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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

10 October 2005

Nobel Prize nukes

On Friday, the Nobel committee awarded its peace prize to Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Today, the Swedish central bank has given the Economics prize to Thomas Schelling (shared with Robert Aumann) for his work on game theory and its application to strategic thinking and particularly nuclear war.

The immediate reaction to the peace prize was that it was a rebuke to the Bush Administration, much like the laurelling of Jimmy Carter in 2002 was supposedly meant to condemn America’s bellicosity. At a closer look it seems that the Nobel Committee has reverted back to a traditional position: awards given to encourage rather than reward peace. And there is no doubt that the IAEA needs to be strengthened to act more effectively against nuclear threats (1).

But then came the Economics prize, awarded to someone whose game theory thinking helped form nuclear strategy for many years. In his book, Strategy of Conflict, Schelling “argued that the capability to retaliate was more useful than the ability to resist an attack, and that uncertain retaliation was more credible than certain retaliation” (2).

And so the Nobel committee has something for everyone: a belief in the need for international regimes to control proliferation, and a resting confidence in the underlying dynamics of power to halt or inhibit the use of nuclear weapons. For those who were upset on Friday, Monday should come as a welcome surprise.

References:
(1) Read Henry Sokolski, “The Nobel goes nuclear,” Wall Street Journal, 10 Oct 05
(2) “Game theorists share Nobel Prize,” BBC News, 10 Oct 05 (link)

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