Cover: Simple Culture-Informed Models of the Adversary

Simple Culture-Informed Models of the Adversary

Published Feb 26, 2016

by Paul K. Davis

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Simple cognitive models of the adversary are useful in a variety of domains, including national security analysis. Having alternative models can temper the tendency to base strategy on the best-estimate understanding of the adversary, and can encourage building a strategy that is better hedged and more adaptive. Best estimates of adversary thinking have often been wrong historically. Good cognitive models must avoid mirror-imaging, which implies recognizing ways in which the adversary's reasoning may be affected by history, culture, personalities, and imperfect information, as well as by objective circumstances. This paper describes a series of research efforts over three decades to build such cognitive models, some as complex computer programs and some exceptionally simple. These have been used to represent Cold-War Soviet leaders, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Il, and modern-day leaders of al Qaeda. Building such models has been a mixture of art and science, but has yielded useful insights, including insights about the sometimes-subtle influence of leaders' decision-making culture.

This research was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division.

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