The Third Nuclear Age: How I Learned to Start Worrying about the Clean Bomb
Air War College Air University Maxwell AFB United States
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Fourth generation fusion nuclear weapons FGNW represent a significant improvement in nuclear weapons technology and suggest the potential for small, clean, low-yield nuclear weapons. These weapons will be difficult to monitor, present significant challenges to treaty verification, begin to approximate conventional explosives with nuclear effects, and are a potential deterrence destabilizer. FGNW threaten to lower the barrier for use by removing the largest impediment one typically encounters in contemplating the use of nuclear weapons, the long-term effects of fallout. The possible end of the non-use nuclear taboo, clean detonation, and blurring of the conventional-nuclear lines threaten to produce a Third Nuclear Agea dawning of the regular use of nuclear weapons in conflict. FGNW represent a vast increase in what Thomas Schelling referred to as the threat that leaves something to chance.This paper is the result of research conducted for the Air Forces Blue Horizons program. Blue Horizons focuses on future challenges that the United States and its Air Force may face twenty-five years from now. This paper does not answer whether the fusion technology is possible and assumes it as an inevitable technological advancement. Instead, this study predicts a world in which low yield, clean fusion weapons exist and considers their implications.In the interim, FGNW provide an opportunity to consider clean fission warheads as the technological traits correlate with one another. Clean fission weapons release magnitudes less radiation than previous fission-based weapons but still more radiation than FGNW. Further, clean fission weapons are already present and embraced by other nations as operational, warfighting weapons.