The Game of Chicken Between the U.S. and the Soviet Union

“Since then, we’ve gotten out of the habit”

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Benjamin Parker at The Bulwark: Escalation management is a real thing—a lot of ink was spilled in the Cold War thinking about how to manage the game of chicken between the United States and the Soviet Union. Since then, we’ve gotten out of the habit. No one worried about al Qaeda or the Taliban or Saddam “escalating” anything.

But note that it’s called “escalation management”—not “escalation avoidance.” There are two reasons for this.

  1. If you really want to avoid escalation, the only surefire way to do so is to surrender. Even then, all it guarantees is that you won’t contribute to the threat of violence. It does nothing to prevent whomever you’ve surrendered to from intensifying their own violence (vertical escalation) or directing their violence at someone new (horizontal escalation).
  2. If you do surrender, you just reward the other side’s escalation. You encourage them to make threats to get you to back down without extracting a price from them. So counterintuitively, de-escalating can be, well, escalatory.

More here.

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