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Sensibility about Sensing: A Socio-Technical Evaluation of Quantum Sensing Implications for Nuclear Deterrence

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The question of when and how new technologies could disrupt nuclear deterrence has generated a lot of literature in the security studies field, though consensus around disruptions that should be anticipated and appropriate policy responses remain elusive. Piecemeal methodological approaches that inconsistently consider technical characteristics, recognize underlying strategic debates, and assess social factors that shape perceptions around the new technologies result in misguided or incomplete evaluations. In addition to impeding attempts to forecast the pace and consequences of technological change, the limited scopes imposed by these narrower analytic lenses hinder the identification of a diverse set of meaningful policy options for governing military innovation and crafting corresponding adjustments to nuclear force structures. This brief presents a more integrated, sociotechnical analytical approach to evaluate how technological innovation impacts deterrence and strategic stability requirements (and vice versa). It urges for consideration of key technical factors to reduce uncertainty inherent in technological innovation and argues the importance of examining underlying disagreements in deterrence theory and social factors that contribute to competing perceptions of technology effects and foster disagreement over necessary policy responses. Leveraging a contemporary case study, quantum sensing, the brief demonstrates the value of a more integrated analytical framework to inform policymaking under conditions of technological uncertainty. In doing so, it critiques assumptions and informs misperceptions about the development and deployment of “emerging technologies” in existing policy and academic literature.

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