China and U.S. Can Reduce the Risk of War by Learning from History's Blunders
Dec 2, 2014
The history of wars caused by misjudgments, from Napoleon's invasion of Russia to America's invasion of Iraq, reveals that leaders relied on cognitive models that were seriously at odds with objective reality. Blinders, Blunders, and Wars analyzes eight historical examples of strategic blunders regarding war and peace and four examples of decisions that turned out well, and then applies those lessons to the current Sino-American case.
What America and China Can Learn
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Posted on December 4, 2014.
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The history of wars caused by misjudgments, from Napoleon's invasion of Russia to America's invasion of Iraq, reveals that leaders relied on cognitive models, or simplified representations of their worlds, that were seriously at odds with objective reality. Blinders, Blunders, and Wars analyzes eight historical examples of strategic blunders regarding war and peace and four examples of decisions that turned out well, and then applies those lessons to the current Sino-American case. Leaders' egos, intuitions, unwarranted self-confidence, and aversion to information that contradicted their views prevented them from correcting their models. Yet advisors and bureaucracies can be inadequate safeguards and can, out of fawning or fear, reinforce leaders' flawed thinking.
War between China and the United States is more likely to occur by blunder than from rational premeditation. Yet flawed Chinese and American cognitive models of one another are creating strategic distrust, which could increase the danger of misjudgment by either or both, the likelihood of crises, and the possibility of war. Although these American and Chinese leaders have unprecedented access to information, there is no guarantee they will use it well when faced with choices concerning war and peace. They can learn from Blinders, Blunders, and Wars.
As a general remedy, the authors recommend the establishment of a government body providing independent analysis and advice on war-and-peace decisions by critiquing information use, assumptions, assessments, reasoning, options, and plans. For the Sino-U.S. case, they offer a set of measures to bring the models each has of the other into line with objective reality.
The Information Value Chain and the Use of Information for Strategic Decisionmaking
Napoleon's Invasion of Russia, 1812
The American Decision to Go to War with Spain, 1898
Germany's Decision to Conduct Unrestricted U-boat Warfare, 1916
Woodrow Wilson's Decision to Enter World War I, 1917
Hitler's Decision to Invade the USSR, 1941
Japan's Attack on Pearl Harbor, 1941
U.S.-Soviet Showdown over the Egyptian Third Army, 1973
China's Punitive War Against Vietnam, 1979
The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, 1979
The Soviet Decision Not to Invade Poland, 1981
Argentina's Invasion of the Falklands (Malvinas), 1982
The U.S. Invasion of Iraq, 2003
Making Sense of Making Mistakes
The Sino-U.S. Case
Findings and Recommendations
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