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Nuclear Security Threat due to emerging technologies like cyber-warfare, artificial intelligence, precision targeting, drones and hypersonic delivery systems

The potential use of nuclear weapons poses the greatest danger to U.S. security. According to the U.S. National Security Strategy, Recently Nuclear threat is rising again due to nuclear arms race in asia, modernisation of  nuclear arsenal by Major and regional powers, statement by countries like North Korea to use nuclear weapons, ongoing missile and nuclear proliferation risks in the Middle East and acquiring of Nuclear weapons by terrorists.


Nuclear materials and technologies find various peaceful applications like power generation, radiation therapy, food processing, and industrial applications. However nuclear materials and other radioactive substances can harm the people and the environment if used by non-authorized persons, in special if those material are acquired by terrorists this would be a serious threat for the World security. Since 9/11 terrorist attacks, terrorism using WMD by non-state actors such as terrorist organizations has become a real threat to the international community. Among WMD terrorism, IAEA assumes the following four types to be feasible nuclear terrorism.


Nuclear Threat due to emerging technologies

In June 2020, United Nations (UN) High Representative for Disarmament, Izumi Nakamitsu, dedicated a keynote address to emerging technologies and nuclear risk. She stated, ‘developments in a variety of technologies are diminishing predictability, shared understandings
and trust, while raising the risks of misperception, arms races, and potential escalation through miscalculation.’ In particular, she stressed, ‘none of the nuclear weaponsrelated forums are discussing the intersection between technology and nuclear risk, adding to decreasing
transparency and a climate of misperception.’


Emerging technologies could increase the risk of countries using nuclear weapons, according to new research produced by the Centre of Science and Security Studies (CSSS), King’s College London, published in May 2021. In particular, technologies that distort information and undermine trust, both publicly and in the intelligence community, could destabilise deterrence efforts and create a crisis in the global nuclear order, the researcher claims.


Based on a review of existing literature and interviews with experts and policymakers, the study identifies 10 technologies with disruptive potential.
• AI-powered cyber operations
• AI for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR)
• Deep-fake technology
• Directed energy weapons
• Hypersonic missiles
• Kinetic anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities
• Rendezvous and Proximity Operations (RPO) in space
• Satellite jamming and spoofing systems
• Small satellites (‘smallsats’) for ISR
• Swarm robotics


Then, using data generated by a technology scoring exercise completed by experts, the research uses a Machine Learning clustering algorithm to group the 10 technologies into four ‘clusters’ of varying effects: distort, compress, thwart, and illuminate. The four technology clusters are structured according to their potential impact and feasibility of implementation.

The paper identifies the most dangerous technologies as those that interrupt data flows and ‘distort’ the information landscape. This includes the use of deep fake technology, where audio and video is manipulated to create realistic digital replicas, as well as satellite spoofing, where incorrect signals are broadcast to satellites, falsifying data flows for strategic or tactical advantage.


Furthermore, blinding, hoodwinking, or incapacitating satellites could reduce a state’s ability to determine if an attack is underway, or reduce their ability to enforce arms control agreements. These technologies are neither complex nor difficult to deploy, with apps allowing any smartphone user to create seemingly authentic deep fake videos in seconds and satellite jamming systems that can be purchased online and plugged into a car’s 12V outlet. The technologies in the ‘distort’ cluster change the character of nuclear crisis. In the past, crisis escalation was perceived to follow a predictable pattern from low-level crisis to nuclear war, whereas these technologies create less predictable nuclear escalation pathways. Conflicts could arise between competing states in sudden and unconventional ways, catching the international community off-guard.


Experts surveyed stated that these technologies could reduce decision-making time and situational awareness during a crisis, and could erode Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications (NC3). The introduction of deep fakes into classified data feeds could sow distrust in the intelligence community’s conclusions, which could result in their striking blindly, and potentially first, in a crisis.


Advances in cyber-warfare, artificial intelligence, precision targeting, drones and hypersonic delivery systems are challenging assumptions about the capabilities of both nuclear and non-nuclear states. “For many years, nuclear war seemed unthinkable, but that can no longer be taken for granted,” said Carl Robichaud, a program officer in the International Peace and Security program at the Corporation. “Cyber attacks, machine learning, and advances in surveillance and accuracy have created new uncertainties and compressed decision-making time.


Nuclear threat is also being enhanced by cyber warfare. CHERNOBYL nuclear power plant was suspended in June 2017 after being hit by ransomware cyber attack, which caused chaos across Europe. The rising cyber threat  has put into question the survivability and reliability of Nuclear Command and controls from cyber attacks and other accidents.


US is also considering nuclear response against cyber warfare against its critical infrastructure. According to the New York Times, The Trump administration plans to change its “Nuclear Posture Review” to allow the first use of nuclear weapons, in response to “attempts to destroy wide-reaching infrastructure, like a country’s power grid or communications, that would be most vulnerable to cyberweapons”. Countries are also contemplating cyber warfare against nuclear threats. It has also been reported  that US has been contemplating a cyber attack,  to disable an adversary’s nuclear capability.


Marina Favaro , a consultant at the Centre, who is leading the study said: ‘Nuclear policymakers must address the rapid pace of technological change and find a new way of thinking and talking about the risks that emerging technologies pose to nuclear security. ‘With nuclear risks rising and no clear path forward for how states can cooperate to reduce risks, institutions such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), have a key role to play in helping to future-proof nuclear risk reduction to lessen the likelihood and impact of a catastrophic nuclear exchange brought on by the use of new technologies.’


However, technologies should not be viewed as inherently destabilising. Marina Favaro argues that ‘new technologies also play an important role in helping to support arms control measures.” For example, countries can use emerging technologies to support and expand collaborative disarmament verification efforts. Artificial Intelligence the paper states can support nuclear stability by synthesising large amount of data into actionable intelligence at speed and on a greater scale, helping to better inform countries on the state of play.


Nuclear Security

Nuclear Security encompasses multifaceted countermeasures to prevent nuclear terrorism. It covers not only the physical protection of nuclear facilities and materials, but also the security of non-nuclear radioactive sources, import-export controls at national borders and so on. Technology  can play important role in nuclear security that include new operational sys­tems, new understandings of the threat space, and new methods of discerning or discovering threats.


Nuclear security deals with the prevention and detection of, and response to, theft, sabotage, unauthorized access, illegal transfer or other malicious acts involving nuclear material, other radioactive substances or their associated facilities. (IAEA reference)


The Institute for Nuclear Security advocates a much broader view of the activities that fall under “nuclear security.” It is as a field that encompasses all the activities that support the following objectives:


Nuclear or radiological materials or devise are not diverted to illicit or malicious purposes.

Potential threat materials are secured or replaced where feasible, so as to reduce the opportunities for malicious use.

Nuclear weapons and related technology are appropriately controlled and monitored.

The proliferation of nuclear weapons or other nuclear/radiological threats is discouraged, detected, and/or dissuaded.

Systems that support peaceful uses of nuclear energy are increasingly proliferation resistant.

Efforts to acquire nuclear/radiological threats by malefactors are anticipated, stopped, investigated, and effectively countered.


Consequences of radiological or nuclear incidents, including attacks, are mitigated or minimalized through prior planning and engineering, as well as effective response, emergency management, and remediation.


Although  each individual country has primary responsibility for its own nuclear security. However, the impact of nuclear security incidents could easily spread beyond national borders. Therefore, intensive cooperation at regional and international levels is of vital importance for robust nuclear security.


“This broader interpretation of nuclear security is critically necessary to nurture the interdisciplinary approach needed for an effective and sustainable nuclear security framework, both domestically and around the world.”


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