the context of nuclear war and nuclear terrorism.

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