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Thu Jan 10, 2013, 04:57 PM

Analyzing and reducing the risks of inadvertent nuclear war between the United States and Russia

http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/baum20130110

Analyzing and reducing the risks of inadvertent nuclear war between the United States and Russia

Seth Baum
Ethical Technology
Posted: Jan 10, 2013

This paper develops a mathematical modeling framework using fault trees and Poisson processes for analyzing the risks of inadvertent nuclear war from U.S. or Russian misinterpretation of false alarms in early warning systems, and for assessing the potential value of inadvertence risk reduction options. The model also uses publicly available information on early-warning systems, near-miss incidents, and other factors to estimate probabilities of a U.S.-Russia crisis, the rates of false alarms, and the probabilities that leaders will launch missiles in response to a false alarm. The paper discusses results, uncertainties, limitations, and policy implications.

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Reply Analyzing and reducing the risks of inadvertent nuclear war between the United States and Russia (Original post)
bananas Jan 2013 OP
bananas Jan 2013 #1
AverageJoe90 Jan 2013 #2
bananas Jan 2013 #3

Response to bananas (Original post)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 06:18 PM

1. Around 1 or 2% chance of accidental nuclear war each year.

The paper covers a lot, including proposals for reducing the risks.

These excerpts give their estimates as things stand now,
and compare them with Martin Hellman's estimates.

Analyzing and Reducing the Risks of Inadvertent Nuclear War Between the United States
and Russia

Anthony M. Barrett,1,*, Seth D. Baum1,2,3 and Kelly R. Hostetler1,2
1. Global Catastrophic Risk Institute
2. Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, Columbia University
3. Department of Geography, Pennsylvania State University
* Corresponding author. Email: tony@gcrinstitute.org

Forthcoming in: Science and Global Security. This version dated 6 January 2013.

<snip>

In general, estimates are reported to only one significant digit, to help avoid giving a false
impression of precision. Table 1 gives the mean and median estimated annual probability of
inadvertent nuclear war for both the base case set of assumptions and for the sensitivity case
where launch in response to false alarms during low tensions is excluded from possibility. The
mean estimated annual probability if assuming that inadvertence is impossible during periods of
low U.S.-Russia tensions, 0.01, is approximately half of the inadvertence probability with the
base case assumptions, 0.02, and a slightly lower ratio is present with median values. In other
words, the overall inadvertence rate associated with high U.S.-Russia tensions comprises roughly
half of the base case model estimated inadvertence risk. (That also means that the overall
inadvertence rate associated with low U.S.-Russia tensions comprises the other half of the base
case model estimated inadvertence risk.)

<snip>

Table 1: Model-Estimated Annual Probability of U.S. or Russian Launch in Response to Mistaken
Indicators of Attack by Other Nation

Probability Statistic, Base Case Assumptions, Sensitivity Case Assumptions
Mean 0.02 0.01
Median 0.009 0.003

<snip>

One additional type of model validity check often used in simulation modeling is the
comparison of results of different models or assessments. Perhaps the model with the most easily
comparable outputs (i.e. annual probability of nuclear war) is that of Hellman,214 which used an
approach somewhat different from the approach in this paper to estimate that “the failure rate of
(US-Russia nuclear war) deterrence from all sources is on the order of one percent per year.”
That is approximately equivalent to this paper’s base-case median estimated annual probability
of inadvertent nuclear war. However, it should be noted that the estimate of Hellman is for “all
sources” and not just for the inadvertence scenarios we examine in this paper. The Hellman
estimate does not depend on explicitly estimating false-alarm rates, nor on estimating the
probability of a U.S. or Russian leader launching an attack in response to a false alarm. In
addition, with base-case assumptions, the model in this paper produces estimates of inadvertence
probability for periods of low U.S.-Russia tensions, in addition to the U.S.-Russia crisis periods
that Hellman focuses on. However, the Hellman estimates of annual U.S.-Russia crisis
probability are used in the model in this paper.

<snip>

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Response to bananas (Original post)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 07:20 PM

2. A risk, btw, that was never high to begin with, since the end of the Cold War.

As for the comment of a 1-2% chance of an accidental nuclear conflict....well, while that may have indeed been true during most of the Cold War(and perhaps something like 5% during the bad old days of the mid-1980s), these days, at least for now, it would probably be more like .1 or .2%.

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Response to AverageJoe90 (Reply #2)

Sat Jan 12, 2013, 07:27 AM

3. RTFM - it's around 1-2%. nt

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