WHAT IS ENTANGLEMENT?
Entanglement describes how militaries’ nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities are becoming dangerously intertwined.
In a conventional war, for example, one state could use non-nuclear weapons to attack its adversary’s nuclear weapons or their command-and-control systems. Such strikes could pressure the country being attacked into using its nuclear weapons before they were disabled.
To give another example, several states, including China and Russia, are developing and deploying increasingly long-range missiles that can carry nuclear or nonnuclear warheads. Such missiles create the risk that a nuclear weapon could be mistaken for a non-nuclear weapon, or vice versa. In a conflict, if one state mistook nuclear-armed missiles as nonnuclear and attacked them, the targeted country might wrongly conclude that its nuclear forces were under threat and use them.
WHO COINED THE TERM?
As best I can tell, the term “entanglement” was first used by the American political scientist John Steinbruner in 2000. Others had written on the same subject previously, but hadn’t used that word.
Steinbruner was describing how a U.S.-Russian conflict might escalate. He pointed out that assets vital to Russia’s nuclear deterrent, such as early-warning radars, would be located close to a military confrontation in Central Europe. Because of this proximity, these nuclear-related assets could be attacked by non-nuclear weapons, in even a minor conflict.