Confronting an enemy with unknown preferences: Deterrer or provocateur?

Artyom Jelnov*, Yair Tauman, Richard Zeckhauser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nation 1 is seeking to join the nuclear club. Nation 2, its enemy, would like to prevent this, and has the potential to destroy 1's bomb-making facilities. It is uncertain whether 1 has a bomb. So are its intentions. 1 could be seeking to deter an attack. Alternatively, if no bomb is present, 1 might wish to provoke one as a means to secure support at home and abroad. Lacking a bomb, 1 can avoid an attack by allowing inspections. If it refuses inspections, 2 must rely on its imperfect intelligence system to determine whether to attack. This game has a unique sequential equilibrium, possibly separating, possibly pooling. At that equilibrium there is a positive probability that: No bomb is built; 2's intelligence system accurately detects no bomb; 1 refuses inspections; nevertheless 2 attacks. Present and past experiences form Iraq, Iran, Syria, and North Korea illustrate the analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-143
Number of pages20
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Economy
StatePublished - Sep 2018
Externally publishedYes


FundersFunder number
Lady Davis
Seventh Framework Programme249159
European Research Council
Lady Davis Fellowship Trust, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Seventh Framework Programme


    Dive into the research topics of 'Confronting an enemy with unknown preferences: Deterrer or provocateur?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this