Deterrence, Compellence, and Prospect Theory

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Abstract

Deterrence and compellence couple demands for inaction and action, respectively, to a threat of sanctions. Conventional wisdom holds that deterrence requires less coercive effort than compellence, yet expected utility theory contradicts this claim. Only if exogenous factors affect these situations in a systematic and asymmetrical manner will the claim hold within expected utility theory. Prospect theory provides a systematic and endogenous account for this claim. Experimental findings suggest the degree of effort required to obtain compliance in comparable deterrence and compellence situations. Deterrence is “easier” than compellence, but this relationship is variable. Deterrence requires less effort than expected, and the relative effort it requires decreases substantially as the stakes demanded and costs threatened grow. Compellence requires more effort than expected, and the relative effort it requires decreases slightly as the stakes demanded and costs threatened grow.

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