The Strategy of Conflict Paperback – 1 Jul 1990
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An important contribution to understanding the conduct of the ambiguous conflict between the communist bloc on the one hand and the United States and its Free World Allies on the other.
In eminently lucid and often charming language, Professor Schelling's work opens to rational analysis a crucial field of politics, the international politics of threat, or as the current term goes, of deterrence. In this field, the author's analysis goes beyond what has been done by earlier writers. It is the best, most incisive, and most stimulating book on the subject.
Against the backdrop of the nuclear arms race in the late 1950s, Thomas Schelling's book "The Strategy of Conflict" set forth his vision of game theory as a unifying framework for the social sciences. Schelling showed that a party can strengthen its position by overtly worsening its own options, that the capability to retaliate can be more useful than the ability to resist an attack, and that uncertain retaliation is more credible and more efficient than certain retaliation. These insights have proven to be of great relevance for conflict resolution and efforts to avoid war. Schelling's work prompted new developments in game theory and accelerated its use and application throughout the social sciences. Notably, his analysis of strategic commitments has explained a wide range of phenomena, from the competitive strategies of firms to the delegation of political decision power.
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'In eminently lucid and often charming language, Professor Schelling's work opens to rational analysis a crucial field of politics, the international politics of threat, or as the current term goes, of deterrence. In this field, the author's analysis goes beyond what has been done by earlier writers. It is the best, most incisive, and most stimulating book on the subject.'See all Product description
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Often you read books where economists find new applications for known principles. Often you read books where economists lay down some new insight they've had into what can be a very technical field.
Strategy of Conflict does both. Schelling does a wonderful job finding applications for *new* insights and explaining them in a readable way.
Threats have to be credible to be effective, and that credibility may depend on the associated costs and risks. Threats can be made credible by stretching a 'trip wire' across the enemy's path of advance, or making fulfillment a matter of national honor and prestige. The rationality of one's adversary is pertinent to the efficiency of a threat - madmen often cannot be controlled by threats. The efficiency of a threat may depend on the alternatives available to a potential enemy - if he is not to react like a trapped lion he must left some tolerable recourse. The threat of all-out retaliation gives an enemy, should he choose not to heed it, every incentive to initiate his transgression with an all-out strike on us, forcing him to choose between extremes. The threat of massive destruction may deter an enemy only with an implicit promise of non-destruction if he complies - too great a capacity to strike him by surprise may induce him to strike first.
How does one become committed to an act he'd otherwise be known to shrink from, given that if a commitment makes the threat credible enough to be effective it need not be carried out? Irrationality can imply a disorderly and inconsistent value system, faulty calculation, an inability to receive messages or communicate effectively, or the collective nature of a decision among individuals lacking identical values and whose organizational arrangements and communication systems do not cause them to act like a single entity.
Limitations on the number of missiles are more stabilizing the larger the number permitted. This is because the greater the number on both sides, the larger the number left over for retaliation should the other side strike first. Secondly, the larger the numbers on both sides, the greater must be the absolute and proportionate increase on either side needed to assure that the other's leftover missiles would be less than some specified number after being attacked. Thus, the difficulty of one side's cheating (concealing, breaking the pact and racing to build more) is more than proportionately enhanced by an increase in the starting figures of both sides.
Bottom Line: Excellent points. However, the book would be immeasurably enhanced by revisions that incorporated examples from history (eg. how the U.S. likely inadvertently encouraged both the Korean War and Gulf War I by not adequately communicating its position, how the Spanish-American War began via misinformation), as well as reference to various negotiations on nuclear-weapon limitations and the Russian opposition to missile-defense systems.
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