For decades nuclear deterrence analysts have recognized the dangers of strategic instability and its more virulent cousin crisis instability. Strategic instability exists when one or more countries perceive that their nuclear arsenal may be vulnerable to attack. Faced with that danger, the vulnerable country may feel compelled to protect its arsenal, but its efforts to do so could trigger an arms race or even accidental or unauthorized nuclear war. These dangers are most acute during crises. The topic of strategic / crisis instability attracted substantial analysis during the Cold War, but that attention faded when the superpower standoff ended.
The problems of strategic instability may be returning in a particularly dangerous form. In this essay Daryl Press focuses on the growing threats to nuclear command and control and communication (NC3) systems around the world and the links between vulnerable NC3 and strategic instability due to the risky steps that nuclear weapons states may adopt to protect their arsenals during crises or wars.