Nuclear Weapons: Innovative Approaches for the Complex International Security Environment

This programme of work addresses the conundrum of nuclear weapons as a wicked problem in a complex adaptive system.

The NATO flag at NATO headquarters in Brussels, 2 March 2014. Photo: Getty Images.

Understanding the complexity and the wickedness of the situation allows analysts and strategic planners to approach these complex and intractable issues in new and transformative ways – with a better chance of coping or succeeding and reducing the divisions between experts.

Using complexity theory, a complex adaptive system representing the international system and its interaction with the environment can be represented through an interactive visualization tool that will aid thought processes and policy decision-making. 

Until recently, analysts did not have the tools to be able to create models that could represent the complexity of the international system and the role that nuclear weapons play. Now that these tools are available, analysts should use them to enable decision-makers to gain insights into the range of possible outcomes from a set of possible actions.

This programme builds on work by Chatham House on cyber security and artificial intelligence (AI) in the nuclear/strategic realms.

In order to approach nuclear weapons as wicked problems in a complex adaptive system from different and sometimes competing perspectives, the programme of work involves the wider community of specialists who do not agree on what constitutes the problems of nuclear weapons nor on what are the desired solutions.

Different theories of deterrence, restraint and disarmament are tested. The initiative is international and inclusive, paying attention to gender, age and other aspects of diversity, and the network of MacArthur Grantees are given the opportunity to participate in the research, including in the writing of research papers, so that the complexity modelling can be tested against a wide range of approaches and hypotheses.

In addition, a Senior Reference Group will work alongside the programme, challenging its outcome and findings, and evaluating and guiding the direction of the research.

This project is supported by the MacArthur Foundation and the Department of Foreign Affairs of Ireland.