The Strategy of Conflict Reprint Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0674840317
ISBN-10: 0674840313
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Editorial Reviews

Review

In eminently lucid and often charming language, Professor Schelling's work opens to rational analysis a crucial field of politics, the international politics of threat, or as the current term goes, of deterrence. In this field, the author's analysis goes beyond what has been done by earlier writers. It is the best, most incisive, and most stimulating book on the subject. (Annals of the American Academy)

An important contribution to understanding the conduct of the ambiguous conflict between the communist bloc on the one hand and the United States and its Free World Allies on the other. (Journal of Politics)

Against the backdrop of the nuclear arms race in the late 1950s, Thomas Schelling's book The Strategy of Conflict set forth his vision of game theory as a unifying framework for the social sciences. Schelling showed that a party can strengthen its position by overtly worsening its own options, that the capability to retaliate can be more useful than the ability to resist an attack, and that uncertain retaliation is more credible and more efficient than certain retaliation. These insights have proven to be of great relevance for conflict resolution and efforts to avoid war. Schelling's work prompted new developments in game theory and accelerated its use and application throughout the social sciences. Notably, his analysis of strategic commitments has explained a wide range of phenomena, from the competitive strategies of firms to the delegation of political decision power. (The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)

About the Author

Thomas C. Schelling is Distinguished University Professor, Department of Economics and School of Public Affairs, University of Maryland and Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Political Economy, Emeritus, Harvard University. He is co-recipient of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Economics.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (May 15, 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674840313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674840317
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #283,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By P.C. on September 7, 2006
Format: Paperback
"The Strategy of Conflict" changed the development of game theory in several ways, but none was more important than Schelling's focus on real life examples, situations or games that are relevant to what we encounter in our daily lives. Before Schelling, game theory analysis was abstract and mathematical; it focused on zero-sum games, where interests were purely conflicting and there were no incentives to cooperate. Game theorists built convincing abstract models for these types of games, but its application was limited, since most interactions were a mixture of conflict and mutual dependence. In other words, analysis focused on pure conflict, a limiting cases of real world interactions, while in "The Strategy of Conflict" Schelling attempts to generalize game theory analysis to richer games that are `played' in the real world. His generalization introduced the concepts, commitments, threats, promises, communication systems, focal points, and randomization of strategies into game theory (chapters 1~8), which was then used to analyze the its applications in national security (chapters 9 and 10).

If you are studying game theory, this book is a must read. If you are just interested in game theory, I'd recommend reading this book too.
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98 of 109 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 6, 1998
Format: Paperback
Schelling's major contribution to game theory (and the study of culture) was the concept of focal points. He observed that in real life bargaining each player would rather make a concession than fail to reach any agreement at all. And there are a wide range of outcomes that would be preferable to both of them than no agreement at all. Now without some procedure to select among those acceptable alternatives, people might never come to a satisfactory agreement. This is where the key concept of "focal points" comes into play. Schelling defines focal points as "intuitively perceived mutual expectations, shared appreciations, preoccupations, obsessions, and sensitivities to suggestion." He criticized traditional game theorists for failing to recognize that "players" actually achieve much better coordination and cooperation when they are able to rely upon focal points. Although he does not make this analogy, it seems that focal points represent some sort of a "templat! e" or "blueprint" that helps to unify understanding and coordinate action. However, for Schelling, "focal points" are quite arbitrary-whether and to what degree they serve to coordinate action and expectations is the key question.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
I disagree with the review that describes Schelling's primary contribution here as the idea of focal points. This is one of the key insights in the book, but only one. He also has a fascinating discussion of threats, promises, and credibility and the relation of these issues to national security issues. The connection is explored further in Schelling's Arms and Influence, while this book is more theoretical in its orientation. I highly recommend this book to anyone who knows a little game theory but is frustrated by the level of abstraction which pervades the theory.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Grant Gibbs on April 24, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Other reviewers have explained Schelling's insights, so I won't bother to touch on them.

Often you read books where economists find new applications for known principles. Often you read books where economists lay down some new insight they've had into what can be a very technical field.

Strategy of Conflict does both. Schelling does a wonderful job finding applications for *new* insights and explaining them in a readable way.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Bill Jia Xie on November 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
Since its first publication in 1960, the strategy of Conflict is still relevant today. His concepts of strategic moves and random strategy can still be applied to the increasing complicated international affairs. It's definitely a timeless classic for game theoretical study of international relations.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on July 12, 2013
Format: Paperback
In international affairs there is both mutual dependence and opposition. Pure conflict is a special case - a war of complete extermination. 'Winning' is not winning relative to one's adversary, but gaining relative to one's own value system - possibly through bargaining. Strategy is not concerned with efficient application of force, rather exploitation of potential force. Some outcomes could be mutually advantageous. Bargaining may involve threats, or mutual benefits.

Threats have to be credible to be effective, and that credibility may depend on the associated costs and risks. Threats can be made credible by stretching a 'trip wire' across the enemy's path of advance, or making fulfillment a matter of national honor and prestige. The rationality of one's adversary is pertinent to the efficiency of a threat - madmen often cannot be controlled by threats. The efficiency of a threat may depend on the alternatives available to a potential enemy - if he is not to react like a trapped lion he must left some tolerable recourse. The threat of all-out retaliation gives an enemy, should he choose not to heed it, every incentive to initiate his transgression with an all-out strike on us, forcing him to choose between extremes. The threat of massive destruction may deter an enemy only with an implicit promise of non-destruction if he complies - too great a capacity to strike him by surprise may induce him to strike first.

How does one become committed to an act he'd otherwise be known to shrink from, given that if a commitment makes the threat credible enough to be effective it need not be carried out?
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