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Speaker: Jacquelyn Schneider, Hoover Institution

Chair: Ivanka Barzashka, Managing Director of the King's Wargaming Network.

The theme for this year's Wargaming Network Public Lecture series is advancing wargaming as an academic discipline and features speakers who have made important new contributions to developing wargaming theory and applications. This third lecture focuses on cyber and nuclear stability.

In the movie WarGames, a 1980s teenager hacks into a U.S. nuclear control programme, almost starting a nuclear war. This movie has become a common illustration for the dangers of increasingly digitized nuclear arsenals and reflects what many scholars and practitioners see as the most perilous implication of the rise of cyberattacks - instability to states' nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3). Research conducted during the Cold War suggested that even the threat of serious vulnerabilities to states' NC3 could incentivize preemptive launches of nuclear weapons. Despite this widespread concern about the destabilizing effects of NC3 vulnerabilities, there is almost no empirical research to support these conclusions.

In order to test these theories, this paper uses an experimentally-designed war game to explore the role that vulnerabilities and exploits within a hypothetical NC3 architecture play in decisions to use nuclear weapons. The game, which uses 4-6 players to simulate a national security cabinet, includes three treatment scenarios and one control scenario with no vulnerabilities or exploits. Players are randomized into the scenario groups and games are played over the course of a year in seven different locations with a sample of elite players from the U.S. and other nations. Together, a longitudinal analysis of these games examines the role that culture, cognitive biases, and expertise play in the likelihood of thermonuclear cyber war with significant implications for both cyber strategy and nuclear modernization.


Jacquelyn Schneider is a Hoover Fellow at the Hoover Institution and a non resident fellow at the Naval War College's Cyber and Innovation Policy Institute. Her research focuses on the intersection of technology, national security, and political psychology with a special interest in cybersecurity, unmanned technologies, and Northeast Asia.

Her work has appeared in Security Studies, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Strategic Studies Quarterly, Simulations & Gaming, Journal of Cybersecurity, The Washington Quarterly, Journal of Strategic Studies and is featured in Cross Domain Deterrence: Strategy in an Era of Complexity (Oxford University Press, 2019).

In addition to her scholarly publications, she is a frequent contributor to policy outlets, including New York Times, Foreign Affairs, CFR, Cipher Brief, Wired, Lawfare, War on the Rocks, Washington Post, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, National Interest, H-Diplo, and the Center for a New American Security.

She is an active member of the defense policy community with previous positions with the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, the Center for a New American Security, and the RAND Corporation. Before beginning her academic career, she spent six years as an Air Force officer in South Korea and Japan and is currently a reservist. She has a BA from Columbia University, MA from Arizona State University, and PhD from George Washington University.

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Managing Director of the King's Wargaming Network