Emerging military technologies and the implications for strategic stability in the 21st century

This project examines the implications of evolving non-nuclear military technologies for national nuclear force postures and deterrence strategies. It focuses on three general categories of weapon system technologies: ballistic missile defences; long-range conventional strike systems; and space weapons.

The purpose is to identify and assess likely obstacles to achieving or maintaining strategic stability in ‘dyad’ relationships characterized by an increasingly complex and ambiguous mix of strategic nuclear and conventional forces. This involves two related analytical tasks: a) examining specific concerns in nuclear weapon-possessing states about potential vulnerabilities in their current nuclear deterrence postures arising from new or enhanced-capability conventional weapon and sensor systems; and b) evaluating how selected states are likely to respond to a competitor’s acquisition of such systems in terms of adjusting the size, composition and operational deployment of their nuclear forces. 

Main focus of the project

The project will focus on three technology categories identified as having potentially transformative implications for nuclear force postures. These technologies have already emerged as complicating factors for achieving or maintaining stable deterrence relationships that are likely to intensify as relevant military capabilities are improved over time:

  • Ballistic missile defence
  • Long-range conventional strike weapons
  • Space warfare systems

The study also considers how changes in nuclear doctrines and force planning parameters may constrain possibilities for making future reductions in nuclear weapon inventories.


The project is funded by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


Shannon Kile, Senior Researcher, Head of Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, biography

Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher, biography

Phillip Schell, Researcher, biography