Game theory and "Mutually Assured Destruction"

  • #1
Posty McPostface
27
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In Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, is depicted, rather comically, a mad scientist who understands that the doomsday weapon is actually an absolute deterrent against nuclear war. The only misfortune is that nobody knew about it in time as for it to serve its purpose as an absolute deterrent. Some may brush off the whole movie as a dark comedy; but, the threat of nuclear war is as real as it was back then. Make no mistake, a single modern day nuclear tipped submarine is by all means and purposes a version of a 'doomsday weapon' as depicted in that film.

If a country happens to be your enemy and has nuclear weapons with the capability of attacking you, then according to the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine you hold the resources, land, and population of the enemy country hostage as to prevent nuclear war from happening, as do they. As long as the threat is credible and real, peace is assured, according to the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine. Disarmament is not an option because it negates your capability to strike your enemy and gives your enemy the chance to cause greater harm to you and destabilizes the fragile Nash equilibrium. Furthermore, you and your enemy are in a perpetual arms race, be it technological development of better capability to destroy your enemy or negate the harm that they can cause you.

Now, one must realize that such a situation is on face value an unwanted outcome for the sake of peace and stability and the continuation of civilization. So long as nations cannot live in peace with one another, then virtual annihilation by one madman or mistake becomes more likely, and given enough time, inevitable.

How does one surmount this game theoretic predicament?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
StoneTemplePython
Science Advisor
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That's very good movie there.

Have you studied game theory? Based on the talking points in your post, it doesn't sound like it. Even under sterile circumstances, the case for MAD and related Schelling ideas, is a bit messy.

After that, add in noise and a 'hair trigger problem' and you have major concerns. Reading the right sort of obituaries can be instructive. Here's one from last year about a guy everyone should know, though very few know the name.

https://www.economist.com/news/obit...tuary-stanislav-petrov-was-declared-have-died
 
  • #3
Posty McPostface
27
7
Have you studied game theory?

Only a superficial understanding of it. If you care to educate me on the matter or any other members, feel free to do so to quell the anxiety and dread that the OP professes.

Here's one from last year about a guy everyone should know, though very few know the name.
Yes, I've heard of him. I'm sure there are more unsung heroes on both sides of the cold war that made our lives (still) possible in the manner we enjoy today.
 
  • #4
russ_watters
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Now, one must realize that such a situation is on face value an unwanted outcome for the sake of peace and stability and the continuation of civilization. So long as nations cannot live in peace with one another, then virtual annihilation by one madman or mistake becomes more likely, and given enough time, inevitable.

How does one surmount this game theoretic predicament?
As a matter of statistics, your conclusion is faulty. While you can never rule-out luck completely, as time passes between events, the likelihood of another occurrence decreases, it doesn't increase, much less become inevitable.

And as a matter of historical analysis, there can be little doubt that nuclear weapons and MAD are one of the key factors contributing to the current most peaceful time in known human history.
 
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  • #5
Posty McPostface
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As a matter of statistics, your conclusion is faulty. While you can never rule-out luck completely, as time passes between events, the likelihood of another occurrence decreases, it doesn't increase, much less become inevitable.

Please refer to me some sources where I may be able to further educate myself on this matter. I seem to have assumed that no active measures are in place to continually decrease the chance of nuclear war instead of assuming a steady state of events. Is that correct?

And as a matter of historical analysis, there can be little doubt that nuclear weapons and MAD are one of the key factors contributing to the current most peaceful time in known human history.

My point is that the possibility still remains, and will increase with the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Not that, that is a likely scenario, as far as I can tell.
 
  • #6
russ_watters
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Please refer to me some sources where I may be able to further educate myself on this matter.
See airline crash statistics for an example. As the number of deaths per year dropped to the point where we went 8 years between them in the US, the judgement was that airlines were safer, not that we were lucky and due for a correction. That's just plain how statistics work.
I seem to have assumed that no active measures are in place to continually decrease the chance of nuclear war instead of assuming a steady state of events. Is that correct?
It's most certainly not correct. The risk of nuclear war peaked less than 10 years after the second nation got the bomb (with the Cuban missile crisis) and almost immediately started decreasing in demonstrable ways after that, with arms control treaties, the first of which being signed in 1963, less than a year later. By the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union and arms reduction treaties in effect, the threat became essentially nonexistent.

As Kim Jong Un and his dad would tell you, just a small handful of nukes and a legitimate delivery vector is all it takes for a total nuclear deterrence today.

For some historical context here is a list of nuclear close calls:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_close_calls
Note that there were more in the 1960s alone than since...and that unlike the actual event of the Cuban missile crisis, they tended to be false alarms as the more recent ones have been.

WMD treaties list:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_weapons_of_mass_destruction_treaties
My point is that the possibility still remains, and will increase with the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Not that, that is a likely scenario, as far as I can tell.
You didn't say "possibility" or "not...likely" you said "inevitable", and that is just wildly unsupported by statistics or history. If you're now retracting that, then maybe we can set it aside and discuss a new topic or close the thread as having been rendered moot.
 
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  • #7
Posty McPostface
27
7
It's most certainly not correct. The risk of nuclear war peaked less than 10 years after the second nation got the bomb and almost immediately started decreasing in demonstrable ways, with arms control treaties, the first of which being signed in 1963, less than a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis. By the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the threat became essentially nonexistent.

Well, that was the point I was trying to make, I don't know how it come off so wrong. Namely, that since the start of the Cold War, both sides understood that nuclear war was undesirable given the logic of the OP and hence took active measures to reduce the chance of it occurring, through decreasing the arms race or striving to a more balanced Nash equilibrium, as to decrease the chance of nuclear war happening. I don't really follow your logic here, that the peak occurred immediately after the Soviet Union acquired nuclear weapons, are you saying that the Nash equilibrium was most unbalanced at that period of time?

I would also like to point out, that we live in a world with eight nuclear powers, no longer two. Does that mean anything or does the same logic of MAD apply despite there being more than two actors at play now?

You didn't say "possibility" or "not...likely" you said "inevitable", and that is just wildly unsupported by statistics or history. If you're now retracting that, then maybe we can set it aside and discuss a new topic or close the thread as having been rendered moot.

If you feel that its time to do so, I have no say in the matter. But, if you could answer my misguided or uninformed questions in this post first, I would greatly appreciate that.

Thank you for your time, patience, and understanding.
 
  • #8
russ_watters
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Well, that was the point I was trying to make, I don't know how it come off so wrong.
Well, nothing in your OP implied you were arguing against what you were saying -- you said it straight-up as if you were arguing it was true (that nuclear annihilation is inevitable).
Namely, that since the start of the Cold War, both sides understood that nuclear war was undesirable given the logic of the OP and hence took active measures to reduce the chance of it occurring, through decreasing the arms race or striving to a more balanced Nash equilibrium, as to decrease the chance of nuclear war happening. I don't really follow your logic here, that the peak occurred immediately after the Soviet Union acquired nuclear weapons, are you saying that the Nash equilibrium was most unbalanced at that period of time?
Not immediately; a lot happened in those 10 years. But while yes, they stayed largely on a certain path for several more decades (the first few treaties only slowed the growth of the weapons stockpiles), I personally believe that they actually figured out relatively quickly that there was no such thing as a "winnable" nuclear war and certainly today it is universally accepted that (per North Korea) all you need is a small handful of nuclear weapons for a viable deterrence. Except perhaps as a form of economic warfare, the arms race was pointless even in the 1980s.
I would also like to point out, that we live in a world with eight nuclear powers, no longer two. Does that mean anything or does the same logic of MAD apply despite there being more than two actors at play now?
It isn't so much MAD as plain, ordinary deterrence. We have become so war averse that it takes very little to create an effective deterrence against attack.
...if you could answer my misguided or uninformed questions in this post first, I would greatly appreciate that.
I already have!
 
  • #9
Posty McPostface
27
7
Well, nothing in your OP implied you were arguing against what you were saying -- you said it straight-up as if you were arguing it was true (that nuclear annihilation is inevitable).

I over-dramatized the issue for emotion effect. Sorry? :nb)

Not immediately; a lot happened in those 10 years. But while yes, they stayed largely on a certain path for several more decades (the first few treaties only slowed the growth of the weapons stockpiles), I personally believe that they actually figured out relatively quickly that there was no such thing as a "winnable" nuclear war and certainly today it is universally accepted that (per North Korea) all you need is a small handful of nuclear weapons for a viable deterrence. Except perhaps as a form of economic warfare, the arms race was pointless even in the 1980s.

OK, I get this. Thanks

It isn't so much MAD as plain, ordinary deterrence. We have become so war averse that it takes very little to create an effective deterrence against attack.

True.

I already have!

Then lock 'er up!

Thanks.

:smile:
 
  • #10
russ_watters
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Thread complete!
 

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