Thinking About Opponent Behavior in Crisis and Conflict

A Generic Model for Analysis and Group Discussion

by Paul K. Davis, John Arquilla


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This Note draws on strategic analysis, cognitive psychology, gaming, and artificial intelligence modeling to describe a theory and concrete methodology for thinking about the likely and possible reasoning of opponents before or during crisis and conflict. The methodology is intended for use in analysis and defense planning, especially planning for possible limited contingencies. A fundamental tenet of the approach is that at least two semiformal models of the opponent should be developed and carried along through analysis and decisionmaking. The multiple-model approach is related to but goes beyond the familiar but often ineffective method of creating a devil's advocate. It would also be implemented as a structural change in analytic and group-discussion procedure. A key assumption of the approach, based on behavioral science's prospect theory, is that possible opponents are likely to become increasingly and unreasonably risk-accepting as they become emotionally more dissatisfied with their current situation and trends. The approach also frames decision issues in a natural way.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Note series. The note was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1979 to 1993 that reported other outputs of sponsored research for general distribution.

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