Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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The Second Nuclear Age

Paul Bracken of Yale University critiques U.S. nuclear weapons strategy for national security following the Cold War.
February 1, 2014
The Second Nuclear Age

Slim Pickens played Major “King” Kong in the movie Dr. Strangelove and is shown here riding the thermonuclear bomb that starts an unintended nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Bracken has run many war games and has found that it is generally hard for a nuclear war to get started. But it is not impossible. For example, a war game called Proud Prophet went all the way to an unintended nuclear catastrophe when the players simply followed actual U.S. strategy. In just the initial launch of the game, a half-billion people died. (Photo: Open Source)

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The proliferation of nuclear weapons into regional conflicts means there are more players with more chances to play.

Unlike the Cold War era, the Second Nuclear Age presents a bigger, multiplayer game. This means the Second Nuclear Age holds a greater danger of nuclear war starting through regional conflicts. National security strategies that still focus only on bilateral big-power standoffs like the United States vs. Russia or China vs. Russia overlook the possibility of nuclear war between the new, secondary nuclear powers, like India and Pakistan. Such strategies are also blind to new regional tensions created by emerging secondary nuclear powers like North Korea and possibly Iran.

This means the world is becoming even more dangerous, not less, since the end of the Cold War. Are the U.S. nuclear strategies of the Cold War ready to meet this challenge?


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