Director’s Series: Science, Technology and Policy: Conventional Strategic Strike

Thursday, November 11, 2021
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Only those with an active Stanford ID with access to William J Perry Conference Room in Encina Hall may attend in person. This event will not be livestreamed.

  • Scott Kemp

*For fall quarter 2021, CISAC will be hosting hybrid events. Many events will offer limited-capacity in-person attendance for Stanford faculty, staff, fellows, visiting scholars, and students in accordance with Stanford’s health and safety guidelines, and be open to the public online via Zoom. All CISAC events are scheduled using the Pacific Time Zone.



About the Event: With the counter-recovery and countervailing nuclear-targeting strategies, the United States embraced a massive expansion of the roles for nuclear weapons. Simultaneously, however, an accuracy revolution has quietly imbued conventional weapons with vastly improved target-killing capability. This raises the question: how many targets in the nuclear-war plan could just as effectively be dealt with using conventional weapons? In the last decade, the Russian security establishment has expressed concern about emerging U.S. conventional capabilities while the U.S. military has downplayed their strategic import. In this talk I will report on the early stages of a new project to investigate exactly how and if conventional forces might execute a strategic strike akin to the U.S. nuclear war plan and, conversely, whether an adversary could threaten the United States with unacceptable damage without ever escalating to nuclear use. I will discuss several target categories, the expected performance of conventional weapons, system considerations, and the consequences that “conventional strategic strike” may have for the future of deterrence.


About the Speaker: R. Scott Kemp is the MIT Class of '43 Associate Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, and director of the MIT Laboratory for Nuclear Security and Policy. His research combines physics, politics, and history to help create more resilient societies. His work has focused primarily on problems arising from weapons of mass destruction. His current research includes securing vulnerabilities in U.S. critical infrastructure and the redefining of strategic defense. In 2010, Scott served as Science Advisor in the U.S. State Department's Office of the Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control where he was responsible for developing the technical framework for what became the Iran Nuclear Deal. Scott received his undergraduate degree in physics from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his Ph.D. in Public and International Affairs from Princeton University. He is a Fellow of American Physical Society and recipient of the Sloan Research Fellowship in Physics.