2012/12/21

Is irrationality a factor for the preservation of peace?

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What's the point of staying in an arms race? Sooner or later, most participants will fall behind for a while, and if the other party is really aggressive this will likely prove the arms race efforts to be a failure.

An arms race with a big portion of capabilities which serve more on the strategic defence than on the strategic offence could be considered as an excuse. The problem with this is that it's simply not describing post-19th century arms races well. Fortresses are not efficient enough any more.

So maybe arms races -once started for some reason- are being sustained by uncertainty?
Being just a bit weaker and thus capable of demanding a high price for aggression (maybe even win despite initially smaller military power) might explain why arms races exist and do last a while. The temporarily inferior side accepts its temporary weakness and just doesn't want to fall behind by too much?

source
Yet, how could this be? A rational inferior power would rather yield than to fight a damaging war and accept the near-certainty of defeat. The supposed exacting of a price would be a bluff. To fight a war from a position of weakness is kind of like betting your left arm in a poker game when you only have a pair of deuces.

Yet maybe it's the expectation that the inferior power will indeed follow such an irrational course (=not bluffing, with exact cards unknown to the other 'player') of action which preserves peace.


This would be quite ironic, for there's a substantial amount of irrationality in play when wars are being prepared or actually waged, too. It's almost impossible nowadays to get a good return on war efforts (save for wars of independence or special interests) and justifying the huge expenses in peacetime without an actual conflict on the horizon requires even more irrationality in my opinion.


Still, irrationality may preserve peace at times, which should influence one's judgement of seemingly irrational leaders at times. An irrational leader of an inferior country may serve the preservation of peace, while the same leading a superior power may be a threat to peace.


By the way; I'm still unsure why arms races exist(ed) at all. There are scores of examples where one side simply stopped playing along and dropped out of the race, with no aggression occurring afterwards. See Greece-Turkey or the South American dreadnought arms race for obvious examples.


S Ortmann


Similar stuff years ago, and more specific to nukes:2009/03: Nuclear deterrence: It depends!
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4 comments:

  1. "Yet, how could this be? A rational inferior power would rather yield than to fight a damaging war and accept the near-certainty of defeat. The supposed exacting of a price would be a bluff."

    Third Power.

    Whereas a poker game is binary, either you win or you lose, a war can have two losers.

    Think Rome, Persia, and the Arabs.
    Rome and Persia fought so much, that the Arabs managed to reduce each to a rump state in barely a century.

    Or the UK, France, Germany and US / USSR.

    Why surrender when you can drag the other side down with you?

    "(save for wars of independence"
    Arent all wars wars of independance?
    Someone is being conquered, or its not really a war....

    "By the way; I'm still unsure why arms races exist(ed) at all. There are scores of examples where one side simply stopped playing along and dropped out of the race, with no aggression occurring afterwards."

    Because the arms race worked.

    Argentina could win a war against Brazil, but it couldn't do so without taking such losses that it would face its own destruction at the hands of Chile.
    Chile couldn't conquer Argentina, without then losing the pacific, and then losing argentina, and then losing Chile, to the neighbours who gleefully watched Chile and Argentina crush each other.

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    Replies
    1. The third party thing rarely applies, for really big confrontations tend to soak up all relevant powers into one of two blocs.

      Also note how the third party Soviet Union was largely ignored in the exception of the late 30's. Same with the Chinese during the late Cold War.

      "Why surrender when you can drag the other side down with you?"

      Rationally spoken, there's little value in seeing others suffer relative to the suffering you would need to pay as price for it in such cases.

      "Arent all wars wars of independance?"

      Actual annexation of other than contested regions (with other ethnic situation than the core of the nation) has not been the dominant outcome of wars between states. Very often it was rather about payments, ceding foreign ethnicity terrain, change of governments, punishment or about giving up claims.

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  2. "The third party thing rarely applies, for really big confrontations tend to soak up all relevant powers into one of two blocs."

    Eventually, perhaps, but even then, most participants are ambivalent.

    Most of south america threw in with the allies, but they didnt get involved, beyond sheltering fleeing Nazis....

    And even if they do, the two world wars ended Europes powers as world powers, and replaced them with the US.

    "Rationally spoken, there's little value in seeing others suffer relative to the suffering you would need to pay as price for it in such cases."
    So nation A intends to invade nation B.
    It plans to exterminate every male over the age of twelve, and ensalve everyone else.

    Nation B lacks the military ability to win.

    Its not "logical" or "rational" for the Males of nation B to commit suicide.....
    Its inviting attack.

    "Arent all wars wars of independence?"
    A nation that must pay tribute to a military stronger neighbour is not independent, it is a vassel.
    If a nation loses a war and forced to cede foreign ethnicity dominated areas, surely thats a war of independance for those who are now free?
    Conversely, is a nation is forced to abandon claims to said area, isnt that an independence war?
    A nation whos government is appointed by a foreign power is a vassel.

    I cant think off hand when two powers went to war over who got to dominate a third party.

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  3. A war serves as expression of a common commitment successfully executed by the leadership. Economic benefits are incentives, not goals, for the issue at stake is dispute resolution. A proven willingness to go irrational and destructive if an agreeable solution can not be achieved, is a big stick for future negotiations. Thixs stick appears directly proportional to the estimated level of available power projection for interfering in others' well-being.

    Kurt

    PS: Is something wrong with the OpenID system, it doesn't redirect me?

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