Close Calls: Reclaiming the Nuclear Hotline as a Communication Technology

Bryan C. Taylor, Hamilton Bean


Public discourse commonly depicts “communication” as a crucial function of nuclear hotlines. However, scholars have not critically examined images of communication that dominate the development and use of nuclear hotlines. Analysis of related institutional narratives reveals their multiple, competing conceptions of “communication.” While this interpretive flexibility may serve the needs of nuclear hotline stakeholders, it also creates ambiguity and contradiction that may distort its ongoing development. We subsequently surface key meanings of communication associated with the history, technology, and institutions of the nuclear hotline. We focus on two limitations of these narratives—the perpetuation of instrumental illusions, and the insensitive conception of mediated communication—and their implications for nuclear hotline development. We conclude by reviewing the benefits of revising these narratives and proposing an agenda for communication research.


communication technology, nuclear hotline, nuclear deterrence, nuclear weapons

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