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.”
In the last forty years, the world has witnessed three major (preventable) nuclear power plants accidents with serious consequences—Three Mile Island (US, 1979), Chernobyl (Ukraine, 1986), and Fukushima (Japan, 2011). In the interim, we have learned that the safe and efficient operation of these complex systems is a function of the interactions among their three major human, organizational and technological/engineered subsystems. In these interactions, safety and security culture is analogous to the human body’s “immune system.” Lessons from past nuclear accidents have important applications in the Persian Gulf, where the operation of at least five newly-built nuclear power reactors is expected in the next five years, and where a major accident with radiation contamination could have spillover effects. These lessons also apply to systems for seawater desalination, oil and gas drilling, and heavy maritime traffic, where accidents could have significant combined effects on sea-life and the ecosystem of the Gulf.