Concepts and Models of Escalation

by Paul K. Davis, Peter Stan


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This study describes a conceptual decision model for treating escalation processes in the automated war gaming of the RAND Strategy Assessment Center. It also summarizes much of what is known about Soviet views on escalation, and briefly reviews U.S. and Western European views. The study's purpose is to provide a logical structure for writing decision rules, a structure that would assure some level of coherence and completeness while encouraging rule writers to consider specific issues and to keep in mind asymmetries in the U.S., Western European, and Soviet thinking. Section II reviews the classic Western concept of escalation ladders, notes its weaknesses for two-sided war games intended to reflect Soviet-Western asymmetries, and then develops a more appropriate framework. Sections III and IV compare Western and Soviet concepts of escalation. Section V draws upon the issues of preceding sections to sketch out a conceptual escalation model. It then provides a simplified example of how the model might work in a particular scenario. Finally, Sec. VI describes a methodology for actually writing decision rules coherently.

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