Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory



October 19, 2018

US deterrence policy should rest upon a solid empirical foundation regarding risk propensity and the effect of shifting risk disposition on deterrence signaling. Yet, significant gaps exist in our understanding of these dynamics, which subsequently hinder evidence-based doctrine and force structure policy planning. This past year we began to address these gaps by conducting a series of decision experiments, rooted in prospect theory, on samples drawn from two US populations: a demographically representative sample of the public and a pool of active-duty military officers (O-4 through O-7). This study provides the first experimental investigation of how framing, conflict domain, and decision maker experience interact to shape an actor’s risk disposition when evaluating alternative deterrence signaling options. The findings reveal several nuanced relationships between these factors and that both conditionally support and challenge explicit assumptions long held to be true by scholars and practitioners. Potential policy implications of the findings in the context of decision frames, decision maker experience, and domains of conflict will be presented.

Dr. Jeffrey D. Berejikian is a Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Georgia, and Senior Fellow at the Center for Trade and Security. His research on cognitive science and foreign policy decision making has been published in American Political Science Review, Political Psychology, and the Journal of Conflict Resolution. His research on prospect theory and deterrence is referenced in the Department of Defense Deterrence Operations Joint Operating Concept (2006).

Dr. Zachary J. Zwald is on faculty in the Department of Political Science at the University of Houston. His research focuses on the relationship between technological development and military doctrine and strategy. He is associate director of UH Center for International and Comparative Studies and director of the university’s degree minor in National Security Studies. Previously, Dr. Zwald was an Assistant Professor jointly appointed in the US Air War College and the USAF Center for Unconventional Weapons Studies.