November 26, 2017

Cyber and Space Weapons Are Making Nuclear Deterrence Trickier

By Richard Fontaine and James N. Miller, Jr.

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.

Consider three potentially overlapping scenarios.

First, as is increasingly clear, activities that originate in cyberspace could provoke crisis and spread beyond the cyber domain. Over the past several weeks alone, startling new reports have detailed the extent of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election and to undermine our democratic system. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, reports that Russian Twitter accounts posing as Americans began their campaign much earlier than previously thought — in June 2015, more than a year before the election. Google reported recently that Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on Google search, Gmail, and YouTube ads. And Facebook now says that over 120 million users viewed fake content created by Russian operatives.

Read the full commentary in Defense One.

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