Nuclear deterrence theory, with its roots in the Cold War era, may not account for all eventualities in security and defence in the 21st century, given the larger number of nuclear actors in a less binary geopolitical context. It is clear that a number of present factors challenge the overall credibility of ‘classical’ nuclear deterrence, meaning that in-depth analysis is now needed.
Extended deterrence practices differ from region to region, depending on the domestic and regional landscape. Increased focus on diplomatic capabilities to reduce risks and improve the long-term outlook at regional level, including by spearheading new regional arms-control initiatives, may be a viable way forward. Addressing the bigger picture – notably including, on the Korean peninsula, Pyongyang’s own threat perception – and the links between conventional and nuclear missile issues will need to remain prominent if long-term and concrete changes are to take hold.
While emerging technologies may offer tremendous opportunities in the modernization of nuclear weapons, they also present major risks and destabilizing challenges. Artificial intelligence, automation, and other developments in the cyber sphere affect dynamics on both the demand and supply sides of the nuclear deterrence equation. States and alliance such as NATO must adapt their deterrence thinking in light of these technological developments, and define their primary purpose and priorities in this shifting security context. Resilience planning, adaptation to the evolving security environment, threat anticipation, and consistent crisis management and incident response – as well as thinking about the mitigation measures necessary to prevent conflict escalation should deterrence fail – will all be critical in upholding nuclear deterrence as both policy and practice.