Nuclear War as a Global Catastrophic Risk

Adapting Policy Analysis for Uncertain Futures

By: James Scouras

March 20, 2019

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To establish the necessary context for considering the risk of nuclear war, I begin with discussions of four foundational topics: (1) nuclear war as a global catastrophic risk; (2) risk terminology; (3) the strategy of deterrence; and (4) national security policy formulation. Turning to the issue of risk assessment, I present a variety of assessments by academics and statesmen of the likelihood component of the risk of nuclear war, followed by an assessment of what we do and do not know about the consequences of nuclear war, emphasizing uncertainty in both factors. Then, I discuss the difficulties of determining the effects of risk mitigation policies, focusing on nuclear arms reduction. Finally, I address the question of whether nuclear weapons have indeed saved lives. I conclude with recommendations for national security policy and multidisciplinary research approaches.

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