Uncertainty and complexity in nuclear decision-making

This event will explore what a complexity informed nuclear weapons policy could look like.

Research event, Panel
13 December 2021 — 4:00PM TO 6:00PM

In light of increased challenges to international security, the risk of nuclear confrontation and escalation due to misunderstanding, misperception or miscalculation is rising.  This is partially due to the increased complexity surrounding nuclear weapons policy, including nuclear deterrence policies and decision-making. 

Nuclear decision-making is composed of many interconnected and interdependent factors, involving human judgment, shaped through former experiences, beliefs, culture, and intuition.  The nuclear decision-making process includes not only high-level decision-makers but also nuclear operators and officers who are expected to follow orders or standard operating procedures. Throughout the Cold War and onwards, disaster has often been averted by human judgment, yet it is uncertain that this judgment will suffice to prevent all future catastrophes. The incorporation of emerging technologies and changing systems engineering practices adds to this complexity.

This panel discussion will incorporate complexity thinking from various fields (e.g., neuroscience, systems engineering) and assess what a complexity informed nuclear weapons policy could look like. The discussion will explore historical cases along with risk reduction measures through a complexity lens. Comments and questions from participants will be taken throughout the event to encourage a constructive and interactive discussion. Direct participation and engagement from participants is encouraged.

This event forms part of a project that aims to address Innovative Approaches for Risk Reduction in nuclear weapons, funded by a grant from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and feeds into International Security Programme’s programme of work on complexity, funded by the MacArthur Foundation

Please note that only a receipt of an email confirming registration from Chatham House will allow entry.


Dr Patricia Lewis, Research Director, International Security Programme, Chatham House

Julia Cournoyer, Research Assistant, International Security Programme, Chatham House 

Dr Nancy Leveson, Professor of Aeronautics, Astronautics, and Engineering Systems, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 

Dr Christopher A. Ford, Former US Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-Proliferation

Dr Rahul Jandial, MD PhD, Brain surgeon & Neuroscientist, International Neurosurgical Children’s Association

Nate Jones, Fellow at the National Security Archive 

Chair: Dr Beyza Unal, Deputy Director, International Security Programme, Chatham House

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