Inadvertent Escalation in the Age of Intelligence Machines: A new model for nuclear risk in the digital age

James Johnson* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
30 Downloads (Pure)


Will AI-enabled capabilities increase inadvertent escalation risk? This article revisits Cold War-era thinking about inadvertent escalation to consider how Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology (especially AI augmentation of advanced conventional weapons) through various mechanisms and pathways could affect inadvertent escalation risk between nuclear-armed adversaries during a conventional crisis or conflict. How might AI be incorporated into nuclear and conventional operations in ways that affect escalation risk? It unpacks the psychological and cognitive features of escalation theorizing (the security dilemma, the “fog of war,” and military doctrine and strategy) to examine whether and how the characteristics of AI technology, against the backdrop of a broader political-societal dynamic of the digital information ecosystem, might increase inadvertent escalation risk. Are existing notions of inadvertent escalation still relevant in the digital age? The article speaks to the broader scholarship in international relations – notably “bargaining theories of war” ¬– that argues that the impact of technology on the cause of war occurs through its political effects, rather than tactical or operational battlefield alterations. In this way, it addresses a gap in the literature about the strategic and theoretical implications of the AI-nuclear dilemma.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-359
Number of pages23
JournalEuropean Journal of International Security
Issue number3
Early online date15 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022


  • Inadvertent Escalation
  • artificial intelligence
  • conventional weapons
  • nuclear weapons
  • emerging technology
  • information ecosystem


Dive into the research topics of 'Inadvertent Escalation in the Age of Intelligence Machines: A new model for nuclear risk in the digital age'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this