Thomas Schelling, death of a pioneer

Few figures have exerted as much intellectual influence on the course of the Cold War as the economist and 2005 Nobel Laureate who died on Tuesday


Thomas Schelling. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Thomas Schelling. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In the 1964 classic, Dr. Strangelove, the satirical absurdity of the movie’s nuclear apocalypse scenario stems from its funhouse mirror version of actual Cold War strategies . It was apt, then, that the moviemakers consulted Thomas Schelling—the man behind much of the Cold War doctrine that the movie riffed on.

Few figures have exerted as much intellectual influence on the course of the Cold War as the economist and 2005 Nobel Laureate who died on Tuesday. His application of game theory to international relations—The Strategy of Conflict is his seminal work—produced concepts such as constraining one’s own choices for credible brinkmanship. They were counter-intuitive at the time—and their steely rationality was called dangerous by some—but they would go on to underpin US nuclear doctrine.

Schelling’s influence extended far beyond the Cold War. He laid much of the groundwork of what would go on to become the discipline of behavioural economics. His death is unlikely to diminish his influence.

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