Chapter 5: Crises

A crisis, in the context of this book, is a diplomatic confrontation that carries a serious risk of war. The crisis is a recent historical development first made possible by the telegraph. Before the invention of the telegraph, news traveled at the speed of a fast horseman. Capitals were separated by days of time, and diplomacy moved at an appropriately leisurely pace. Kings and diplomats felt no need to hurry their deliberations; there was always time to sleep on the matter before a decision need be made. Moreover, the slow speed of news made it impossible to react to many events. All too often, by the time a diplomat learned of a developing problem, he knew that the matter had probably been already resolved. Finally, leaders were forced to rely heavily on their ambassadors to carry out discussions. These ambassadors, skilled in the use of diplomatic language, could rephrase the less-than-tactful recriminations of their leaders and keep the flow of diplomatic intercourse moving along smoothly.

The telegraph dramatically changed the operation of diplomacy by making it possible for leaders to communicate directly with each other on a time scale of hours. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the newfangled telegraph played an uncertain role in statecraft, but experience refined its utility. The modern crisis, after some rocky early days, had established its basic form and substance by the turn of this century.

Initiating Event
Every crisis is triggered by some salient event. It might be a diplomatic move, military action, or even a personal affront. For example, the Franco- Prussian War of 1870 was triggered by the infamous Ems telegram. Chancellor Bismarck created this supposedly internal memorandum and then surreptitiously leaked it to the press; it contained slanders against the French nation. The outrage this generated in France made war inevitable — just as Bismarck intended.

Sometimes this initiating event appears to be innocuous to most bystanders, but the relationship between the two parties is so strained that even minor matters become issues of state. Thus, in the months before the outbreak of World War I, a crisis was nearly precipitated over the sending of a German military legation to Turkey. It is quite common for nations to trade military legations, and the German legation was in no way meant to be provocative. Yet Russia was extremely sensitive about Turkey and nearly initiated a crisis over the German legation. Similarly, the Germans were quite incensed during the summer months of 1914 by the treatment accorded their ambassador in Paris. They felt that he was being excluded from the French social scene, and were sure that this was proof of warlike French intentions. The possibility that the ambassador was personally obnoxious did not occur to them.

The most colorful initiating event was the famous Defenestration of Prague in 1618. Tensions had been running high between local Protestants and the Catholic Emperor over a variety of issues. On May 23, one of the Protestant leaders invaded Hradschin Castle in Prague at the head of a mob. They found two of the Emperor’s governors in a second-floor room. They threw them out the window (Latin de: out of, fenester: window). Unfortunately, it was 50 feet to the ground. Fortunately, there was a pile of soft garbage below the window. The governors were not seriously injured, but the insult to the Emperor was so great that he sent two armies to Bohemia to bring the defenestrators to justice. Thus began the Thirty Years War, which took some 30 million casualties during its course.

We denizens of the twentieth century can take some pride in the knowledge that our wars have all been started by more serious considerations than the propulsion of government officials through windows. Every one of these twentieth century wars was initiated by a premeditated military attack:

War                            Entering Party        Initiating Event

World War II                  France/Britain       German invasion of Poland 

World War II                  Soviet Union          German invasion of USSR 

World War II                  United States         Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor 

Korean War                    United States         North Korean invasion of S. Korea 

1962 Sino-Indian War   India                        Chinese attack 

1967 Arab-Israeli War   Egypt                       Israeli attack 

1973 Arab-Israeli War   Israel                        Egyptian and Syrian attack

Of course, one might just as easily conclude from this that we are more Machiavellian in our use of military force than our predecessors and see less need for diplomatic niceties such as initiating crises. Instead, we get right down to the heart of the matter and start fighting immediately.

Reactions to the initiating event
An initiating event is only the first step in the development of a crisis; the next step is the process that each actor in the crisis goes through to determine its reaction to the initiating event. Just about everything that one superpower does is of interest and concern to the other superpower, but always in different degrees. Most of the time, the actions taken by one superpower are not of great interest to the other. Problems arise only when one superpower performs some action that the other deems to be of great concern to itself. Then the first problem facing both superpowers is the precise evaluation of its own interest in the affair.

Many factors are involved in assessing one superpower’s interest in the other’s action. The primary consideration is always the impact of the action on the superpower’s security, but this is in itself an involved determination. If the matter is a direct military challenge, then there is little problem ascertaining the danger. For example, the United States had no problem whatever deciding that the installation of the intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba in the fall of 1961 constituted a threat to its security. Most provocations are not so simple.

The first consideration is the degree of diplomatic affinity that the superpower feels for the object nation. Thus, the U.S. government was displeased with the Vietnamese invasion of Communist Kampuchea (Cambodia) in the late 1970s, but it had so little concern for Kampuchea that its net interest in the invasion was minimal. On the other hand, should the North Koreans again attack South Korea, the United States would have no reservations about extending full support to this regime with which it maintains close ties.

Related to this is the degree of formal commitment that the superpower has made to the minor country in question. It is essential to honor one’s treaty obligations if other treaty promises are to have any meaning. Superpowers that abandon their allies lose prestige.

The next consideration is called “sphere of influence”. The term has a checkered history. During the heyday of European colonialism, it was used as a euphemism for the carving up of the world among European powers. Even well into the twentieth century, we find it heavily used. For example, the discussions among the Allies toward the close of World War II included many uses of the phrase, with the Soviet Union being given a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. The idea behind a sphere of influence is that the other powers will not interfere with the activities of the holding power within its own sphere of influence. It is generally recognized that there are constraints on the behavior of the dominant power within its sphere of influence. It cannot, for example, simply annex all territory within its sphere. These constraints, however, are never spelled out. An aggressive power like the Soviet Union can use its sphere of influence assertively, as the Soviet Union has done several times in Eastern Europe by using military force in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. A superpower can also operate benignly in its sphere of influence, as the United States has done in West Germany.

Nowadays, the meaning of a sphere of influence has been watered down. Minor countries are able to assert their sovereignty more forcefully than in times past. The concept is still useful, but carries less weight than it once did. For example, the United States has a sphere of influence over Latin America. This no longer means that the USA can, for example, invade Nicaragua at will, but it does mean that the Soviet Union had greater respect American interests in the region. Similarly, the Soviet Union has a sphere of interest in Eastern Europe, which it exercises aggressively, yet it hesitated to invade Poland in 1981 when the Polish communist regime appeared to be losing control of events. Even though the Soviet Union had invaded Eastern European nations four times previously, it felt qualms about repeating its pattern in the face of strong world opinion that no longer tolerates the most brutal exercises of power.

The third consideration is the actual impact of the provocative action. If the provocation is insignificant in its effect, then there is little need for action, but if it threatens a major change in the world order, then the superpower has little choice but to respond.

The superpower must also consider the importance of the minor country over which the provocation occurs. An American invasion of Grenada, for example, will cause less concern to Soviet planners than an American invasion of East Germany. In the grand geopolitical order, Grenada is about as close to insignificance as a country can get.

Then there is the matter of the superpower’s own willingness to engage in assertive diplomatic behavior. In war, Napoleon said, the moral is to the physical as three is to one. A superpower’s willingness to wield its power can be more important in the world arena than the amount of power itself. Thus Adolf Hitler was able to flout the Treaty of Versailles and annex both Austria and Czechoslovakia because he wielded the small amount of power he actually possessed with determination and ruthlessness. The United States under President Carter was hesitant and unwilling to behave forcefully; it responded to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian seizure of American hostages with uncertainty. Yet the same nation under President Reagan has demonstrated an aggressiveness and a willingness to rely on military options that frightens much of the world.

These are some of the many considerations that a superpower’s leaders will weigh while contemplating their actions during a crisis. As you can see, it is a long list of considerations, making the decision-making process a difficult one.

Superpower actions in crises
A superpower always has a large array of options to choose from during a crisis. There are always two extremes: do nothing and declare war. These two extremes are, however, the worst possible choices for a diplomat. Doing nothing constitutes acquiescence to the provocation and encourages further provocations. Declaring war unleashes a catastrophe.

Thus, diplomats and leaders have always sought intermediate solutions, strategies that fall between the two extremes. Sad to say, there are scant few such solutions. When they are found, they can save the world. The American solution to the Soviet closure of land routes to West Berlin in 1948 was the Berlin airlift. This essentially technological solution to a serious diplomatic crisis averted a war. John Kennedy’s solution to the problem of the Cuban missiles was the establishment of a naval blockade of Cuba. Ironically, the American solution to the latter problem was analogous to the Soviet action that precipitated the former crisis.

Solutions of this nature tend to be opportunistic. The statesman grabs for whatever he can get. In general, no statesman can count on the appearance of such a stroke of good opportunity to deliver him from a tough crisis. There is only one generalized scheme that can be applied to all modern crises: brinksmanship. This is a new word applied to a new concept arising from the impact of the atomic bomb on strategic thinking.

The strategy behind brinksmanship is based on the realization that neither side is truly willing to go to nuclear war. If our side can then convince their side that we are seriously contemplating the possibility of launching World War III, then their side will fully realize the gravity of the situation and will back down from the precipice. So goes the logic.

The problem with brinksmanship lies in the execution. Exactly how does one go about convincing the other side that one is preparing for war? Words are the stuff of diplomacy, but no statesman is fool enough to surrender his country’s interests on the basis of what might well be a wordy bluff. The statesman needs something more tangible, something that undeniably conveys menacing import to the other side.

Mankind’s most awesome and terrifying achievement, the nuclear bomb, has forced us to turn to the simple wisdom of Nature’s approach to conflict resolution. The scheme that statesman have hit upon is the nuclear era’s equivalent of a threatened animal’s baring its teeth. That simple act simultaneously communicates the creatures ability to inflict damage as well as its willingness to do so. Instead of fangs, we use missiles. Like many animals, we have a well-defined sequence of threatening displays that can be used to communicate willingness to fight. Unlike the display-sequences of most species, ours has yet to achieve the status of a safely unambiguous ritual.

The first step in the sequence is the private diplomatic note. This non- public message is meant to allow the antagonists to resolve their differences without the complications of an audience of clients. If this fails, then the next level of confrontation is the arena of public diplomacy. This can take the form of public denunciations, or escalate the more serious level of a confrontation in the United Nations. Although such confrontations spark heated debates and grab a great deal of press attention, their significance is frequently overstated. Any crisis that goes no further than the level of the United Nations was never very hot to start with.

The first point at which the superpowers demonstrate deadly seriousness comes when they put their military forces on alert. This telegraphs intent to fight. The armed forces of the United States use a system of Defense Conditions (called DefCon for short) that specifies their level of preparedness at any given time. There are five levels:

Defense Condition 5: lowest level of preparedness (peace)
Defense Condition 4: low-level alert
Defense Condition 3: highest level of readiness without expectation of imminent combat
Defense Condition 2: attack is considered to be imminent
Defense Condition 1: war

Although this system is used as a means of controlling the armed forces, it can also be used to communicate seriousness of intent to the Soviets. Soviet intelligence is acute enough to quickly detect and report the DefCon level to Moscow, so the American President need not rely solely on words. Simply moving the armed forces to a higher DefCon level will communicate a message to Moscow quickly.

One problem with this approach is that it is vulnerable to counter- brinksmanship. Thus, if we go to DefCon 4, what is to prevent the Soviets from countering by going to their equivalent of DefCon 3? if we can try to intimidate them, why cant they try to intimidate us? And where does it stop? One would hope that the sequence of escalatory sabre-rattling would stop before DefCon 1, but there is another crucial factor to consider: the possibility of things getting out of hand.

One of the great problems of all statesmen is the difficulty they have controlling their own armed forces. From the statesman’s point of view, the problem is simple: The armed forces exist to allow the state to enforce its policies in the pursuit of geopolitical advantage. The precise manner in which this tool is used is the sole prerogative of the statesman.

Unfortunately, most military men see the matter differently. In theory, they concede that they are servants of the state; in practice, they compromise their obeisance to state authority with what they call military necessities. The result is that the outcome of many crises is decided not by diplomatic considerations but by military ones. In effect, the High Command steps forward at the crucial moment in the crisis and declares to civilian authority, You cannot take that option. For military reasons, you must do this. All too often the result is catastrophic.

For example, in the crucial moment before the onset of World War I, Kaiser Wilhelm lost his nerve and hit upon a wild scheme to reverse the motion of German armies towards war with France and England. At this point Helmuth von Moltke, the Chief of the German General Staff, intervened. Tremendous energies had been expended preparing detailed schedules for troop movements to the front, he argued, and the machinery of mobilization could not be thrown into reverse without destroying it. Mobilization was irreversible; the state would simply have to adapt its policies to the military realities of the armed forces.

A similar problem plagued President Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis. He wanted the Navy to blockade the island, but did not want any hostile actions taken unless absolutely necessary. He faced resistance from the Navy, which wanted to run a standard blockade. A standard blockade presumes a readiness to engage in hostile activities, something Kennedy had no taste for. Considerable friction arose between the Administration and the Navy. Fortunately, the Soviets were good enough to back down before hostilities between the Administration and the Navy erupted into open warfare on the streets of Washington.

A much greater problem with the use of military alerts arises from the ease with which military forces create incidents. Military men do not think in terms of the intricacies of diplomatic maneuvers; they operate under a simpler law of the jungle. They tend to use their weapons more readily than diplomats would prefer, often creating incidents which lead to wars. From the shot heard round the world at Concord to the killings at Kent State, the tendency for troops in tense situations to create incidents has been demonstrated over and over.

Every statesman lives in dread fear of such incidents. In the critical hours before war was declared in August, 1914, the French government was particularly concerned over just such an incident. It issued an order reading: By the order of the President of the Republic, no unit of the army, no patrol, no reconnaissance, no scout, no detail of any kind, shall go east of the line laid down. Anyone guilty of transgressing will be liable to court- martial.

In the nuclear age, the problems are far greater. In August, 1914, the danger was that some inexperienced junior officer might lose his nerve and shoot at somebody else, inflaming an already sensitive situation. In the nuclear age, an inexperienced junior officer might just have his finger on the button of a nuclear weapon.

The greatest danger in the course of any crisis, after the possibility of a war being started by accident, is the possibility of a miscalculation on the part of the leaders of the nations involved. In fact, miscalculation is the rule, not the exception. Statesmen just dont seem to get all their thinking straight, even when they are making decisions of immense - and possibly irrevocable - import.

On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Both Britain and France, fed up with Hitlers continuing aggression against his neighbors, had promised that they would declare war if Hitler invaded Poland. Hitler did not believe their threats. He went ahead with the invasion. On September 3, 1939, Britain declared war. Hitler was meeting with his foreign minister, Von Ribbentrop, at the time; when he was informed of the British action, he turned to Von Ribbentrop quite agitated and asked savagely, “What now?” Evidently he had started World War II without considering the possibility that Britain might declare war. Oops.

Twenty-five years earlier Kaiser Wilhelm had made a similar blunder. After egging on the Austrians in their confrontation with Serbia, he suddenly found himself face-to-face with a British ultimatum. Later he was to complain, “If only someone had told me beforehand that England would take up arms against us!” Oops.

Statesmen are fallible. The very existence of wars is proof of statesmen’s inability to correctly estimate the likely consequences of their actions. How else could two nations submit their dispute to the decision of arms when only one could possibly obtain a favorable decision (and normally, neither does)?

Resolutions and consequences
A crisis can end in one of two ways: One side backs down and accepts some sort of deal, or both sides blunder into a war. The side that backs down always suffers a serious foreign policy setback. In the first place, it loses the issue over which the crisis was triggered. More important, it loses credibility with its opponent. The amount of loss increases with the severity of the crisis. Anybody who takes matters to the brink and then backs down cannot be taken as seriously again.

The loss extends to the other nations of the world. Whenever a nation backs down in a crisis, the other nations note its lack of willpower.

Crises in Balance of Power
Crises in Balance of Power are handled in a considerably simplified process. The primary difference between game crises and real-world crises is that the game does not permit creative initiatives such as the American blockade of Cuba during the 1961 Cuban missile crisis. The player is allowed only the possibility of intimidating his opponent through the use of diplomatic threats or military alerts.

The process begins when the player initiates a crisis by questioning an action of his opponent. In the context of this discussion, an action is any operation carried out through the Policies menu of the game: troop intervention, weapons shipment, destabilization, economic aid, treaty signature, or application of diplomatic pressure. This action triggers a process of evaluation by the computer opponent. The critical question the computer must decide is, “Should I stand firm and escalate or should I back down?” The following section explains how the answer to the question is computed.

We begin by defining special terms:

Object is the minor country on whom the superpower has acted.

DipAff is the diplomatic affinity of the superpower for Object, ranging from -127 to +127. A positive value indicates warm relationship, a negative value denotes unfriendliness.

DontMess is the measure of the superpower’s sphere of influence over Object. A high value of DontMess means that Object is very much within the superpower’s sphere of influence, hence, “Don’t Mess with dat country!” DontMess is normalized to fall between 1 and 15. It is always increased by 8 if an intervention is at stake. Interventions are intrinsically serious business, and a superpower can get pretty self-righteous about the other superpower putting troops anywhere in the world.

Adventurousness is the extent to which a superpower has a demonstrated record of adventurous behavior. Each of the superpowers has its own value of Adventurousness, and this value is increased every time the superpower does something bold, and decreased every time the superpower backs down in a crisis. Adventurousness runs from 1 to 127.

Prestige Value is the relative importance of Object in the geopolitical order. West Germany has a high prestige value of 200. Nicaragua, with 2, is peanuts.

Obligation springs from any treaty between the superpower and Object. A nuclear defense treaty creates an Obligation of 127; no treaty creates an Obligation of 0.

Hurt is the most difficult concept to explain, and the one over which I expended more effort than any other single element of the game. Simply put, Hurt is the amount of damage done to Object by the superpower’s action. This is a number between -127 and +127. A negative value indicates that the action helped Object; a positive value indicates that the action hurt Object. In other words, the effect of negative Hurt is help.

Hurt’s value is calculated by a variety of special-case formulae. Three general rules govern the amount of Hurt created by an action. First, the greater the magnitude of the action, the greater the Hurt. More troops intervening or greater diplomatic pressure creates more Hurt than less of the same. Second, the amount of Hurt depends on the vulnerability of Object to the action. Sending weapons to insurgents in a strong, secure country like Great Britain does not create as much Hurt as sending weapons to insurgents in a vulnerable nation like the Philippines. Third, some actions are intrinsically more hurtful than others. In general, intervening for rebels is the most hurtful thing that a superpower can do; a full-scale intervention with 500,000 troops will generate 125 points worth of Hurt. Just below this comes a full-wide intervention for the government which, depending on the state of the insurgency, could create up to -127 points of Hurt but seldom reaches this extreme. Next comes destabilization, the highest level of which will generate 80 points worth of Hurt. Economic aid and weapons shipments to the insurgents both generate about 60 points of Hurt at their highest levels, but the impact of economic aid is dependent on the state of Object’s economy. Diplomatic pressure, weapons shipments to the government, and treaty signatures are all in the lowest level of Hurt - at their very strongest levels, they generate values of about +/- 40 points of Hurt, but again, the conditions in Object can modify this.

Remember that positive Hurt is real hurt, while negative Hurt is actually help. Its a simple idea expressed in oddly mathematical terms.

The meaning of Hurt is inverted if the other superpower is helping a friend. For example, if the Soviet Union were to sign a mutual defense treaty with our good friend Canada, the United States would not feel any altruistic pleasure over this friendly move. Instead, it would perceive it as an attempt to compromise its ally and would feel threatened. In other words, a superpower resents not only an attempt to hurt its allies, but also any attempt to help them.

With these terms defined, we are ready for the grand computation:

Outrage is the extent to which the superpower is outraged by the action in question. If the value is negative, then the superpower is pleased.

This equation has a special property that might not be obvious to whose who do not handle mathematics regularly. It automatically inverts the meaning of outrage with the circumstances. For example, suppose that the USA hurts a friend of the USSR by attempting to destabilize it. Then Hurt will be positive, as will DipAff (because the USSR likes Object). Since all the other members in the formula are positive, the formula has us multiplying lots of positive numbers, and a positive number will thereby obtain. However, suppose that the USA hurts an enemy of the USSR. Hurt will still be positive, but now DipAff will be negative, because the USSR doesnt like Object. Presumably Obligation will be 0 - why would the USSR sign a treaty with an enemy? Thus, there will be one negative number in the equation, and Outrage will therefore be negative: The USSR will be pleased.

Now suppose that the USA does something nice for an enemy of the USSR. Hurt will be negative, and so will DipAff. Thus we have two negative numbers being multiplied together. This will produce a positive result. Thus, the USSR will experience positive Outrage over the action - it will be unhappy about it. In this way, the formula handles a wide variety of situations.

This little equation expresses a lot of ideas about superpower behavior. There are six different terms that go into this equation, and some of them, such as Hurt, represent involved computations in their own right. It is easy to admit that all of these ideas belong in the equation; the real test is the relative weighting of the different terms, which is provided in their scaling. For example, DontMess is constrained to fall between 1 and 15, while Prestige Value can be anything from 1 to nearly 2,000. This means that Prestige Value is weighted more heavily than DontMess. The other four terms are all constrained to a maximum absolute value of 127, so their weight is intermediate.

This basic computation of Outrage is done twice, once for each superpower, regardless of which superpower the computer is playing. In effect, the computer calculates its own Outrage over the action and also the human’s likely Outrage over the action. It then simply adds the two together to obtain the Outrage Excess. This is the extent to which its own Outrage over the action exceeds the human player’s pleasure over the action. Or, if the action pleases the computer, then the Outrage Excess is the extent to which the computer’s pleasure exceeds the human’s Outrage.

This can have a strange but justifiable effect when we consider the abnormal situation represented by a country like Iran, which has unfriendly diplomatic relations with both superpowers. Any attempt by either superpower to hurt Iran will necessarily create a favorable response from the other superpower, because DipAff will always be negative.

Why, the reader might wonder, does the computer attempt to calculate the human’s reaction to a policy? Here we get into one of the fundamental notions of game design, and one of the sources of Balance of Power’s success as a game: anticipation.

The main difference between a game and most other forms of communication is in the interaction that the game provides. A book, a movie, or a symphony simply presents its message to its audience, but a game allows the audience to shoot back. The player can try out his own ideas and see how the game responds. Interaction is the source of the appeal of the game. And interaction reaches its highest form when it relies on anticipation. If the computer can guess what the player might do or think, then the computer can respond to that and provide a more interesting interaction with the player.

There is another reason to have anticipation here: realism. A great deal of the energy of the participants in a crisis is expended on trying to figure out how the other side will react to their actions. What are they thinking? What are their motivations? What will they do next? These are the most important questions in the mind of a statesman caught in a crisis.

Thus the use of anticipation in Balance of Power. The computer attempts to anticipate the players likely response to a situation, and adjusts its own behavior accordingly. If it determines that the Outrage Excess is positive, then it concludes that it is more justified in pressing its case in the crisis than the human is, so it stands firm. If its Outrage Excess is negative, then it concludes that the human feels more strongly about the situation than it does, and it backs down.

Actually, it does mask its true computation during the early stages of a crisis. It adjusts Outrage Excess to take into account the seriousness of the crisis:

Crisis Level is just a numerical scheme for measuring the level of the crisis. It parallels the DefCon numbering system, but where DefCon stops at 5, CrisisLevel continues all the way down to 9. Thus, CrisisLevel takes a value of 1 for DefCon 1, 2, and so on down to 9 for the lowest level of a crisis. This means that, in the early stages of a crisis, the computer adds something to its Outrage Excess. It acts more self-righteous than it knows it has a right to act. In short, it bluffs. But as the crisis gets worse, this term becomes smaller and it acts more on the basis of its serious computations.

The random term is provided to inject a small amount of uncertainty into the process. This value will be, on average, about 16. This will also tend to make the computer seem more belligerent.

The final subtractive term is meant to cancel out some of the belligerence created by the previous two terms. Without it, the computer would always stand absolutely firm on any issue in which it was in the right, and would only back down when it was plainly wrong. By subtracting 36 from the Outrage Excess, we make it possible for the player to occasionally bluff the computer successfully.

There is one artifact of this decision-making process that mystifies many players. Suppose that a crisis erupts over some truly insignificant action, such as economic aid to Nigeria. Players often find to their dismay that the computer will escalate right up to DefCon 1 in such situations. Why, they complain, would the computer destroy the world over such a trivial issue?

The answer is, because you would destroy the world over such a trivial issue. The computer analyzes the conflict and finds that its Outrage over the issue is small, such as 22. It finds, however, that the human pleasure over the issue is even less, such as -18. When it adds the two numbers together, it gets a +4 result and concludes that it is justified in taking a firm stand. If the human can ask, Why would you destroy the world over a measly 22-point crisis? the computer is even more justified in asking, Why would you escalate to DefCon 2 over something that was worth only 18 points to you? It takes two to make a fight.

There are several effects of standing firm and escalating in a crisis. First, it worsens relations between the superpowers. This is important for the computation of accidental nuclear war. When tensions are low, accidental nuclear war is unlikely even at DefCon 2. But a high level of tensions makes accidental nuclear war much more likely.

A superpower’s integrity is also improved when it stands firm in a crisis, if by doing so it supports a client country. Of course, if it later backs down, everything that it gains is lost. Recall from Chapter 4 that integrity is the measure of a superpower’s trustworthiness, and determines the degree to which its treaties are meaningful to its clients.

Finally, the nastiness level of the game increases slightly every time a superpower stands firm. Nastiness is a background variable that indirectly affects a variety of actions throughout the game. The higher the Nastiness, the greater the chance that the computer will embark on bold, dangerous actions, start crises, and obstinately refuse to back down in crises.

When a superpower backs down, it suffers a number of penalties. The first and most obvious is the loss of prestige, which is calculated from its Outrage factor. If you back down when your Outrage is very high, you suffer a big loss of prestige.

The loser of a crisis also suffers a degradation of his sphere of influence value DontMess for the Object of the crisis. If you don’t stand up for your sphere of influence, you lose it. Finally, the loser also suffers diminished Pugnacity, which will make him seem less threatening to the other superpower. This will encourage further aggressiveness from the other superpower.

How accurate is all this? Not very. Crises are the most individualistic expression of statesmanship. They seldom conform to the generalizations of a computer program. The crisis of August, 1914, bears the unmistakable bluster of Kaiser Wilhelm; the crisis of August, 1939, is the child of Adolf Hitlers deceitful style; the Cuban missile crisis will always be remembered for the brilliant combination of determination and restraint that the Kennedy brothers applied.

The generalized system used in Balance of Power to create crises does not reproduce the individualistic style of real-world crises. There is an assembly-line blandness to these artificial crises, a lack of texture and feel that robs them of authenticity. It is true that all components of the game, from insurgency to coups to interventions, are generalized, but the problem is not so crippling in the other areas of the game. “If youve seen one insurgency, youve seen ‘em all” overstates the case, but there is a fundamental similarity to insurgencies that does not exist with crises. Generalizations work fairly well with insurgencies, but poorly with crises.

Nevertheless, the handling of crises in Balance of Power covers a great deal of intellectual territory. The complexity of the equation for Outrage and the intricacy of the computation of Hurt are indicative of the lengths to which I went to capture the nature of modern brinksmanship in a computer program. I can stand by the magnitude of the achievement even while acknowledging its many limitations.

Crisis: August, 1914
The first great crisis of the twentieth century was the crisis leading up to the start of World War I. This crisis was completely mismanaged by just about all concerned. The crisis began on June 28, 1914, when the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was assassinated by Serbian extremists in Sarajevo. Austria seized on the crime as a pretext to destroy and absorb Serbia. This was the first Big Mistake of the crisis: Austrian belief that it could take advantage of the tragedy for territorial aggrandizement.

Imperial Germany quickly got into the grand march of mistakes by assuring Austria that, should her actions against Serbia incite a Russian declaration of war, then Germany would declare war on Russia. This assurance violated a fundamental rule of diplomacy: A major power should never give a blank check to one of its client states. The client, emboldened by the power of the major state but lacking the inhibitions that responsibility for such power conveys, will surely embark on adventures that the major power itself would quail at.

Thus emboldened, Austria presented an ultimatum to Serbia; the Serb reply was conciliatory, but Austria rejected it and declared war on July 28. At the moment, all we had was a war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, with the likely outcome being an Austrian victory and annexation of Serbia.

At this point, Russia decided to add its name to the list of fools. It felt a fundamental geopolitical interest in the Balkans and did not wish to see this area annexed by Austria-Hungary. Russia therefore declared war on Austria-Hungary.

Germany had made the war possible by egging on the Austrians and by giving them guarantees against Russian intervention. Now the Kaiser had to live up to his promises. On August 1, Germany declared war on Russia.

So, by August 1, the war included Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Serbia. France and Great Britain were not yet involved. However, France had concluded an entente with Russia whereby the French undertook to declare war if Germany should attack Russia. Besides, the French had been spoiling to get back at the Germans ever since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Moreover, the Germans had always assumed that, if war came, France would be in the thick of it. The German war plans meticulously spelled out the steps by which France would be attacked. The Germans were putting these plans in motion well before the French declared war.

This is indicative of the momentum of the situation. The basic fact of the matter was that everybody involved expected a major war to develop between the European powers. These expectations were based on two driving forces: a series of grievances that we would now regard as petty, and a desire to establish a new geopolitical order. They were not checked by any appreciation of the great potential for slaughter of the weapons of modern warfare.

It was this expectation of war that made the crisis insoluble. The expectation became self-fulfilling. Nations rushed to mobilize their armies in an effort to prepare themselves for the possibility of war, but the very act of mobilization telegraphed intent to fight to the other powers. The frantic efforts of mobilization created an atmosphere of martial activity that made futile any serious efforts toward peace. How can one talk peace when millions of men all over Europe are rushing to arms?

The only government that did not allow itself to be stampeded into war was the British government, and through a cruel twist of fate, its very circumspection served to widen the war. The British had little taste for plunging directly into a general European war, but when Germany invaded Belgium in violation of that nation’s neutrality, Britain felt compelled to enter the war. Even so, the British took their time, waiting until August 3 to declare war. During the critical hours before the formal declaration, the German heavy battlecruiser Goeben was able to elude the British navy in the Mediterranean and sail to Turkey. The arrival of the Goeben in Istanbul greatly impressed the Turkish government; that and its subsequent exploits while operating out of Istanbul were instrumental in obtaining the entry of Turkey into the war on the side of Germany.

The fundamental mistake of all the Great Powers in the days before the beginning of hostilities was their refusal to engage in serious diplomatic activity. There was nothing at all like the gradual escalatory system of crises used in Balance of Power. For all the actors, there was only one step between peace and war: an ultimatum that gave little room for maneuver. The military mobilization that all nations engaged in was dramatically different from the alerts that the modern powers use. These mobilizations were considered to be irreversible. Mobilization could not be used as a signal of serious intent or a threat of possible action; it was instead tantamount to a declaration of war.

Part of the problem was that the statesmen did not appreciate the seriousness of war in the modern age. They were thinking of a short war like the Franco-Prussian War, which cost only 180,000 battle deaths, or about .1% of the population involved. They thought that the war would be short, violent, and decisive. None of them realized that the war they were leaping into would cost over 7 million battle casualties, or about 6% of the engaged populations.

Crisis: September 1939
Twenty-five years after the crisis that started World War I, the nations of Europe found themselves in the middle of another crisis, this one started by Adolf Hitler over his invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. For three years, Hitler had been pushing the limits of French and British patience. In 1936, he militarized the Rhineland in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1938 he invaded Austria and the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. These actions created a fundamental misapprehension in the minds of the major actors waiting in the wings of the world stage.

Hitler felt that the continuing acquiescence of France and Britain to his persistent aggressions would be maintained. He felt that their past behavior was proof of their lack of concern for events in Eastern Europe. He thought that he had created a diplomatic momentum in his favor that would ensure continued Allied acquiescence.

The reality was exactly the opposite. The British and French had taken the counsel of patience, thinking that each outrage would be the last, and if only they could endure the latest one, peace would be preserved. By the time Hitler invaded Poland, their patience was exhausted. They had no reservations at all about declaring war. Their decision came as a surprise to Hitler. A top Nazi recorded in his diary on the day war was declared, “Today began the war that the Fuhrer promised us would not begin until 1941!” 

Crisis: October 1962
The most serious crisis of the nuclear age was the Cuban missile crisis of October, 1962. The root cause of the crisis was the Soviet decision to place nuclear missiles in Cuba. These missiles were discovered by American aerial reconnaissance on October 16.

The discovery of the Soviet missiles caused a great shock within the Administration. The Soviets had repeatedly assured the United States that they would not place offensive missiles in Cuba. Just one month earlier, the Soviet newspaper Tass declared:

“The Government of the Soviet Union authorized Tass to state that there is no need for the Soviet Union to shift its weapons for the repulsion of aggression ... to any other country, for instance Cuba.” 

Why did the Soviets do it? Did they seriously believe that the United States would idly accept the placement of hostile nuclear weapons so close to its territory? We can never know the thinking of the Soviet planners, but three arguments create a plausible case for the deployment: (1) the existence of American missiles in Turkey created a justification by analogy; (2) the Soviets felt that missiles in Cuba might deter a feared American invasion of Cuba; (3) Khrushchev judged Kennedy to be a weak leader who would back down from the challenge.

On all three points, the Soviets had miscalculated. Kennedy had already ordered the removal of the American missiles from Turkey; there were no plans for an American invasion of Cuba; and Kennedy would not back down. These three miscalculations made the crisis possible.

With the missiles in place and the Americans aware of them, the ball was in Kennedy’s court. We have good records of the difficult deliberations of the Administration. Six major types of response were considered: (1) do nothing; (2) diplomatic response; (3) deal with Castro; (4) blockade Cuba; (5) air strike on the missiles; and (6) invade Cuba.

None of the options looked promising. The first two were unlikely to produce results, especially since the missiles would be ready for combat in two weeks. The Soviets could easily stall a diplomatic initiative until the missiles were ready; then the American military options would be all but eliminated. The third approach foundered on the fact that the missiles were operated by Soviet technicians over whom Castro had no control. The last three options were military and offered the greatest chance of success while posing the greatest risk of war.

One of the surprising aspects of the Administrations deliberations was the active role that the military took in the decision-making process. In theory, the military operates under the Clausewitzian doctrine that war is the extension of policy to other means and leaves the policy decisions to the politicians, confining itself to advising the policy-makers on the capabilities and limitations of the military forces. In the case of the Cuban missile crisis, the military leaders assumed a far more active role, arguing long and hard for the invasion option.

For a while, the Administration leaned toward the option of the surgical air strike. Their thinking was that they could destroy the missile sites and present the Soviet Union with a fait accompli in the same way that the Soviets had hoped to present the Americans with a fait accompli. But the option foundered on the pigheadedness of the American military leaders, who refused to accept the assignment given to them and instead tried to impose their own thinking on the Administration. Instead of planning a surgical air strike that would neatly destroy the missiles, the Air Force wanted a massive air offensive involving the full weight of the Air Force directed against not just the missiles, but also a variety of peripheral support installations. When Administration officials protested that this was more firepower than they wanted, the Air Force stretched the truth and declared that it would not be possible to guarantee the destruction of the missiles without so massive an attack.

The Administration then fell back on the blockade option. The special attraction of the blockade was that it clearly communicated the Administrations willingness to use force over the problem, yet in itself created no cause for immediate retaliation. Moreover, a blockade was an intrinsically slow-moving policy option that would give the Kremlin plenty of time to consider its response.

Even then, the Administration had serious problems getting its military to execute its orders. The Navy’s attitude was that, once the President had decided on a blockade, the details of the blockade itself were not within the authority of the President to change. When Kennedy ordered a change in the radius of the blockade, his order was resisted; when he pressed, the Navy accepted the order but, without Kennedy’s knowledge, failed to carry it out. At another point, Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense, confronted Chief of Naval Operations Anderson with detailed questions on exactly how the Navy intended to handle a number of delicate situations. McNamara met angry resistance at this intrusion into Navy affairs. The meeting broke up with the Navy’s main remark, “Now, Mr. Secretary, if you and your Deputy will go back to your offices, the Navy will run the blockade.” 

Throughout all of this the President and his advisors were acutely aware of the tremendous risks that they were taking. Kennedy was later to estimate that the chances of nuclear war had been between one in three and one in two. At one point he observed, “The great danger and risk in all of this is a miscalculation - a mistake in judgment” (Allison 1971). He had recently read historian Barbara Tuchman’s book The Guns of August detailing the events leading up to World War I and was painfully aware of the ease with which statesmen can get themselves into a war.

The blockade went into effect on October 24. It was not, however, an airtight blockade; Kennedy allowed a number of Communist ships to pass through, despite the heated objections of his military advisors. He wanted to give Khrushchev more time to think things over.

At the same time, Kennedy demonstrated his determination to prevail by increasing the military pressure in a number of ways. He mobilized ground forces in the Southern states in an obvious preparation for a possible invasion of Cuba. In short, he made it plain that the United States was preparing for a full-scale war over Cuba.

The combination of unambiguous military action and careful restraint had the desired effect. On Wednesday, October 24, the Communist ships en route to Cuba stopped dead in the water, many of them just short of the blockade line. Dean Rusk, the American Secretary of State, made the classic remark on brinksmanship: “We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

The crisis was not over; it went through several more dangerous twists and turns before it was resolved. On Friday, October 26, the Administration received a proposal from Khrushchev that appeared to provide the basis for an acceptable resolution to the crisis. On Saturday, as they were considering their response to this proposal, the Soviets broadcast a second proposal, far harsher than the first. This put the members of the ExComm (the Executive Committee that Kennedy had selected to handle the crisis) in a quandary. Which proposal should they respond to? The Soviet position was now ambiguous.

The ingenious solution to the quandary was proposed by Robert Kennedy; ignore the second proposal and respond favorably to the first. The Administration simply behaved as if the second proposal had never been made. And this became the basis for the resolution of the crisis.

[2014: I was 12 years old at the time and I recall just how scared everybody seemed to be: my parents, my teachers, everybody. There was lots of talk about how to survive a nuclear attack. ]

The October War Crisis, 1973
On October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. After taking heavy casualties and suffering serious reverses, the Israelis regained the initiative and trapped the Egyptian Third Army in the Suez. At this point, the Americans were able to obtain a cease-fire, but a curious sequence of misunderstandings generated a crisis between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Despite its agreement to the cease-fire, Israel was eager to finish off the Egyptian Third Army and continued its attacks. These attacks triggered desperate efforts by Anwar Sadat to enlist aid in enforcing the cease-fire. The Americans pressured the Israelis to stop their attacks. Stalling for time, the Israelis offered to permit American observers located in Tel Aviv to journey to the front and verify Israeli compliance with the cease-fire. Kissinger was not impressed by the Israeli offer but duly reported it to the Egyptians. Then came an amazing turn of events: Sadat accepted the American offer to dispatch troops to enforce the cease-fire from the Egyptian side. The actual offer had been an Israeli offer to permit a few American soldiers to observe the cease-fire from the Israeli side. Whether this was a simple misunderstanding or a deliberate misinterpretation of the original Kissinger note will never be known. Far more important, Sadat announced that he was making the same formal offer to the Soviet Union.

The implications of this offer were profound. If the Soviets complied with the Egyptian request for direct intervention, then Israeli forces would be in direct combat with Soviet troops. The Soviet Union would not send troops to lose a battle; they would send whatever was necessary to defeat Israeli forces. The United States would not be able to stand by and watch its ally defeated. It, too, would intervene, and thus American troops would square off against Soviet troops in the Middle East. It was a frightening prospect, one that had to be prevented.

Events moved quickly. In the hours after Sadat’s message, the United States sent a series of messages to the Soviet Union in an attempt to foreclose the more frightening options. Kissinger also worked to insure that events in the United Nations did not add fuel to the crisis. Within a few hours, however, the Soviet Union sent a message to the United States that amounted to an ultimatum. The message said:

“Let us together, the USSR and the USA, urgently dispatch to Egypt the Soviet and American military contingents, to insure the implementation of the decision of the Security Council [the cease- fire] .... If you find it impossible to act jointly with us in this matter, then we should ... consider the question of taking appropriate steps unilaterally…” (Years of Upheaval)

In other words, the Soviets were saying, We are sending military forces into Egypt, with or without you. The nightmare scenario was unfolding.

Kissinger convened a meeting in the White House. Here began the process of anticipation that plays so strong a role in resolving crises. In Kissinger’s words, “The participants weighed Soviet actions, motivations, and intentions.” (Years of Upheaval). At 11:41 P.M. on Wednesday, October 24, the armed forces of the United States were put on DefCon 3. In addition, the 82nd Airborne Division was put on notice for possible movement, and various naval units in the area were instructed to move quickly to the eastern Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, the Soviets were making their own military moves. The East German army had been put on alert. Soviet aircraft were making ready to transport troops in Egypt. Diplomatically, the Soviets were menacingly quiet.

At 5:00 A.M. on the morning of Thursday, October 25, the Administration sent a stiff note to Brezhnev warning that unilateral Soviet intervention in the Middle East would be resisted by force. The cards were on the table.

The showdown was defused by Anwar Sadat. By 8:00 A.M. he had sent to the Administration a letter modifying his position in a crucial fashion. Instead of requesting American and Soviet troops, he was now requesting an international force, which by custom excluded troops from the superpowers. At a stroke, the crisis was over. The Soviets, with the rug pulled out from underneath them, backed off.