Problem

Risk of unintentional war generated by the arms race

Nature:
The qualitative and quantitative arms race continuously generates new military options, thus delicate strategic stability is constantly challenged and undermined. The arms race may therefore create a propensity of the international strategic system to collapse due to incentives to pre-empt and to adopt launch-on-warning policies. In other words, it affects the crisis stability of the international system, thus aggravating the risk of nuclear war by miscalculation.

The secrecy surrounding new weapons developments leads the nuclear powers to infer the 'worst case' and to overreact; thus the arms race is accelerated. The risks involved in the current technological arms race derive mainly from: enhanced accuracy and yield (mainly due to multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles) of anti-intercontinental ballistic missile weapons, thus jeopardizing intercontinental ballistic missile invulnerability; anti-submarine warfare developments jeopardizing the submarine launched ballistic missile 'leg' of the strategic triad; shrinking warning time due to forward basing (efforts to counter intercontinental ballistic missile vulnerability by reconsidering possible ballistic missile defence measures may be misunderstood by the opponent); and even if the strategic systems are not as vulnerable as some observers assume, the mere perception of their vulnerability may lead to misjudgement and miscalculation. A grave threat is posed to the invulnerability of command, control and communications systems; this may offer temptations to launch a pre-emptive first-strike attack or to adopt launch-on-warning policies and predelegation measures, which aggravate the risk of unauthorized initiation of nuclear war. To a considerable extent the arms race is progressing on an incremental step-by-step basis lacking proper national and international control. It thus produces results that are often highly dysfunctional to both national security interests and international concerns for strategic stability.

Incidence:
It is clear that the risks arising from the arms race are not efficiently countered or checked by the mitigating factors. Although in the absence of an acute international crisis these risks are not liable to overthrow strategic stability at the present moment or in the foreseeable future, they are extremely alarming in the long run.
Counter Claim:
The nuclear powers are extremely sensitive and attentive to potential vulnerabilities of their retaliatory capacity and command, and control and communications systems; as a consequence they undertake huge efforts to forestall potential 'windows of vulnerability'. New weapons technologies require testing, which offers an opportunity to detect new dangers in due time; this might mitigate the danger of being surprised by a technological breakthrough achieved by the opponent. So far and for the foreseeable future the arms race between offensive and defensive systems is led by the offensive systems. This fact helps the 'mutual assured destruction' relationship to continue to prevail. Arms control agreements may help to minimize threats to strategic stability by consensus.
Problem Type:
F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Subject(s):
Hazards
Arms
War
Date of last update
01.01.2000 – 00:00 CET