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SDI and the Prisoner's Dilemma

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On 23 March 1983, President Reagan announced his intention to launch an effort which holds the promise of changing the course of human history. The effort he referred to is the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative SDI, also referred to as Star Wars by some in the news media and those who generally oppose the program. SDI is a research program designed to examine the possibility of effective strategic defenses against ballistic missiles based on new technologies such as directed-energy weapons, super computers, and trackingdetection systems. Response to the Presidents SDI proposal has run the full spectrum from unquestioned endorsement to outright rejection. Few subjects have stirred more or wider debate seven years into the Reagan presidency, and the attention is clearly deserved. The technical, political, and strategic implications are immense and if SDI were to meet President Reagans vision, the course of human history could indeed be changed as the nuclear superpowers could deal with each other based on mutual security, in lieu of the existing situation where fear of nuclear confrontation continues to cast an ominous shadow. Technical experts, politicians, strategists, and academicians of all persuasions have written extensively about SDI. My intent in this essay is not to repeat the technical assessments, political arguments, or learned opinions. Rather, I intend to pose the Prisoners Dilemma of game theory as a model of the extraordinarily complex strategic issues involved in SDI address the nuclear weapons background leading to the Prisoners Dilemma assess the alternatives associated with deployment of SDI and draw conclusions with regard to the prospects for the success of SDI.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Antimissile Defense Systems
  • Nuclear Warfare
  • Nuclear Weapons

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