YDCC "Hacking" Away at Risks Arising at the Cyber-Nuclear Nexus

As Russia and the United States modernize their nuclear forces and introduce a growing number of digital components, the surface for possible cyberattacks by an adversary and, thus the risk of nuclear escalation increases. Although the United States and Russia are at odds in numerous arenas, there has historically been political will for cooperation on reducing cyber threats to nuclear forces.

Abstract

A formal acknowledgment of the link between the cyber and nuclear realm are key to reducing the danger of inadvertent or accidental nuclear war and could open further opportunities for nuclear arms control. Nuclear weapons states have several options to reduce the risks at the cyber-nuclear nexus: Unilateral changes to launch policies, cooperative efforts in the P5-format and bilateral transparency and confidence building measures.

Policy recommendations

  • Promote discussions on nuclear doctrines taking into account the implications of cyber operations among the P5. China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States should jointly acknowledge the risks at the cyber-nuclear nexus.
  • Launch bilateral consultations to gain a better understanding of specific escalation mechanisms and enable decision-makers to exercise restraint in cyber operations. They should start by outlining and jointly evaluating existing internal risk assessment procedures for cyber operations.
  • Move from a Launch Under Attack (LUA) to a Decide Under Attack (DUA) launch posture, given the compounded risk of accidental escalation from cyber vulnerabilities of nuclear command, control, communications and intelligence (NC3I) and kinetic vulnerability of silo-based missiles.

Authors

  • Tim Thies

    Tim Thies is a Researcher at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH) and a PhD candidate at Radboud University Nijmegen. Previously, he was an EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Consortium Intern at the Peace Research Center Prague and a Visiting Fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey.