About the Program on Strategic Stability Evaluation (POSSE)

This project seeks to advance the intellectual underpinnings of the “road to zero” (RTZ) debate in the United States and other Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) by undertaking cutting edge research, engaging a new generation of nuclear specialists, and promoting nuclear policy innovations. The focus will be on pushing the frontiers of analysis of future modalities of strategic stability, and linking this research to practical opportunities for sustaining deep nuclear arms reductions among existing NWS.

As noted above, a critical challenge to advancing novel policy initiatives along the RTZ will be developing new approaches (conceptual, operational, technical, political/cultural) to strategic stability that can eventually replace reliance on nuclear deterrence. This effort will entail new thinking on stability at low numbers of nuclear weapons (possibly approaching zero) among relatively few states, and in the context of growing global interest in nuclear energy and the likely resulting spread of increased nuclear weapons latency to more countries, along with the diffusion of advanced conventional weapons technologies among both state and non-state actors. Similarly, progress towards devaluing nuclear weapons and strengthening nonproliferation commitments will present fundamentally new verification and enforcement challenges of a technical, political, institutional, and strategic nature.

By taking the lead at identifying, exploring, explicating, and disseminating systematic and policy-relevant analysis of new dimensions to strategic stability, the project aims to reduce the analytical uncertainty and risks needed to advance the RTZ agenda in key nuclear weapons states.

By engaging the scholarly community, and especially by recruiting young scholars from key NWS and different disciplines to the field of study, the project intends to redress academia's relative silence on the RTZ debate, and to complement other projects that target specifically high-level decisionmakers and public outreach.

Substantive Focus

The substantive purpose of the project is to generate new analytical frameworks for addressing three basic questions:

  1. What are the strategic requirements, conditions, and processes needed to deter, reassure, dissuade, and avert armed conflict among existing NWS?
  2. What is the relationship between nuclear weapons and strategic stability under different force/deployment scenarios for a changing international security landscape and attendant consequences for strategic interaction?
  3. How low can we go at reducing nuclear weapons in light of these alternative frameworks, and what are the practical implications for nuclear doctrine and force posture, nuclear weapons complex transformation, arms control/nonproliferation, and global threat reduction?

Specific topics of analytical exploration will include:

  • Alternative conceptions of “minimum deterrence” and reassurance among diverse NWS and latent Non Nuclear Weapons States (NNWS);
  • Alternative frameworks for stability—sensitive to divergent political, cultural, technical, institutional, energy, and operational considerations—and premised on diverse methods and heuristics;
  • Stability implications of alternative strategic force dispositions (deployed, de-alerted, production-based, and virtual) under different international security scenarios;
  • Role of detection, interrogation, attribution, forensics, and cooperative reduction as strategic policies that either complement or transcend deterrence;
  • Institutional and force structure criteria for international verification/enforcement of deep arms reductions (i.e., How Much is Enough vs. Too Much?);
  • Stability implications of alternative forms/conditions of nuclear latency and the diffusion (commercial and illicit) of sensitive fuel cycle technologies;
  • Interaction between strategic offensive and defensive systems involving multiple players and asymmetric force postures;
  • Analytical links between vertical arms reductions and incentives for horizontal proliferation (i.e. increased number of states with nuclear arms);
  • Impact of changes to nuclear doctrine and force posture on the viability of the “nuclear taboo;”
  • Role of information and emerging technologies for reinforcing, altering, supplanting, or subverting concepts of deterrence and international stability at lower nuclear force levels; and
  • Potential for non-state actors to upset strategic stability by means of “spoofing” and deception.