Studying nuclear deterrence offers an interesting puzzle: deterrence is increasingly urgent to understanding nuclear escalation and global security but lacks the empirical data necessary for experts to reach meaningful conclusions. To solve this puzzle, experts must either theorize based on limited data sets or create their own data to study. The first, which is the norm in literature, faces the problem of possibly reaching incorrect conclusions unsupported by substantial evidence. Meanwhile, the second method requires a level of data-gathering that is hard to accomplish because of difficulties with reaching an adequately-sized sample. Until now.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, Sandia National Laboratories, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories have formed a team to conduct a first-of-its-kind experiment to research decision-making rationales behind nuclear deterrence. Our team, known as the Project on Nuclear Gaming, aims to answer key questions about nuclear deterrence, including whether escalatory stages are linear, where “alternative” effects of nuclear weapons (like tailored radiation) fall on the traditional escalation ladder, and what factors most influence decision-making.