Restraining force


Could a nation be seen as more powerful in the eyes of the world if it refrained from using force, rather than applying it? At an Alumni Association–sponsored lecture last Thursday Roger Myerson, the Glen A. Lloyd distinguished service professor in economics and the College, told a capacity crowd at the Chicago Architecture Foundation that this counterintuitive idea was true.

To make his point, Myerson, who also holds an appointment in the Department of Political Science and was a corecipient of the 2007 Nobel Prize in economics, drew from game theory—a type of applied mathematics that explains how individuals, corporations, or countries use cooperation or aggression to maximize benefits and minimize losses. Applying these lessons to international relations, he gave an example: a small country, when threatened, might emphasize its resolve to use force because weakness would invite aggression. On the other hand, he argued, a large nation such as the United States should emphasize restraint, lest it be seen as trying to profit from aggression. “For the world to peacefully accept the military dominance of one superpower,” he explained, “its restraint must be manifest to all.”

By this model, Myerson concluded, the Bush Administration stumbled when it invaded Iraq in 2003 without the approval of the United Nations and the international community. Nations are less likely to cooperate with another nation that has been uncooperative with them in the past, he said, and the United States has thus diminished its international influence since the war began.

Benjamin Recchie, AB'03

Photo: Myerson applies game theory to international relations at the Chicago Architecture Foundation last Thursday.

Photo by Dan Dry.

March 14, 2008