Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory



Photo of dominos being prevented from falling over

Deterrence modeling began soon after the first use of nuclear weapons led to the end of World War II. During the Cold War, nuclear deterrence as a concept became a subject of study, particularly with regards to understanding strategic stability – first strike, crisis, arms racing, etc. This work led to formulation of deterrence frameworks including the technical components of the U.S. nuclear triad of bomber-delivered cruise missiles and bombs, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Each leg of the triad served a special role for maintaining stable deterrence. Concepts such as mutual vulnerability, along with arms control treaties, ensured that the balance of nuclear forces between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were roughly matched, again, supporting a stable deterrent.

Related Publication

Decision Tree Models of Deterrence Including Tactical Nuclear Weapons
presented at the 2018 Military Operations Research Society Meeting in Monterey California, by Tom Edmunds, Jeff Garrett, and Craig Wuest.

In a conventional conflict between two nuclear-armed adversaries, one side might choose to escalate to limited nuclear use in order to deescalate a conflict that is going poorly.

This option to strengthen deterrence is receiving renewed attention in light of the recent release of the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review. The objective of this study is to examine how the threat of use of a limited number of tactical nuclear weapons can contribute to deterrence.

Today, the strategic deterrence landscape is significantly changed, with multiple nuclear states, multiple domains of warfare, and rapidly developing technologies that enable new and different modes of strategic offense and defense. Because of this, deterrence modeling is once again of interest to DoD and the national security community. LLNL is applying a variety of modeling approaches to better understand how the introduction of new and different strategic and non-strategic weapons can impact deterrence in the 21st century.

Strategic deterrence strategies have been extensively studied by military planners, weapon designers, and academicians. Studies conducted by military planners generally include highly-detailed logistical and effectiveness models that are built and maintained by a large community of defense contractors. These models tend to be customized, proprietary, and difficult for the community to access and use. At the other extreme, academic researchers tend to produce very high level, analytic models with simple solutions that can be communicated in a short journal article. We believe there may be a niche for modeling and analysis at an intermediate level of resolution between these two extremes.

We are exploring intermediate-resolution models to assess the impacts of non-strategic weapons on regional deterrence. The models include a multiattribute measure of preferences over possible outcomes for each of the actors, uncertainty with respect to preferences and effectiveness of weapons systems, and adversary reactions to new or different offensive weapons systems. The models will be used to find multi-dimensional surfaces in the space of possible decisions and weapon design parameters where adversaries switch strategies (e.g., escalate a conflict to a strategic nuclear exchange). Models will be simple enough to populate with data, run, and review results during a workshop. Several modeling approaches that have been used successfully to model attacker-defender interactions will be implemented and used, including decision trees and game theory.