Rationality at the Brink

The Role of Cognitive Processes in Failures of Deterrence

by Jack L. Snyder


Download eBook for Free

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 1.9 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.


Purchase Print Copy

 FormatList Price Price
Add to Cart Paperback42 pages $23.00 $18.40 20% Web Discount

Understanding the dynamics of a game involving tradeoffs between two values is the chief preoccupation of nuclear strategists. According to Thomas Schelling, strategic theory assumes rational behavior. His theory of deterrence states the decisionmaker will (1) recognize the tradeoff between the two values and (2) employ a strategy effecting optimal tradeoff between those values. Similarly, the strategy of compellence assumes that the compellee will recognize tradeoffs and make appropriate cost-benefit calculations. This paper discusses possible nonrational influences on decision processes as outlined by John Steinbruner, and tests the plausibility of Steinbruner's cybernetic decision model by examining two case studies — American decisionmaking during the Cuban missile crisis and German decisionmaking between the assassination of the Austrian Archduke and the invasion of Belgium. In each case the study examines (1) how the decisionmakers dealt with the value tradeoff problem, (2) how they perceived their options, and (3) how they behaved and what this implies for current notions of deterrence.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Paper series. The paper was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 2003 that captured speeches, memorials, and derivative research, usually prepared on authors' own time and meant to be the scholarly or scientific contribution of individual authors to their professional fields. Papers were less formal than reports and did not require rigorous peer review.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit www.rand.org/pubs/permissions.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.