Reflections on the Risk Analysis of Nuclear War
In B. John Garrick (Editor), Proceedings of the Workshop on Quantifying Global Catastrophic Risks, Garrick Institute for the Risk Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, December 2018, pages 19-50.
20 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2019
Date Written: January 22, 2019
This paper presents reflections on the use of risk analysis for understanding and informing policy decisions about nuclear war. A quantitative evaluation of risk arguably should be central to many important nuclear weapons decisions, such as disarmament and launch alert status, because these decisions involve tradeoffs between different risks. However, nuclear war is a difficult risk to analyze, little effort has been made to analyze it, and nuclear war policy decisions have made little use of risk analysis. The paper demonstrates this via a detailed review of the nuclear war risk literature, a summary of a new model for nuclear war risk produced by the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, and a discussion of the use of risk analysis in nuclear war decision-making. Despite the challenges, there are significant opportunities for progress on both the analysis and the decision-making. The paper finds that, at this time, the limiting factor is mainly the use of risk analysis for decision-making, such that people working on nuclear war risk should emphasize outreach to decision-makers. The paper’s discussion is of relevance for guiding efforts to understand and reduce nuclear war risk, and is likewise applicable to many other risks, especially other global catastrophic risks.
Keywords: nuclear war, risk analysis, global catastrophic risk
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