Deterrence that Disintegrates in Daylight: Military Deterrence Based on Hidden Capabilities

Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)
Reference Code
How to Apply

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Application Deadline
2/28/2020 6:00:00 PM Eastern Time Zone

Research Topic Description, including Problem Statement:

If two parties agree who would win a fight between them, neither party starts a fight. If, however, there is uncertainty or disagreement on who would win a fight, a fight might start. Preventing war, then, often relies on deterrence, by one party credibly illustrating its relative strength superiority. However, sometimes the way to win a fight is to use a resource or technique that the adversary has never seen before. It is exactly because the adversary has little knowledge of the resource that makes it strong; advertising it would erode its strength. This prevents advertising the resource, which undermines credible illustration of relative strength, which lowers deterrence and increases the probability of a fight. Game theoretical analysis have considered deterrence at length, as well as deterrence under uncertainty, but there has been much less analysis of the strategic ramifications of resources that must remain secret to be strengths.

Questions include:

  • Are there consistent consequences of such resources being in play, for either or both parties?
  • Are there optimal behaviors if one has such resources, or if one suspects an adversary has them?
  • Are there conditions in which it is preferable to reveal such resources?
  • Are there ways such resources can be stabilizing (i.e. prevent a fight)?
  • Are there ways to move from a destabilizing regime to a stabilizing regime?

Example Approaches:

  • Analytical game theory
  • Simulations (e.g. agent-based modeling)
  • Experiments with human subjects (e.g. running 2 or more subjects through a scenario together in lab; running 2 or more platoons through a scenario together in a simulated combat environment)
  • Historical analyses

Relevance to the Intelligence Community:

Governments have capabilities that would be relevant in a war, but publicizing these capabilities before war would make them less effective. Capabilities are kept under wraps, but by doing so, prevents the benefits of deterrence, which increases the probability of a war. Determining general principles of the strategic effects of such capabilities and how to handle them would potentially allow for less brinksmanship and war.

Key Words: Deterrence, Game Theory, Hidden Capabilities, Strategic Interactions, Strategic Stability, Peace Studies, Strategic Surprise, Preventing War, Information Theory, Inference


Postdoc Eligibility

  • U.S. citizens only
  • Ph.D. in a relevant field must be completed before beginning the appointment and within five years of the application deadline
  • Proposal must be associated with an accredited U.S. university, college, or U.S. government laboratory
  • Eligible candidates may only receive one award from the IC Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Program

Research Advisor Eligibility

  • Must be an employee of an accredited U.S. university, college or U.S. government laboratory
  • Are not required to be U.S. citizens
Eligibility Requirements
  • Citizenship: U.S. Citizen Only
  • Degree: Doctoral Degree.
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