The Concept of Escalation

  • Herman Kahn


Escalation, in the sense used here, is a relatively new word in the English language.1 In a typical escalation situation, there is likely to be a ‘ competition in risk-taking’2 or at least resolve, and a matching of local resources, in some form of limited conflict between two sides. Usually, either side could win by increasing its efforts in some way, provided that the other side did not negate the increase by increasing its own efforts. Furthermore, in many situations it will be clear that if the increase in effort were not matched and thus resulted in victory, the costs of the increased effort would be low in relation to the benefits of victory. Therefore, the fear that the other side may react, indeed over-react, is most likely to deter escalation, and not the undesirability or costs of the escalation itself. It is because of this that the ‘competition in risk-taking’ and resolve takes place.


Labour Dispute Strike Analogy Maximum Punishment Deterrence Strategy System Bargaining 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1970

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  • Herman Kahn

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