The overarching question imparting urgency to this exploration is: Can U.S.-Russian contention in cyberspace cause the two nuclear superpowers to stumble into war? In considering this question we were constantly reminded of recent comments by a prominent U.S. arms control expert: At least as dangerous as the risk of an actual cyberattack, he observed, is cyber operations’ “blurring of the line between peace and war.” Or, as Nye wrote, “in the cyber realm, the difference between a weapon and a non-weapon may come down to a single line of code, or simply the intent of a computer program’s user.”
The Half-Lives of Others is a comparative historical study of how intelligence agencies perform in assessing the proliferation potential of foreign nuclear programs. Contrary to pervasive skepticism, the study finds that intelligence agencies are generally adept at proliferation assessment and more likely to underestimate proliferation risks than to inflate them. Errors arise systematically from characteristics of the assessed programs and the assessment process itself. Nuclear programs that do not have international safeguards, include an advanced infrastructure, and import key technologies pose a special challenge to intelligence assessors. Countries holding open debates about their nuclear options and those who do not make formal nonproliferation commitments will also be difficult to assess. Using original archival and declassified documents, the study arrives at these conclusions by measuring the accuracy of American, British, East German, and several other European intelligence estimates, with a special focus on their assessments of the West German, Chinese, Indian, Argentine, and Pakistani programs.