On Escalation


In this widely discussed and influential book, Herman Kahn probes the dynamics of escalation and demonstrates how the intensification of conflict can be depicted by means of a definite escalation ladder, ascent of which brings opponents closer to all-out war. At each rung of the ladder, before the climb proceeds, decisions must be made based on numerous choices. Some are clear and obvious, others obscure, but the options are always there.

Thermonuclear annihilation, says Kahn, ...

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In this widely discussed and influential book, Herman Kahn probes the dynamics of escalation and demonstrates how the intensification of conflict can be depicted by means of a definite escalation ladder, ascent of which brings opponents closer to all-out war. At each rung of the ladder, before the climb proceeds, decisions must be made based on numerous choices. Some are clear and obvious, others obscure, but the options are always there.

Thermonuclear annihilation, says Kahn, is unlikely to come through accident; but nations may elect to climb the ladder to extinction. The basic material for the book was developed in briefings delivered by Kahn to military and civilian experts and revised in the light of his findings of a trip to Vietnam in the 1960s. In On Escalation he states the facts squarely. He asks the reader to face unemotionally the terrors of a world fully capable of suicide and to consider carefully the alternatives to such a path.

In the never-never land of nuclear warfare, where nuclear incredulity is pervasive and paralyzing to the imagination even for the professional analyst, salient details of possible scenarios for the outbreak of war, and even more for war fighting, are largely unexplored or even unnoticed. For scenarios in which war is terminated, the issues and possibilities of which are almost completely unstudied, the situation is even worse. Kahn's discussion throws light on the terrain and gives the individual a sense of the range of possibilities and complexities involved and are useful.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This [reissue of Kahn's On Thermonuclear War and On Escalation] could not come at a better time. Human nature has not made much moral progress since the end of the Third Reich but its very worst instinct for total destruction has, so far, been held at bay by the certainty of self-destruction. We need someone to remind us again of how to think about the unthinkable."
— Mark Safranski, zenpundit.com
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781412811620
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/1/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 338
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Herman Kahn (1922-1983) was a renowned political scientist, economist, historian geo-strategist, and considered by many to be the founder of futurology as a serious field of study. Associated for many years with the RAND Corporation, he was the founding director of the first independent “think tank,” the Hudson Institute. Among his many books are Thinking About the Unthinkable, The Year 2000, The Next 200 Years, The Coming Boom, The Resourceful Earth, and On Thermonuclear War.

Thomas Schelling is Distinguished University Professor at the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland. In addition to being the 2005 Noble Prize Laureate in Economics he is the author of numerous works including Choice and Consequence, The Strategy of Conflict, and Micromotives and Macrobehavior.

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Table of Contents

Introduction to the Transaction Edition, Thomas C. Schelling Foreword to the Paperback Edition Acknowledgments Preface I. INTRODUCTION Escalation in Brief The Strike and "Chicken" Metaphors Sources of Control and Cooperation in International Society The Question of Who, Whom, and Why Some Examples of the Importance of Who, Whom, and Why An Example of Restraint and Negotiation in Total War (World War II) A "Standard Crisis" Scenario II. THE RUNGS OF THE ESCALATION LADDER A Useful Metaphor Description of the Rungs and Thresholds Subcrisis Maneuvering Traditional Crises (The Boat Is Rocked) Intense Crises (The Unthinkable Nuclear War Becomes Credible) Bizarre Crises (Nuclear Weapons Are Used) Exemplary Central Attacks (Violating the Central Sanctuary-Nuclear Gunboat Diplomacy) Military Central Wars (The New Kind of All-Out War) Civilian Central Wars (Violation of the "No-City" Threshold) III. DISAGREEMENTS AND SUBCRISIS MANEUVERING Basic Description and Definition The Rungs of Subcrisis Maneuvering Rung 1. Ostensible Crisis Rung 2. Political, Economic, and Diplomatic Gestures Rung 3. Solemn and Formal Declarations Rationality-of-Irrationality and Committal Strategies The Rung 2 Escalation of the Summer of 1964 IV. TRADITIONAL CRISES Basic Description and Definition The Rungs of Traditional Crises Rung 4. Hardening of Positions-Confrontation of Wills Rung 5. Show of Force Rung 6. Significant Mobilization Rung 7. "Legal" Harassment-Retortions Rung 8. Harassing Acts of Violence Rung 9. Dramatic Military Confrontations A Recent Example of a "Traditional Crisis" Scenario V. INTENSE CRISES Basic Description and Definition The Rungs of Intense Crises Rung 10. Provocative Breaking Off of Diplomatic Relations Rung 11. Super-Ready Status Rung 12. Large Conventional War (or Actions) Rung 13. Large Compound Escalation Rung 14. Declaration of Limited Conventional War Rung 15. Barely Nuclear War Rung 16. Nuclear "Ultimatums" Rung 17. Limited Evacuation (Approximately 20 per cent) Rung 18. Spectacular Show or Demonstration of Force Rung 19. "Justifiable" Counterforce Attacks Rung 20. "Peaceful" World-Wide Embargo or Blockade VI. THE NUCLEAR THRESHOLD The Saliency of the Nuclear Threshold The Nuclear Threshold as a Prototype Restraint The Nuclear Consensus-An Example of Systems Bargaining The Considerations to Be Examined Some Disadvantages to the U.S.

Pressures for Continued Escalation The Immediate Consequences on the Wider Power Balance Effects on Stability, the Arms Race, and Nuclear Proliferation Some Additional Arguments in Favor of a Breach of the Nuclear Threshold Recapitulation and Concluding Remarks on Preserving the Nuclear Threshold Application of the "No Nuclear Use" Discussion to the Other Basic Thresholds VII. BIZARRE CRISES AND EXEMPLARY CENTRAL ATTACKS Basic Description and Definition The Rungs of Bizarre Crises Rung 21. Local Nuclear War-Exemplary Rung 22. Declaration of Limited Nuclear War Rung 23. Local Nuclear War-Military Rung 24. Unusual, Provocative, and Significant Countermeasures Rung 25. Evacuation (Approximately 70 per cent) The "Central Sanctuary" Threshold The Rungs of Exemplary Central Attacks Rung 26. Demonstration Attack on Zone of Interior Rung 27. Exemplary Attack on Military Rung 28. Exemplary Attacks Against Property Rung 29. Exemplary Attacks on Population Rung 30. Complete Evacuation (Approximately 95 per cent) Rung 31. Reciprocal Reprisals Some Comments on the Relative Technical Simplicity of Exemplary Central Attacks VIII. THE IMPORTANCE OF CRISES CONCEPTS A Serious Gap in Much Military Planning and Discussion Crisis and Damage Limitation Seven Basic Options A Proposal for ABM Deployment A Proposal for Evacuation Preparations Some Pros and Cons Conclusion IX. MILITARY AND CIVILIAN CENTRAL WARS Basic Description and Definition The Rungs of Military Central Wars Rung 32. Formal Declaration of "General" War Rung 33. Slow-Motion Counter-''Property" War Rung 34. Slow-Motion Counterforce War Rung 35. Constrained Force-Reduction Salvo Rung 36. Constrained Disarming Attack Rung 37. Counterforce-with-A voidance Attack Rung 38. Unmodified Counterforce Attack The Rungs of Civilian Central Wars Rung 39. Slow-Motion Countercity War Rung 40. Countervalue Salvo Rung 41. Augmented Disarming Attack Rung 42. Civilian Devastation Attack Rung 43. Some Other Kinds of Controlled General War Rung 44. Spasm or Insensate War X. SOME COMMENTS ON "WAR-FIGHTING" The Current Neglect of Strategy and Tactics The Need for Limited Objectives If Deterrence Fails, and the Consequent Central Role of "Negotiation" Bargaining in a Central War The Problem of the "Fog of War" XI. DEFECTS OF THE ESCALATION-LADDER METAPHOR Discontinuities in and Importance of Distance Between Rungs Criteria for Evaluating the Position of Rungs Dynamics of Escalation The Question of Style Objections to the Upper Rungs XII. DE-ESCALATION AND ITS AFTERMATH De-escalation and Crisis Termination Approaches to De-escalation Escape from Current "Costs" Insurance Against Further Escalation Learning to Cooperate (Systems Bargaining?) Setting Precedents (More Systems Bargaining?) War-Fighting or Hostile Aspects An Aspect of Crisis Management A Special Kind of Conflict Management Aftermaths of De-escalation from the Lower Rungs Aftermaths of De-escalation from the Upper Rungs XIII. OTHER ASPECTs OF ESCALATION AND CRISES The Problems and Value of "Conservative" Behavior Various Ways of Viewing Crises and Escalation Strategy and Tactics Crisis-Management Problems Conflict Management, Crises, Escalation, and Arms Control European Defense Policy-A Suggestion for a Proportionate Nuclear Reprisal Force How Will Escalation Be Handled in the Twenty-First Century? APPENDIX. RELEVANT CONCEPTS AND LANGUAGE FOR THE DISCUSSION OF ESCALATION INDEX

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