Computational Rationality, NUTS, and the Nuclear Leviathan

6 April 2017, 17:00 - 18:30

Seminar room S1, 1st Floor, Alison Richard Building. NB Out of term session*

Professor Sonja M. Amadae (University of Helsinki and MIT)
Discussant: Professor David Runciman (POLIS, University of Cambridge)

 

Abstract

This paper focuses on game theory and its application to the nuclear security dilemma to argue that game theory’s mindless strategic rationality, not coincidentally, is profoundly entangled with the strategic posture it recommends. Nuclear strategy is ostensibly more effective the less intelligible it is to observers because deterrent threats achieve credibility at the price of absurdly endangering constituents with apocalyptic terror. Far from the popular conception of either the public or journalistic authors, the nuclear strategy sanctioned by game theory is not Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), but rather NUTS, Nuclear Utilization Targeting Selection. Whereas MAD is structured to symmetrically hold nuclear weapons in reserve to bi-laterally counter a nuclear attack, NUTS develops asymmetric advantage based on coercive bargaining, threatening to be the first to introduce nuclear warheads into conflict, and preparing to achieve escalation dominance at all levels of engagement. The mindless quality of game theory is useful in nuclear security because by its internal logic, credible deterrence depends on preparing and intending to wage an omniscidal nuclear war by deploying an arsenal of up to 7000 warheads with the destructive capacity to destroy life on earth multiple times over. Thus, the fact that strategic rationality jettisons intelligibility, or understanding of the problem it aims to solve, enables it to rationalize mobilizing and maintaining a surfeit of material resources to extinguish all humanity within weeks, if not hours. Finally, this essay explores how this alienating logic of unintentional, and not necessarily intelligible, choice informing nuclear deterrence has been elevated into the standard understanding of instrumental rationality. This now informs modeling and decision-making spanning from non-human actors to individuals’ choices and collective action, including the exercise of national sovereignty. 

 

 (Dr. Amadae's paper will be pre-circulated and may be read in advance. Please write to lsp33@cam.ac.uk for a copy.)

 

 

Part of Cybernetics and Society Reading Group, series.
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