Is Game Theory Used in War?


Vincent White

Game Theory is a widely-used mathematical tool for analyzing strategic situations. It has been used to study a range of fields, from economics to politics.

However, one field that may come to mind when thinking about strategic situations is war. So, is Game Theory used in war? The answer is yes.

What is Game Theory?

Before we dive into the use of Game Theory in war, let’s first understand what it is. Game Theory is a branch of mathematics that deals with decision-making. It studies how people or entities make decisions when they are interdependent and have different objectives or preferences.

Game Theory uses models to represent these situations, which are called games. A game consists of players, strategies, and payoffs. Players are the decision-makers in the game; strategies are the options available to them; and payoffs are the outcomes associated with each combination of strategies.

Game Theory in War

In war, Game Theory can be used to analyze strategic decisions made by different players involved in the conflict. These players can be countries, alliances, or even individual soldiers.

One example where Game Theory has been applied in war is the Prisoner’s Dilemma. In this game, two prisoners are arrested for a crime and put in separate cells.

They are given two options: confess or remain silent. If both confess, they get a reduced sentence because they cooperated with each other. However, if only one confesses and the other remains silent, the confessor gets an even further reduced sentence while the other gets a harsher sentence because they didn’t cooperate.

This scenario can be applied to war as well. Countries may face similar dilemmas where cooperation could lead to better outcomes for all parties involved but betraying each other could lead to one country gaining an advantage over another.

Applications of Game Theory in War

Apart from Prisoner’s Dilemma, Game Theory has several other applications in war as well. One such application is in deterrence theory. Deterrence theory is based on the idea that if a country has a credible threat of retaliation, it can prevent other countries from attacking it.

Game Theory can be used to model this situation. The country being attacked can be seen as the player making the decision between retaliating or not retaliating. The attacker can be seen as the player making the decision to attack or not attack based on the expected retaliation.

Another application of Game Theory in war is in arms race theory. Arms race theory is based on the idea that if one country increases its military capabilities, other countries will follow suit to maintain their own security.

Game Theory can be used to model this situation as well. Each country can be seen as a player making the decision to increase their military capabilities or not based on what they expect their opponents to do.


In conclusion, Game Theory is indeed used in war. It provides a useful tool for analyzing strategic decisions made by different players involved in conflict situations. By modeling these situations using games, we can gain insights into how different players may act and what outcomes may result from their actions.