How Game Theory could be used Against Isis

Olidort, Jacob. “The Game Theory of Terrorism.” Foreign Affairs. April 28, 2016. Accessed April 28, 2016.

A “Cutting off the snake’s head” approach to counter-terrorism, in other words, removing important influential leaders in the upper echelons of terrorist organizations seems not to be the most effective way to defeat large, complex terrorist networks like Isis. According to the article “The Game Theory of Terrorism” on Foreign Affairs (see source above) understanding how growing sympathy and global enlistment to Isis should instead be reasoned through “focal points” in bargaining behavior. A theory Noble Prize winning economist Thomas Schelling in 1960 called “theory of strategy” which adapts game theory to international relations. “Focal points” are essentially equilibria achieved when nations or large numbers of individuals bargain without explicitly communicating to one another. As nations anticipate what either one will do, the claim is that terrorist organizations too use their own rational behavior i.e. a consistent value system along with idealistic propaganda to push masses of disenfranchised muslims to join. Ironically, with U.S. intelligence more armed than ever with information on these huge complex and resilient terrorist networks little has been done to tackle the ideological “root causes” which gives way to en-mass Isis enlistment.

To explain more about the game theory or strategic aspect of terrorist organizations and how “focal points” seem to apply to Isis, Schelling conducted a simple equilibrium experiment. Giving each person to group of people a 4 by 4 grid, he promised the group a prize if they all shaded the same square. To his surprise 60% of them circled the same top left square on the grid without direct communication. As Schelling described the “physic moment” when one sees this in bargaining behavior amongst many agents, a collective conclusion was established as a consequence of people rationally reasoning each other’s behavior. Essentially, there is an established de facto common-sense or ‘frame’ which is key to arriving at these “focal points” or equilibria.  Bringing this back to Isis, a radicalized ideological frame which sympathizes, aids and promises a prosperous state to those destitute is what strategically allows for such rampant support for terrorism. One potential solution this article provides is to strategically hit Isis held economic centers e.g. Oil rigs in order to discredit or weaken Isis’s attractive successful appeal.



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