“I use ‘disruptive’ in both its good and bad connotations. Disruptive scientific and technological progress is not to me inherently good or inherently evil. But its arc is for us to shape. Technology’s progress is furthermore in my judgment unstoppable. But it is quite incorrect that it unfolds inexorably according to its own internal logic and the laws of nature.”
Three decades after the transition from the first to a second nuclear age with the end of the Cold War, the world stands on the cusp of a third nuclear age where the central dynamics of the nuclear order will change again. This paradigm shift is being driven by the twin factors of the global spread of strategic nonnuclear weapons (conventional forces able to compromise an adversary’s nuclear capabilities) on the one hand, and the abandonment of mutual vulnerability as the cornerstone of stable nuclear-armed relationships on the other. The defining feature of the third nuclear age will be that nuclear force structures, deployments, and postures as well as larger issues such as strategic arms control and nuclear crisis management will be shaped as much by developments in strategic nonnuclear capabilities as by nuclear weapons. The impact of these weapons on nuclear order is unlikely to play out in a uniform manner, and the presentation will lay out three different possible scenarios for a third nuclear age and discuss the management of nuclear dangers associated with each.
Ben Zala is a Stanton Nuclear Security Junior Faculty Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center. His research focuses on the impact of advanced conventional weapons on nuclear balances. He is a Research Fellow in the Department of International Relations, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University and has previously held positions at the University of Leicester, the Oxford Research Group, and Chatham House. His research has appeared in journals such as The Nonproliferation Review, The Review of International Studies, The Journal of Global Security Studies, and The Pacific Review. He earned his PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and undergraduate degree from La Trobe University, Australia.