Risk-Risk Tradeoff Analysis of Nuclear Explosives for Asteroid Deflection

Risk Analysis, vol. 39, no. 11 (November 2019), pages 2427-2442, DOI 10.1111/risa.13339

23 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2019 Last revised: 12 Nov 2019

See all articles by Seth Baum

Seth Baum

Global Catastrophic Risk Institute

Date Written: May 31, 2019

Abstract

To prevent catastrophic asteroid-Earth collisions, it has been proposed to use nuclear explosives to deflect away Earthbound asteroids. However, this policy of nuclear deflection could inadvertently increase the risk of nuclear war and other violent conflict. This article conducts risk-risk tradeoff analysis to assess whether nuclear deflection results in a net increase or decrease in risk. Assuming nonnuclear deflection options are also used, nuclear deflection may only be needed for the largest and most imminent asteroid collisions. These are low-frequency, high-severity events. The effect of nuclear deflection on violent conflict risk is more ambiguous due to the complex and dynamic social factors at play. Indeed, it is not clear whether nuclear deflection would cause a net increase or decrease in violent conflict risk. Similarly, this article cannot reach a precise conclusion on the overall risk-risk tradeoff. The value of this article comes less from specific quantitative conclusions and more from providing an analytical framework and a better overall understanding of the policy decision. The article demonstrates the importance of integrated analysis of global risks and the policies to address them, as well as the challenge of quantitative evaluation of complex social processes such as violent conflict.

Keywords: nuclear weapons, asteroids, risk-risk tradeoff

Suggested Citation

Baum, Seth, Risk-Risk Tradeoff Analysis of Nuclear Explosives for Asteroid Deflection (May 31, 2019). Risk Analysis, vol. 39, no. 11 (November 2019), pages 2427-2442, DOI 10.1111/risa.13339, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3397559

Seth Baum (Contact Author)

Global Catastrophic Risk Institute ( email )

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