Uncertainty and the Viability of Limited War Options
Frank Zagare Principal Investigator
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Most strategic thinkers are of the opinion that the next world war, should one occur, will not start with a "bolt from the blue," rather, the gravest threat to international stability is usually taken to be an escalation of some minor incident or conflict to a major international crisis and, ultimately, to a global thermonuclear war. The researchers will study the escalation process by using the contemporary methodology of games of incomplete information. This methodology allows a more realistic asessment of escalation than more standard models that assume complete information. In general, in complete information games, war never breaks out and escalation never occurs. By contrast, the dynamic processes discovered under incomplete information more closely match those observed in the real world. The proposed modeling effort differs in one very significant way from other incomplete information models; the players in the games under study are provided with two distinct ways (other than outright capitulation) to resist a challenge. This, in turn, permits the introduction of an intermediate level of interstate conflict into the analysis and a more realistic assessment of the conditions associated with stable deterrence. By delving into these conditions the investigator will gain insight into the precise set of circumstances in which sub-strategic deployments make limited war possible and total war either more or less likely. For example, by assuming that the players are unsure of each other's intentions to wage nuclear war, but that each knows that the other will (or will not) choose to fight at a sub-strategic level, the consequences of adopting a "Flexible Response" posture (or a policy of Massive Retaliation) can be assessed. Similarly, by further assuming incomplete information by each player about the other's willingness to fight both at the sub-strategic and the strategic level, the implications of various mixgures of these two policies can be addressed and the consequences of different "mixes" of conventional and tactical weapons with strategic weapons can be explored.