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Cuban Missile Crisis through Game Theory

Networks Blog Post 2: Game Theory in the Cuban Missile Crisis


The Cuban Missile crisis was one of the times the modern world has come closest to war. Essentially, this crisis, which took place between October 16-28 in 1962, was a confrontation between the USA and the Soviet Union about creating ballistic missile bases near each other. At the time, the people sitting in the seats of power were as follows: Nikita Khrushchev in the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro in Cuba and John F. Kennedy in the US.


The preface to the standoff was this: Khrushchev and Castro had agreed to secretly place soviet operated medium range missiles in Cuba. This would mean that the USSR would have significant first and second strike power over the US, being able to potentially hit many major cities. While this was all very under wraps and a tightly kept secret in the Soviet, in a few months, the White House suspected that there were missiles being built in Cuba.


The crisis actually began when American areal imaging above Cuba caught that missiles were being built in Cuba. This discovery came as a shock because Russia had categorically denied all allegations of missile construction in the past. Kennedy acted swiftly and very publically, broadcasting his plan across the US. The plan centered around blockading a naval approach to Cuba, to ensure that no ships carrying firearms may come in to the country. After putting down the blockade, he demanded that the Soviets disarm Cuba. The two parties engaged in heavy politics for many days, and eventually, after US proved intent by showing air-strike capability, the Soviets surrendered.


While this is an oversimplification of the standoff, it can largely be modeled as a Hawk-Dove game, as shown below.


D 5,5 0,10
H 10,0 -5,-5


Modelled as this game, the US was the Hawk by proving strike and military capability, and the Soviet Union was forced to play Dove because they didn’t want to have a full out war that they were unsure they could win.


Relevant Link:

Link Description: This link outlines the events of the Missile Crisis, and helps further understand the happenings. The idea from this article came from a discussion with Professor Kaushik Basu at Cornell University.


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