Accounting For Violent Conflict Risk In Planetary Defense Decisions

Acta Astronautica, vol. 178 (January), pages 15-23, 2020

20 Pages Posted: 29 Oct 2020

See all articles by Seth Baum

Seth Baum

Global Catastrophic Risk Institute

Date Written: September 9, 2020

Abstract

This paper provides the first-ever survey of the implications of violent conflict risk for planetary defense program decisions. Arguably, the aim of planetary defense should be to make Earth safer from all threats, including but not limited to threats from near-Earth objects (NEOs). Insofar as planetary defense projects affect other risks besides NEOs, these other risks should be taken into account. This paper evaluates three potential effects of planetary defense programs on violent conflict risk. First, planetary defense may offer a constructive model for addressing a major global risk. By documenting the history of its successes and failures, the planetary defense community can aid efforts to address other global risks, including but not limited to violent conflict. Second, the proposed use of nuclear explosions for NEO deflection and disruption could affect the role of nuclear weapons in violent conflict risk. The effect may be such that nuclear deflection/disruption would increase aggregate risks to human society. However, the effect is difficult to assess, mainly due to ambiguities in violent conflict risk. Third, planetary defense could reduce violent conflict risk by addressing the possibility of NEO collisions being mistaken as violent attacks and inadvertently triggering violent conflict. False alarms mistaken as real attacks are a major concern, especially as a cause of nuclear war. Improved awareness of NEOs and communication between astronomers and military officials could help resolve NEO false alarms. Each of these three effects of planetary defense programs on violent conflict risk can benefit from interaction between the communities that study and address NEO and violent conflict risks.

Keywords: nuclear weapons, planetary defense, risk analysis, risk management, violent conflict

Suggested Citation

Baum, Seth, Accounting For Violent Conflict Risk In Planetary Defense Decisions (September 9, 2020). Acta Astronautica, vol. 178 (January), pages 15-23, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3689838

Seth Baum (Contact Author)

Global Catastrophic Risk Institute ( email )

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