Nuclear warfare is military conflict involving the deployment of nuclear weapons.
Nuclear war is potentially the primary near-term anthropogenic existential risk. Nuclear war would probably not cause human extinction through the direct damage of an exchange. Rather, researchers are concerned about the potential for a nuclear winter: firestorms caused by the explosions could release particulate matter into the stratosphere, causing significant global cooling which would last for several years. This cooling would disrupt global agriculture, which would likely kill many more people than the initial exchange (Robock 2010).
However, there is some disagreement about how climate systems would react to the particulate matter and how much soot would actually be created (modern cities are potentially less vulnerable to firestorms than those during the cold war). As a result, it is unclear whether nuclear war poses an existential risk or a non-existential global catastrophic risk.
80,000 Hours rates nuclear security a “second-highest priority area”: an unusually pressing global problem ranked slightly below their four highest priority areas (80,000 Hours 2021).
80,000 Hours (2021) Our current list of the most important world problems, 80,000 Hours.
Cotton-Barratt, Owen et al. (2016) Global catastrophic risks 2016, Annual Report, Global Challenges Foundation/Global Priorities Project.
A report focusing on risks from nuclear war, as well as other types of global catastrophic risk.
Open Philanthropy (2015) Nuclear weapons policy, Open Philanthropy, September.
A report exploring possible interventions to address risks from nuclear war.
armed conflict | Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists | civilizational collapse | Cuban Missile Crisis | existential risk | existential risk factor | Manhattan Project | nuclear winter | nuclear disarmament movement | Nuclear Threat Initiative | Russell-Einstein Manifesto | Trinity