Arlington, VA

With less than six months left until the New START arms control treaty expires, the climate of cooperative nuclear risk reduction continues to sour. As a result, the risk of U.S. adversaries escalating to the point of using nuclear weapons in a conflict will grow. The United States is underprepared to meet this challenge.

In a new CNA report, "Prevailing Under the Nuclear Shadow: A New Framework for U.S. Escalation Management," analyst Madison Estes argues that the nuclear policy community has focused on escalation characterizations and risks at the expense of escalation management. The report aims to fill that gap with a practical decision-making framework to vet actionable policy options that would better enable the U.S. to minimize the potential use of nuclear weapons in conflict. "We know the character of the problem — existing research and analysis provide a robust foundation for understanding how nuclear escalation might manifest. In this study, we sought to take that a step further and design a framework that U.S. policymakers and planners can use to prepare military options that mitigate the risk of nuclear escalation in a conflict with Russia, China, or North Korea," said Estes.

The framework in this CNA study offers a timely new tool for preparing sound policy options as the U.S. potentially moves further away from longstanding approaches to mitigating potential nuclear escalation through transparency and cooperation. In addition to the expiration of New START in early 2021, the U.S. has also withdrawn from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and intends to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty.

Estes uses the objectives and tools of U.S. escalation management and a five-phase process to create a framework for assessing and developing courses of action during war planning. This provides leaders with more effective pre-planned strategic and operational military options that have been thoroughly assessed to inform their decision-making in the event of a conflict.

The full report can be found at .

The interrelationship between the objectives and tools of US escalation management and the 5 phase nuclear escalation management process