Thomas Schelling won a noble prize for his work on commitment and game theory. Commitment raises the strategy’s effectiveness in a game because all players understand that the player will not deter from the strategy.

An agent strengthens its position by deliberately worsening its own alternatives. You burn your bridges.

This is like the maddog approach. If a leader is really crazy enough to carry out his threats, other states will back down. If a leader talks tough but leaves lots of alternative options on the table, then you know he is not really committed to the threat so you can negotiate a better deal.

If you are playing chicken with cars – throw your steering wheel out the window. If you can’t steer, then you’re committed to ramming the other car unless he veers away and loses.

In simple terms, this means you reduced the probability of alternative courses of action and increased certainty that you will choice a single strategy.

“Mutually Assured Destruction” only ensured peace if both sides were willing and eager to use nuclear weapons. If for one instant, either side though the other was just talking tough but not committed, nuclear war could occur.

Sun Tzu advised military commanders to never completely encircle the enemy. Allow them a way to escape. Many of leaders and soldiers will choose to flee rather than be trapped. In these circumstances, a commander should give the enemy multiple alternatives, while reducing his own.

Sun Tzu

Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve. Officers and men alike will put forth their uttermost strength.

Soldiers when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear. If there is no place of refuge, they will stand firm. If they are in hostile country, they will show a stubborn front. If there is no help for it, they will fight hard.

When Cortez advanced on the Aztecs, he ordered his men to burn the ships behind them. There was no escape and the Spanish were committed to victory or nothing.

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