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National security games

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Issues that arise in using game theory to model national security problems are discussed, including positing nation-states as players, assuming that their decision makers act rationally and possess complete information, and modeling certain conflicts as two-person games. A generic two-person game called the Conflict Game, which captures strategic features of such variable-sum games as Chicken and Prisoners' Dilemma, is then analyzed. Unlike these classical games, however, the Conflict Game is a two-stage game in which each player can threaten to retaliate — and carry out this threat in the second stage — if its opponent chose noncooperation in the first stage.

Conditions for the existence of different pure-strategy Nash equilibria, or stable outcomes, are found, and these results are extended to situations in which the players can select mixed strategies (i.e., make probabilistic threats or choices). Although the Conflict Game sheds light on the rational foundations underlying arms races, nuclear deterrence, and other strategic situations, more detailed assumptions are required to tie this generic game to specific conflicts.

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Steven J. Brams gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the National Science Foundation under Grant No. SES85-20154, the Sloan Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation.

D. Marc Kilgour gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada under Grant No. A8974.

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Brams, S.J., Marc Kilgour, D. National security games. Synthese 76, 185–200 (1988).

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  • Nash Equilibrium
  • Game Theory
  • National Security
  • Mixed Strategy
  • Security Problem