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Thomas Schelling, Arms and Influence

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Thomas Schelling, Arms and Influence

Author Background: Born 1921, Berkeley and Harvard. Economist whose work involves arms control, economics, and international relations. Influential book written at height of Cold War (1966). Schelling’s purpose is to elaborate on the ‘diplomacy of violence’ which involves bargaining power that comes from the ability of nations to inflict physical harm on each other.


Thesis: Notions of deterrence, retaliation, reprisal, terrorism, nuclear blackmail, wars of nerve, armistice, and surrender all relate to the ‘diplomacy of violence’.


Summary:

- Modern weapons (nukes) mean victory is no longer a prerequisite for hurting the enemy

- Thus, victory is not the ultimate aim for nations with their military; they want bargaining power that comes from the capacity to hurt.

- This changes mil. Strategy to the diplomacy of violence, with an increase in the art of coercion, intimidation, and deterrence.

- Deterrence is trying to stop a foe from taking a certain action; it is passive and cedes initiative to the opponent

- “Commitment” is a key consideration: communicating it, making it credible to your foes, but also controlling it. Pushing the envelope to test another’s commitment are common tactics. Schelling is a firm believer that “face” [commitment and credibility] is worth fighting for.

- Compellence is more active, and typically involves administering punishment until the adversary acts, rather than if he acts.

- “Brinksmanship” is manipulating the shared risk of war. The game of chicken in some respects, but there is uncertainty that could cause war.

- Lots of detailed descriptions in the book relating to these topics, such as ‘trip wires’ for deterrence, tactical vs. strategic nukes, first/second strike strategies.

- The nuclear paradox: Stability requires vulnerability. As invulnerability increases (missile shield, maybe) the likelihood of war increases because it introduces instability into the relationship between states.


Other ideas:

- Coercion – using latent violence to exploit enemy’s wants and fears; structure motives

- Brute force – military or undiplomatic action concerned with enemy strengths, not interests

- Pure hurting – not military engagements but punitive attacks on people

- Deterrence – Influencing enemy intentions; hardest part is communicating own intentions

- Law of last clear chance – relinquish initiative; allow enemy last chance of avoiding conflict

- Salami tactics (exploit ambiguity, inch to goal)

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