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Schelling - The Strategy of Conflict

Schelling - The Strategy of Conflict

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Published by: annamar07 on Jun 19, 2010
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The Strategy Of Conflict, Thomas C. Schelling, Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England 
When I learned that Harvard University Press was going to issue a paperback edition of this book, I wondered what parts of it would be so embarrassingly obsolete that I would need todelete or rewrite them, or at least to apologize for them in a new preface. It's twenty years since
The Strategy of Conflict 
appeared. I don't often reread it; parts of it I hadn't looked at in morethan a decade. Some of the things I said must have become trite, or irrelevant, or wrong.Some have. But on the whole I can cheerfully report that, though occasionally quaint in itsexamples, the book is mostly all right. Comments in Chapter I about the low estate of militarystrategy in universities and military services are now so obviously wrong that they can safely beleft for their historical value. A more serious issue is whether students -- and students may be theonly ones nowadays who read the book for the first time -- will recognize names like Quemoy,Khrushchev, and Mossadeq or will know how Miss Rheingold used to be chosen.We can all be thankful that Appendix A is not out of date. It was written on the premise thatatomic weapons had not been used since Nagasaki. May the book enjoy many new printings withthat premise intact.Some of the ideas that I thought original in Chapter 10 have since become fashionable. Somehave even gone on to become unfashionable. There is now a vast literature on arms limitation,including some things I've written, but Chapter 10 still says as much in relation to the StrategicArms Limitation Treaty, and says it as clearly, as any other twenty-five pages I have found. Areader who wants to pursue my thoughts on strategy and arms control can see the book by thatname that I wrote with Morton H. Halperin, published by the Twentieth Century Fund in 1961,or my
 Arms and Influence
, Yale University Press, 1966.The theoretical contents, not the foreign policy, may be what most people use this book for now.In putting these essays together to make the book, I hoped to help establish an interdisciplinaryfield that had then been variously described as "theory of bargaining," "theory of conflict," or "theory of strategy." I wanted to show that some elementary theory, cutting across economics,sociology and political science, even law and philosophy and perhaps anthropology, could beuseful not only to formal theorists but also to people concerned with practical problems. I hopedtoo, and I now think mistakenly, that the
theory of games
might be redirected toward applicationsin these several fields. With notable exceptions like Howard Raiffa, Martin Shubik, and Nigel
Howard, game theorists have tended to stay instead at the mathematical frontier. The field that Ihoped would become established has continued to develop, but not explosively, and withoutacquiring a name of its own.A few journals, especially the
 Journal of Conflict Resolution
, 'have played an important role indeveloping this field, but except for bits of jargon like "non-zero-sum game" and "payoffs," eventhe most elementary theory gets little explicit use in journals oriented toward policy makers and practitioners. (Only a few years ago, in writing about alternative Soviet and American attitudestoward particular weapons that might be subject to arms control, I used a few 2 X 2 matrices tohelp readers of the article see the differences. The editor of the journal, which I shall not name,insisted on my deleting the matrices to avoid intimidating an audience that, though less sure of my meaning, would be more comfortable with only the slightly tortured verbal description.)The book has had a good reception, and many have cheered me by telling me they liked it or learned from it. But the response that warms me most after twenty years is the late JohnStrachey's. John Strachey, whose books I had read in college, had been an outstanding Marxisteconomist in the 1930s. After the war he had been defense minister in Britain's Labor Government. Some of us at Harvard's Center for International Affairs invited him to visit because he was writing a book on disarmament and arms control. When he called on me heexclaimed how much this book had done for his thinking, and as he talked with enthusiasm Itried to guess which of my sophisticated ideas in which chapters had made so much difference tohim. It turned out it wasn't any particular idea in any particular chapter. Until he read this book,he had simply not comprehended that an inherently non-zero-sum conflict could exist. He hadknown that conflict could coexist with common interest but had thought, or taken for granted,that they were essentially separable, not aspects of an integral structure. A scholar concernedwith monopoly capitalism and class struggle, nuclear strategy and alliance politics, working latein his career on arms control and peacemaking, had tumbled, in reading my book, to an idea sorudimentary that I hadn't even known it wasn't obvious. With modesty and dignity he confessedit to me. You never know what will come of writing a book.THOMAS C. SCHELLING
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Among diverse theories of conflict -- corresponding to the diverse meanings of the word"conflict" -- a main dividing line is between those that treat conflict as a pathological state andseek its causes and treatment, and those that take conflict for granted and study the behavior associated with it. Among the latter there is a further division between those that examine the participants in a conflict in all their complexity -- with regard to both "rational" and "irrational" behavior, conscious and unconscious, and to motivations as well as to calculations -- and thosethat focus on the more rational, conscious, artful kind of behavior. Crudely speaking, the latter treat conflict as a kind of contest, in which the participants are trying to "win." A study of conscious, intelligent, sophisticated conflict behavior -- of successful behavior -is like a searchfor rules of "correct" behavior in a contest-winning sense.We can call this field of study the
of conflict. We can be interested in it for at least threereasons. We may be involved in a conflict ourselves; we all are, in fact, participants ininternational conflict, and we want to "win" in some proper sense. We may wish to understandhow participants actually do conduct themselves in conflict situations; an understanding of "correct" play may give us a bench mark for the study of actual behavior.We may wish to control or influence the behavior of others in conflict, and we want, therefore, toknow how the variables that are subject to our control can affect their behavior.If we confine our study to the theory of strategy, we seriously restrict ourselves by theassumption of rational behavior -- not just of intelligent behavior, but of behavior motivated by aconscious calculation of advantages, a calculation that in turn is based on an explicit andinternally consistent value system. We thus limit the applicability of any results we reach. If our interest is the study of actual behavior, the results we reach under this constraint may prove to beeither a good approximation of reality or a caricature. Any abstraction runs a risk of this sort, andwe have to be prepared to use judgment with any results we reach.

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