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Under the Nuclear Shadow

Improvements to strategic situational awareness (SA)—the ability to characterize the operating environment, detect and respond to threats, and discern actual attacks from false alarms across the spectrum of conflict—have long been assumed to reduce the risk of conflict and help manage crises more successfully when they occur.

However, with the development of increasingly capable strategic SA-related technology, growing comingling of conventional and nuclear SA requirements and capabilities, and the increasing risk of conventional conflict between nuclear-armed adversaries, this may no longer be the case.

The emerging SA ecosystem is highly networked, real-time, and dual-use, creating a landscape that is highly capable but also murkier and more complex. The rapid pace of technological advancement, dual-use (conventional and nuclear) applicability of emerging capabilities and blurring of lines between nuclear and conventional command and control are reshaping the emerging landscape. This emerging SA ecosystem can provide vast amounts of information, more quickly and more precisely than ever before, including about new forms of strategic attack that may prove elusive to traditional warning systems.

Why Does this Matter?

  1. The risk of crisis or conflict between nuclear-armed states—some of which integrate conventional and nuclear forces in their military strategies or employ dual-use (nuclear and conventional) delivery systems—is increasing.
  2. Nuclear-armed states are increasingly reliant on a single strategic SA-enabled ecosystem for both nuclear and conventional crisis and conflict, raising new escalation challenges and prompting reconsideration of the value and stabilizing nature of information dominance in a crisis.
  3. New technologies provide more information quicker and with greater precision than ever before, challenging decisionmakers’ ability to effectively manage risk and adjudicate the high stakes involved.

What technologies were explored during On the Radar?

The following table lays out the technologies explored by this project. The table is not exhaustive, but it represents strategic SA capabilities across all domains and is representative of the emerging SA ecosystem.

Read report at On The Radar – Center for Strategic & International Studies

About the author

Rebecca Hersman, Reja Younis, Bryce Farabaugh, Bethany Goldblum, and Andrew Reddie

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