Adversaries would find other attack methods, game theory shows

August 01, 2001

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- As Congress ponders a $3 billion increase in funding for a national missile defense system, University of Illinois professor Julian Palmore is looking at the program's prospects for success from a mathematician's perspective.

To predict whether deployment of a proposed NMD system against an intercontinental ballistic missile attack makes sense, the UI mathematics professor and a colleague looked at applied basic insights drawn from a mathematical model known as game theory. Their conclusions are detailed in the August issue of the journal Defense Analysis, in a paper titled "A Game Theory View of Preventive Defense Against Ballistic Missile Attack." The paper's co-author is Francois Melese, a professor of economics at the Defense Resources Management Institute's Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. At the UI, Palmore is a faculty member in the UI's Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security and teaches a course called "Technology and Security - Preventive Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction." He recently was chosen to serve as guest editor of a special issue of Defense Analysis on ballistic missile defense; the tentative publication date is April 2002. Regarding the feasibility of the proposed NMD, Palmore and Melese write in the current issue that "the underlying assumption is that the objective of the administration is to minimize overall risk to the nation (or to maximize deterrence) at the lowest cost to taxpayers. Game theory asks us to place ourselves in the shoes of our adversaries as we assess alternative measures in light of potential threats, hostile intent and preventive defense."

In one scenario described in the paper, Palmore and Melese consider the outcome of two-player games in which one player is the United States; the other, an adversary. The object of the game, as stated, "is to drive the adversary to use weapons other than ballistic missiles without the U.S. deploying a national missile defense." The logic is this, Palmore said: "If we build a defense which everybody including ourselves believed to be 100 percent effective against any single or small number of ICBMs launched with any warheads, then obviously one group is not going to spend money trying to launch an ICBM. They're going to do one of the many other things. That's the point that we raise in the paper: that protection is a placebo."

Because the proposed defense program is largely unproven and carries such a steep price tag, Palmore favors a go-slow approach over the rush to deployment - one that focuses on research and development and the examination of other credible alternatives.

"Everyone I talk to who thinks about these things is all for research and development," he said. "It's the deployment issue which is the main sticking point."

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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