Ramblings & ephemera

The Cold War as game theory

From Charles Platt’s “The Profits of Fear” (August 2005):

Game theory began with the logical proposition that in a strategic two-player game, either player may try to obtain an advantage by bluffing. If the stakes are low, perhaps you can take a chance on trusting your opponent when he makes a seemingly fair and decent offer; but when the penalty for being deceived can be nuclear annihilation, taking a chance is out of the question. You work on the principle that the person you are dealing with may be utterly ruthless, unethical, and untrustworthy, no matter how peaceful his intentions may seem. You also have to assume that he may be smart enough to use game theory just like you; and therefore, he will assume that _you_ are ruthless, unethical, and untrustworthy, no matter how peaceful _your_ intentions may seem. In this way a supposedly rational system of assessment leads to a highly emotional outcome in which trust becomes impossible and strategy is based entirely on fear. This is precisely what happened during the decades of the Cold War.

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