Assessing the Role of Emerging Technologies in Wartime Nuclear Escalation Risk | Caitlin Talmadge


William J. Perry Conference Room

  • Caitlin Talmadge

Seminar Recording

About the Event: What effects will emerging technologies such as cyber, hypersonic strike, artificial intelligence, and remote sensing have on nuclear stability in wartime? It is hard to know, because studying the effect of new technology on the propensity for nuclear war amounts to examining the impact of something that does not yet exist on the likelihood of something that almost never happens. This presentation, based on work in progress, will offer a research strategy for addressing these twin methodological difficulties. It first generates an original typology of nuclear escalation risks, distinguishing among different mechanisms that could link new technologies to heightened instability. It then examines the impact of emerging technologies in past eras on the propensity for wartime escalation, using carefully chosen cases from past conflicts that witnessed the debut of new capabilities. Preliminarily, the evidence suggests that although new technologies could certainly contribute to escalatory dangers in war, they have rarely been the primary driver of such pressure in the past. Furthermore, the relationship between new technologies and escalation, where it exists, has usually been deliberated engineered by policymakers, and not arisen as a result of mistakes or accidents. This finding holds important implications for reducing nuclear risk in future conflicts.

About the Speaker: Caitlin Talmadge is Associate Professor of Security Studies in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, as well as Non-Resident Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, and Research Affiliate in the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her work examines nuclear deterrence and escalation, civil-military relations, military strategy and operations, and defense policy, with a particular focus on security issues in Asia and the Persian Gulf. She is the author of the award-winning book, The Dictator's Army: Battlefield Effectiveness in Authoritarian Regimes (Cornell University Press, 2015), as well as co-author of U.S. Defense Politics: The Origins of Security Policy, now in its fourth edition (Routledge, 2021). She is currently on research leave from Georgetown University as the Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Kluge Center at the U.S. Library of Congress.

 All CISAC events are scheduled using the Pacific Time Zone.