Game Theory and The Cuban Missile Crisis
Background On The Cuban Missile Crisis
In October of 1962, it was confirmed that the Soviet Union was
building nuclear missile bases in Cuba, well within striking range of
most of the United States. This was unacceptable to the US.
They considered the following actions:
Enact a naval blockade of Cuba, not to be lifted until the missiles
were removed. This option was much less likely to result in a Soviet
attack on the US, but it was not known if it would result in a
withdrawal of the missiles.
Destroy the missiles with a quick and thorough US air strike. If
the strike was successful, it is possible that the crisis could have
ended in that the missiles were no longer a threat. A threat of a
nuclear war between the US and the USSR erupting was a very real
possibility if this option were used.
So you could say there were four possible outcomes. Blockade
resulting in withdrawal of missiles, blockade resulting in no removal,
attack resulting in destruction of missiles that the Soviets intended
to remove, and attack and destruction in missiles the Soviets intended
to keep in place. This assumes that the USAF would be successful
in destroying the missiles - this was estimated at being 90% probable.
Applying Game Theory To This Situation
Game theory is a branch of mathematics concerned with
decision-making in social interactions. It applies to situations (games)
where there are two or more people (called players) each
attempting to choose between two more more ways of acting (called
In the article
Game theory and the Cuban missile crisis by Steven J. Brams, the
four possible outcomes are addressed. The conclusion, applying
the theory, is that by waiting for the Soviet Union to "make the first
move", a peaceful compromise was far more feasible.