Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Balancing Resolve With Restraint
In a monograph for the Army War College, Nobel prize-winning economist Roger Myerson uses game theory to explain why, contrary to the assumptions of the Bush administration's doctrine of unilateralism, reinforcing multilateral institutions and subsequently respecting the restraints they place on American use of force reinforces the effectiveness of American deterrence. A policy balancing resolve (the willingness to respond to aggression) with restraint (the willingness to accept limits on the use of force) provides the necessary disincentives to aggression while maintaining the incentives for cooperation. If, on the other hand, a country knows it's going to catch hell whether it cooperates with the US or not, it has no incentive to cooperate.
The key, according to Myerson, is a reliable reputation for reasonable restraint among the international community. Our promises of restraint must not only be as clearly communicated as our threats of military action, they need to be as credible as well:
Thus, if we want our application of military force to deter our potential adversaries, rather than stimulate them to more militant reactions against us, then we should make sure that the limits of our forceful actions are clear to any potential adversaries. We need a reputation for responding forcefully against aggression, but we also need a reputation for restraining our responses within clear limits that depend in a generally recognized way on the nature of the provocation. These limits must be clear to our potential adversaries, who must be able to verify that we are adhering to the limits of our deterrent strategy, because it is they whom we are trying to influence and deter. (p. 21)
In the light of Myerson's analysis, the idea that America must at times submit its use of force to the judgment of the international arena takes on a central evaluative function:
When Americans judge our leaders for effectiveness in foreign policy, the central question should be how our policy is perceived by the foreigners whom we want to influence and deter. Letting these foreigners judge our reputation for adhering to our deterrent strategy can help us to guarantee its credibility. So a policy of submitting American military actions to international judgment and restraint can actually make America more secure. (p. 23)
Myerson's theoretical models reinforce a recurring sentiment in foreign policy circles that American foreign policy is in need of a corrective period of restraint. It's also comforting to know that the multi-lateral system works on a theoretical level to deter conflict in an increasingly multi-polar world. With any luck the Bush doctrine will soon be squarely behind us, and the suggestion that we should be formulating our deterrent policy based at least in part on the perceptions of those we're trying to deter will no longer be portrayed as a lack of resolve, but as an abundance of wisdom.