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Games 2014, 5(1), 53-89; doi:10.3390/g5010053

Schelling, von Neumann, and the Event that Didn’t Occur

Department of Economics, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA 95053, USA
Received: 19 August 2013 / Revised: 10 December 2013 / Accepted: 31 January 2014 / Published: 25 February 2014
View Full-Text   |   Download PDF [735 KB, 6 March 2014; original version 25 February 2014]


Thomas Schelling was recognized by the Nobel Prize committee as a pioneer in the application of game theory and rational choice analysis to problems of politics and international relations. However, although he makes frequent references in his writings to this approach, his main explorations and insights depend upon and require acknowledgment of its limitations. One of his principal concerns was how a country could engage in successful deterrence. If the behavioral assumptions that commonly underpin game theory are taken seriously and applied consistently, however, nuclear adversaries are almost certain to engage in devastating conflict, as John von Neumann forcefully asserted. The history of the last half century falsified von Neumann’s prediction, and the “event that didn’t occur” formed the subject of Schelling’s Nobel lecture. The answer to the question “why?” is the central concern of this paper.
Keywords: game theory; deterrence; nuclear strategy; Schelling; von Neumann game theory; deterrence; nuclear strategy; Schelling; von Neumann
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Field, A.J. Schelling, von Neumann, and the Event that Didn’t Occur. Games 2014, 5, 53-89.

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