Friday, August 12, 2016

Cheap Talk And Nuclear War

This is a followup of my recent post here, econospeak.blogspot.com/2016//08/the-man-who-saved-world-from-nuclear.html .  That discussed Thomas Schelling's role in developing the "no first use of nuclear weapons" policy over several decades in the late 20th century related to his Nobel-Prize winning idea of focal points.  Now I shall be more precise about who and what and how this norm he played such an important role in establishing is breaking down.

Staying within the game theory framework that Schelling operated within, the problem we face now is "cheap talk."  This term entered formal game theory discussions in a paper in 1982 in Econometrica by Vince Crawford and P. Sobel, "Strategic Information Transmission."  They characterized this as involving 1) being costless,2) non-binding, and 3) unverifiable. The large literature on this since their paper  has made it clear that details matter, and that there are many special cases and variations regarding cheap talk and how it can affect real outcomes, which, it is certainly clear it can.  Cheap talk can undermine an established game theoretic equilibrium in a world where there are multiple such equilibria, and an agreement such as Schelling's old "meet under the clock at Grand Central Station" focal point can be undermined by cheap  talk about, "well, maybe we should meet under the clock at Penn Station instead."  Yeah, maybe instead of the norm of no first use of nuclear weapons, we should entertain the possibility of doing so almost randomly if  other nations annoy the heck out of us.

So indeed, as I noted in the earlier post, the origin of cheap talk undermining Schelling's hard to establish norm of no first use of nuclear  weapons came from Russians surrounding Vladimir Putin in March 2014 at the time of the imposition of economic sanctions by the US and EU over his annexation of Krim in violation of  Russia's signing on to the 1994 Budapest Accords that guaranteed the territorial integrity of Ukraine in response to Urkaine giving Russia its pretty numerous nuclear weapons, with the US and UK signing on also, neither of which did anything military when Russia under Putin violated this accord by its annexation of  Krim (Crimea).

The first to  engage in such cheap  talk was Dmitry Kiselev, appointed by Putin to run Russia Today (now  RT) and some other media.  In March 2014 during the annexation fuss, he reminded the world that Russia could turn the US into "radioactive ash."  Not too long after a young military leader, Aleksey Gudovshnikov on Govorit Moskva made fun or worrying about nuclear war, "Why are we so afraid of nuclear war?" noting that both Hiroshima and Nagasaki involved fewer deaths than the fire bombing of Dresden, which is true, but all this was before the invention of the to-this-day-never- deployed and far more destructive H-bomb.  This sort of talk has become quite common on various Russian media outlets in the last two years, very cheap talk indeed. ("Russian media learn to love the bomb" 2/23/15, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31557254 ).  Putin has never uttered a single word suggesting that these individuals, all of them his appointees, have overdone their public remarks.

So here we are now, with many on both the right and left in the US saying that Putin is a good guy who must be taken very very seriously, not to mention his pal in the US  adding to the cheap talk in various ways, both questioning repeatedly why we cannot just use those nukes we have whenever we feel like it, as well as approving nuclear proliferation to such nations as Japan and South Korea (Um would either China or Russia  be too keen on either of those proliferations?  But, oh, this was probaby just  "sarcasm," not recognized as such by the evil MSM).

I note another point some have raised in this debate:which nations have actually publicly supported the Schelling focal point of no first use  of  nuclear weapons.  The list is short, including India and North Korea, whose leader was recently talking about nuking New York City.

What is clear is that on the official list the big nuclear powers: US, Russia, China; list themselves as possibly using nukes for defensive purposes, no public adherence to the Schelling no-first-use norm.  But this has been for decades a discrete matter, with the signal given that nobody talks about it, no talk cheap or expensive to enforce the norm.  It has been a good 40 years since anybody serious in the US (Air Force General Curtis E.LeMay the last) has spoken in such terms.  But if one returns to the 1950s one finds very serious people using the Prisoner's Dilemma model of game theory to argue for a first strike, most famously the late John von Neumann, who declared "If it is wise to strike tomorrow [the former Soviet Union], then why not today at 5 o'clock, and if not at 5, then why not at 1 PM?"  As it was, von Neumann's great rival in those debates, Tom Schelling, won the day then.

 Barkley Rosser

Barkley Rosser

8 comments:

Steve Douglas said...

In 2006, The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy was published in Foreign Affairs. This paper put forth the idea that the U.S. could succeed in a nuclear war using a strike-first strategy. I mentioned this in a comment to one of your now-3 essays on this subject (though mistated the source and the year published), and yet you continue to talk about this issue as if the Russians (and Putin) came up with it. They got the idea from Americans. Reckless Americans. The danger is coming, but not from Russia. It is within our own governement. The same neo con ideology responsible for the irresponsible and insane idea that the U.S. could win a war using nuclear weapons it embodied in the current Administration (as well as the Bill Clinton and George Bush administrations) and are now surrounding and endorsing Hillary Clinton. Once again, the Russians didn't start this theory. But you can bet your bottom dollar they read the paper when it came out in 2006. And so, of coure, did the Chinese. Please either educate yourself (by reading the paper, freely available on the Foreign Affairs website) or just stop talking this nonsense. It's not just ignorant, it's dangerous.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

OK, Steve, you managed to find your article from 2006. First of all, the authors are nobodies, both associate professors still of political science or government. They have never been in the US government and they are not advising Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump or anybody of any consequence that I can tell. They are not even leaders or important in the neocon movement, although maybe there are some neocon people who are really into them. I had never heard of them before.

Second, they provided little data for their bizarre argument that the US was achieving some sort of nuclear superiority in 2006. This was simply not true and it is not true today. While they claimed they were describing the policy of the Bush administration (and maybe somebody in the Bush admin was yapping along these lines), that is not what has gone on more recently.

President Obama initiated nuclear negotiations with then President Medvedev of Russia on START in 2009, with an agreement reached in 2010 and implemented in 2011, involving a reduction of nuclear weapons to about 2/3 of previous levels. This has been followed since, although Putin has engaged in some bad mouthing of it recently. According to Wikipedia, the numbers as of March 2016 are as follows

deployed ICBMs nuclear warheads launchers
US 741 1481 878
Russia 521 1735 856

As you can see, the US has more ICBMs while Russia has more warheads, a particular imbalance that has been in place for a long time. As a matter of fact, Russia happens to be currently in violation of the START, which supposedly limits warheads to 1550, a sign of Putin's disrespect for the agreement and nibbling at its edges.

So, sorry, Steve, Putin is the one who is undermining existing agreements and allowing people around him to regularly engage in very dangerous cheap talk. Nothing like this is coming out of Obama or Hillary or anybody around them. Your source is a 10 year old article by a pair of nobodies that has not been remotely accurate certainly since Obama became president.

blissex said...

«on the official list the big nuclear powers: US, Russia, China; list themselves as possibly using nukes for defensive purposes, no public adherence to the Schelling no-first-use norm.»

There is a lot of apparent hallucination in this and the previous post about T Schelling, as the USA has always had an official and quite wide "first-use" policy, and the USSR and China have always had an official "no first-use" policy, and now Russia has something very close to a "no first use" policy; Just the Wikipedia page says:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_first_use
«NATO has repeatedly rejected calls for adopting NFU policy, arguing that preemptive nuclear strike is a key option, in order to have a credible deterrent that could compensate for the overwhelming conventional weapon superiority enjoyed by the Soviet Army in the Eurasian land mass.»
«With regard to nuclear weapons specifically, Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons
* in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it or its allies, and also
* in case of aggression against Russia with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened.»
«China declared its NFU policy in 1964, and has since maintained this policy. India articulated its policy of no first use of nuclear weapons in 2003.»

Also, the USA and UK countries have quite liberal "first-use", even "pre-emptive" first-use policies like:

«The new doctrine envisions commanders requesting presidential approval to use nuclear weapons to preempt an attack by a nation or a terrorist group using weapons of mass destruction. The draft also includes the option of using nuclear weapons to destroy known enemy stockpiles of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.»

«the UK was prepared to use nuclear weapons against "rogue states" such as Iraq if they ever used "weapons of mass destruction" against British troops in the field. This policy was restated in February 2003.»

Also:

http://www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/key-issues/nuclear-weapons/issues/policies/no-first-use_1995-04-05.htm

Also:

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/437510/no-first-use-nuclear
«Once Again: Why a ‘No First Use’ Nuclear Policy Is a Very Bad Idea
It would reduce the potential cost of using conventional, chemical, and biological attacks for would-be aggressors. [ ... ] NFU has, however, been rejected by all previous Democratic and Republican administrations for very sound reasons, most recently by the Obama administration in 2010.»

blissex said...

«As a matter of fact, Russia happens to be currently in violation of the START, which supposedly limits warheads to 1550,»

The Wikipedia page on "New START" says:

«It was signed on 8 April 2010 in Prague, and, after ratification, entered into force on 5 February 2011.
The treaty limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, [ ... ] The total number of deployed warheads, however, could exceed the 1,550 limit by a few hundred because per bomber only one warhead is counted regardless of how many it actually carries»
«NLT 7 years after EIF
Meet Central Treaty Limits:
Parties are required to meet the limits laid out in the Treaty for deployed strategic warheads, and deployed and non-deployed strategic delivery vehicles and launchers.»

That's by 5 February 2018, not 2016.

It is hard to imagine why people don't check Wikipedia.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

blissex,

Yes, the US does not have an official NFU policy, but the conditions for such use remain extreme. More importantly, US officials and leaders do not go around publicly talking about the use of nuclear weapons and how the US can reduce other nations to "radioactive ash" or how Hiroshima and Nagasaki were no big deal, although the US continues to refuse to apologize for those attacks, as seen in Obama's precedent-shattering visit to Hiroshima.

The US position on nuclear weapons is not at all a clean slate, with indeed it still being the case that we are the only nation to have actually used them, and many still defending that use. Thus it is all the more important that we not have presidents who engage in loose talk about just using them conveniently whenever we feel like it. I would prefer a full NFU, but the conditions for use are quite extreme and pretty clear. The USSR had an NFU, but now Russia does not, with its conditions also extreme. Which is why I see no good use served by various Russian leaders close to Putin going around engaging in loose talk about reducing other nations to "radioactive ash." Anybody seriously believing that either the US or NATO is plotting a nation-destroying invasion of Russia is completely deluded. Heck, in 2014 the US failed to fulfill its promise made in 1994 in the Budapest Accord to defend the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Just to remind those who are deluded, in 1994 Ukraine gave its nuclear weapons to Russia on that promise, that Russia would respect Ukraine's territorial integrity. The US and UK were the other signatories, but both did zero when Russia violated the accord, and we have all decided that it is convenient to ignore this embarrassing failure by those nations to keep their word.

blissex said...

«does not have an official NFU policy, but the conditions for such use remain extreme.»

I draw your attention against to the already quoted:

«NATO has repeatedly rejected calls for adopting NFU policy, arguing that preemptive nuclear strike is a key option,»
«use nuclear weapons to preempt an attack by a nation or a terrorist group using weapons of mass destruction. The draft also includes the option of using nuclear weapons to destroy known enemy stockpiles of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.»

which to seem seems not just "first-use", but "pre-emptive" and aggressive first-use.

For example «destroy known enemy stockpiles of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons» could cover a very large number of cases, as many, many states have quite legal «enemy stockpiles» of what could be considered in some sense «nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons».

Never mind the UK's policy of first use of nuclear weapons when losing a battle against conventional forces as in «used "weapons of mass destruction" against British troops in the field».

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

blissex,

Two columns appeared today, one in NYT the other in WaPo. Apparently Obama is contemplating changing the US policy to No First Use, but he is facing serious opposition. I shall do a full post on this matter later today.