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The risk that conflicts may escalate “out of control” is one of the greatest dangers confronting the world today. Experts are generally agreed that an atomic war would not come by sudden, all-out attack, because leaders everywhere know what retaliation they would face. The real danger is that some smaller conflict might grow larger and larger, at some point getting out of anyone’s control.
Despite its importance, escalation has received astonishingly little study by specialists. Now, in War: Controlling Escalation, Richard Smoke offers the first comprehensive, scientific examination of escalation processes and the first systematic attempt to find ways to control escalation. He examines in depth five major cases in modern history where escalation occupied center stage. Focusing on the question “How does escalation get out of control?” Smoke takes care to study not only factors at work in wars where this occurred, but also factors preventing it where this might have occurred but did not. The result is an all-inclusive analysis of how escalation processes work and what can be done to halt and control them. Throughout, the author maintains a pragmatic, operational focus, concluding with a set of practical “questions” that decision-makers can ask of their information in trying to keep escalation under control in future conflicts.