Presentation by Bruce Blair at the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

Bruce G. Blair, Ph.D. (photo courtesy of Princeton University)

Please see the following links for the transcript and video of Dr. Bruce Blair's presentation at the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons on December 8, 2014.

"Lowering the Nuclear Threshold: The Dangerous Evolution of World Nuclear Arsenals toward Far-Flung Dispersal, Hair-Trigger Launch Readiness, and First Use Doctrines"
Presentation by Bruce G. Blair, Ph.D.
Research Scholar at Princeton University and Co-Founder of Global Zero
Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons
Hofburg Palace
Vienna, Austria
December 8-9, 2014

Excerpt: ...These risks are hard to estimate – in fact, no one really knows what the probability of use is – but I would make the case that they are trending in the wrong direction.

First, the nine countries possessing nuclear weapons today are fielding new types of weapons, they are shortening the time needed to employ those weapons, and they’re dispersing them more widely on ever-higher states of alert. All this is straining the ability of command systems to keep nukes under firm control.

Second, many countries are deliberately lowering the threshold for their intentional use. Russia and Pakistan plan to use nukes first and early during a conventional conflict.  Russia’s strategy is called ‘de-escalatory escalation’, which would unleash tens to hundreds of nuclear weapons in a first strike meant to shock an adversary into paralysis or into standing down. While China and India formally pledge not to be the first to use nukes in a conflict, they are alone among the nine.   

Third, tension between Russia and the West is reviving nuclear brinksmanship, in which leaders brandish nukes to deter, coerce or otherwise threaten the very survival of opposing states.

I once participated in such posturing during a Middle East crisis by preparing to fire nuclear-tipped rockets at Russia. As strategic bombers and submarines ratcheted up their attack readiness, I and other missile crews retrieved launch codes and keys from the safes in our underground launch bunkers, and strapped into our chairs to brace for an imminent nuclear exchange.

The aim was to warn Russian leaders they had better back down or else risk a nuclear war, risk facing a nuclear war – a war caused not so much by premeditated aggression, as by events spinning out of control.  Continue reading…

Video of Bruce Blair's presentation can be viewed here.


Bruce G. Blair, Ph.D., is Co-Founder of Global Zero, Research Scholar with the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, and one of The Simons Foundation's Peace Leaders.