Clem Sunter

When Obama met Nash

2009-10-14 09:39

Many people feel it was premature for Barack Obama to win the Nobel Peace Prize for calling for a world free of nuclear weapons. But he was following in the footsteps of another Nobel Prize winner, mathematician John Nash. You may remember Russell Crowe played him in a movie called A Beautiful Mind in 2001.

Chantell Ilbury and I first connected Nash to the nuclear game in April 2005 in our book Games Foxes Play. In a section called "The Ultimate Gameboard", we laid out three scenarios. The one which we are in at the moment we named "The Madhouse" in that what deters any nation from launching a strike on another nation is a counterstrike. The principle that keeps the peace is mutually assured destruction (MAD).

We went on to say: "Obviously, the advent of stateless terrorism has knocked this principle on the head since terrorists who plant nukes need have no fear of reprisals in a specific spot. They could be anywhere. Meanwhile, in this scenario, new nations build up secret silos to have at their disposal if attacked."

The second scenario we called "Boom!" where the world in the next 50 years experiences another Hiroshima or Nagasaki. If you want to witness how devastating such an event would be, go to YouTube and click into Hiroshima atomic bomb re-enactment. Then reflect that modern nuclear weapons can be three thousand times more powerful that the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It's like comparing one metre to three kilometres.

The third scenario we offered was "All Together Now" where the world is at peace with no nukes. This is what we had to say: "What is really needed is a new non-proliferation agreement that tackles the issue in a completely neutral manner. Hence the name of the scenario. For how can America or any country that currently has nukes take the moral high ground by arguing that other countries shouldn't have them? For any agreement to be sustainable in the long run and have teeth, the 'haves' will have to come to the party and disgorge some of their nukes.

"John Nash would approve of the scenario. In the movie, he is in the bar with friends when a blonde and several brunettes walk in. He advises that, instead of competing for the blonde (first prize for each of them), they should ask the brunettes out on the basis that this is the best outcome for the team. Otherwise, all but one of them are going to lose out as the brunettes, realising they are second choice, walk off in a huff.

"In real life, Nash won the Nobel Prize for his idea that games played in a co-operative fashion can lead to a higher level of equilibrium than pure rivalry. Nuclear games are no different, particularly as the West no longer has the supremacy to impose its own solution but equally has the most to lose."

Clearly, Barack Obama echoes our sentiments about what constitutes the desired scenario. Now he must turn his words into action and persuade everyone else to do the same. All together now!

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