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Perceptual Illusions and Military Realities: The Nuclear Arms Race

S. Plous
The Journal of Conflict Resolution
Vol. 29, No. 3 (Sep., 1985), pp. 363-389
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/173942
Page Count: 27
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Perceptual Illusions and Military Realities: The Nuclear Arms Race
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Abstract

Past research on game theory has used the Prisoner's Dilemma as a model of the nuclear arms race between the superpowers. According to such a model, the United States and the Soviet Union are always better off individually by arming, but if both superpowers arm, the outcome is lower in utility than if both countries disarm. Using survey data from the United States Senate and surrogate Soviet political elites, supplemented by a review of American and Soviet political declarations, the present study suggests that the nuclear arms race may be best characterized as a "perceptual dilemma." Rather than sharing the same matrix of perceived utilities--as in a Prisoner's Dilemma--players locked in a perceptual dilemma hold discrepant perceptions of the payoff matrix, and neither perception corresponds to true outcome utilities. The present article concludes with a brief discussion of the major political and methodological implications arising from the new model.

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