Iran In Brief

Game theory tells us when Iran gets a bomb.  Or maybe not….

Game theory tells us when Iran gets a bomb.  Or maybe not…. photo

August 17, 2009

The New York Times magazine has a fascinating profile of NYU political science professor Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and his computer-based predictive model for determining whether and when events will occur.  On Iran getting the bomb, his model tells us that:

“as the computer model ran forward in time, through 2009 and into 2010, positions shifted. American and Israeli national-security players grudgingly accepted that they could tolerate Iran having some civilian nuclear-energy capacity….  Amid the thousands of rows on the spreadsheet, there’s one called Forecast. It consists of a single number that represents the most likely consensus of all the players. It begins at 160 — bomb-making territory — but by next year settles at 118, where it doesn’t move much. “That’s the outcome,” Bueno de Mesquita said confidently, tapping the screen.  What does 118 mean? It means that Iran won’t make a nuclear bomb. By early 2010, according to the forecast, Iran will be at the brink of developing one, but then it will stop and go no further. If this computer model is right, all the dire portents we’ve seen in recent months — the brutal crackdown on protesters, the dubious confessions, Khamenei’s accusations of American subterfuge — are masking a tectonic shift. The moderates are winning, even if we cannot see that yet.”

Okay then.  What is curious about the 118 number is that it sits uncomfortably in the middle of the continuum, right in the zone of nuclear ambiguity where there is uncertainty about Iran’s nuclear capabilities and intentions.  This is in many respects where we have been with Iran all along.  A more interesting and potentially revealing question to ask might be whether and when diplomatic overtures to Iran will begin to see results.

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