When and Why Cede Nuclear Authority

The brain of a state’s nuclear force structure is its command and control architecture and systems (NC3). Much of the proliferation and strategy literature focuses on the hardware of nuclear weapons—the actual production of warheads and delivery systems, ranges, accuracy, basing modes, payloads, MIRVs, missile defenses, and so on. But the software—the NC3 architecture that is charged with managing command, control, and communication under potentially extreme circumstances—is often overlooked or simply assumed or inferred, since much of it is unobservable because states (thankfully) rarely emerge from their peacetime postures. In this segment, Dr. Vipin Narang challenges the delegative/assertive binary, arguing that, while conceptually important, it has hamstrung our thinking of regional powers’ NC3 by forcing them into one bin or another when it is in fact a time-dependent spectrum: all states delegate—that is, cede the ability to use nuclear weapons, irrespective of the authority to do so—at some point. Dr. Narang concludes that: "states may not only shift from assertive to delegative postures as a crisis or conflict evolves, but may also have variable NC3 postures for different legs of its force."

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