Cover: Unraveling Entanglement

Unraveling Entanglement

Policy Implications of Using Non-Dedicated Systems for Nuclear Command and Control

Published Mar 9, 2023

by Don Snyder, Alexis A. Blanc

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Research Questions

  1. What are the potential risks of inadvertent escalation from integrating and comingling nuclear and conventional command and control systems?
  2. How can any risks of inadvertent escalation be managed?

The systems used for command and control in the U.S. military are undergoing modernization with an eye toward greater integration and interoperability. Recent arguments have emphasized the increased risk of inadvertent escalation from integrating and comingling conventional and nuclear command and control (NC2) systems. In this report, the authors argue that these concerns are overstated and that the risks introduced are manageable. That said, the different risks associated with using non-dedicated systems for NC2 warrant more-focused attention to (1) achieve mission assurance for command and control, (2) retain presidential and senior leader confidence in command and control capabilities even when systems degrade under attack, and (3) control the ability to send and receive signals of resolve and restraint through command and control.

Key Findings

Entanglement Is a Fairly New Concept

  • A concept labeled entanglement has recently gained currency within the academic nuclear policy community. Advocates of entanglement claim that using systems in common for nuclear and conventional command and control risks inadvertent escalation.
  • Even if command and control systems could be perfectly disentangled, it would not guarantee the avoidance of inadvertent escalation risks.
  • Risks of inadvertent escalation from the use of non-dedicated systems for nuclear command and control can be managed.


  • Design the system of systems for command and control to ensure that needs are met at every level of military activity, from day-to-day readiness, through crisis or gray conflict, conventional war, regional conventional war with potential or limited nuclear use, to general nuclear war.
  • Monitor the mission assurance of command and control functions under all foreseeable threats and hazards.
  • Assess how command and control capabilities would degrade when under attack.
  • Communicate the expected degradation to relevant leaders.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by Air Force Global Strike Command and conducted within the Force Modernization and Employment Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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