International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Application of Discretion and No Discretion Game for Deterrence


As we saw in our last class, the mechanism and the effect of deterrence is very hard to measure. In my Introduction to Public Finance class, Professor Casey Mulligan showed us this “Discretion vs. No discretion Game,” which I think could help us think about deterrence. I wanted to share the game with everyone and modified it so that it directly fits our discussion.

There are two players in the game: warlord and ICC. The warlord values his freedom at $100 million and the gains from his crimes at $100 million. The ICC values people’s lives (although it is not a political institution) at more than $100 million and values the political cost of negotiating at $100 million. The warlord acts first, deciding whether to commit crimes or not, and the ICC acts next, deciding whether to prosecute the warlord or to negotiate with him if the warlord decides to commit crimes. When the ICC decides to negotiate, the warlord keeps his gains, but the ICC loses $100 million for negotiating. When the ICC decides to prosecute, the warlord continues to kill more people, which costs the ICC more than $100 million, while the warlord is captured and also loses his freedom of $100 million. When the warlord doesn’t commit crimes, no one loses or wins (at least no immediate gains or losses). Once the warlord commits crimes, it is in the ICC’s interest to negotiate because the loss of life would be more costly than negotiating. Knowing this, the warlord would commit crimes according to the game.

This game shows that when the ICC has the choice of negotiating or prosecuting, given a certain cost set-up, the ICC may choose negotiating (imagine a case where 1 million would die if there is no negotiation). This is the equilibrium of the discretion game, because the ICC has a choice to make. However, when the ICC has no option/discretion but prosecution, the warlord, by committing crimes, would lose his freedom when he commits crimes, and would choose not to commit the crimes (this is “the equilibrium of no discretion game”).

Obviously this is a simplified game. It doesn’t address those who have already committed crimes and their calculations. The calculations that goes through the warlord and ICC’s head are also much more complicated in reality. Pursuing prosecution does not guarantee arrest and incarceration; this game assumes that the warlord will be captured and lose his freedom. Finally, the cost on the ICC part is much more complicated in reality because it is a judicial institution, not a political institution like a state government that values its citizens’ lives in a certain way.

However, these are real choices that the ICC and warlords face, and maybe having the option of negotiating does change the warlord’s expectation and action. Perhaps a record of negotiation may signal such option to the warlord, leading the warlords to act in a certain way. Based on the insight from this game, it may be a good idea for the ICC to hold up its arrest warrants and prosecution, although it may not immediately contribute to the peace-making process. The actions of the ICC are watched by the world. They may have a lasting impact on its ability to have positive effects — whether they are promotion of international justice or deterrence of future human rights violations and conflicts — by changing the expectations of the relevant actors.

P.S. the original game that Professor Mulligan showed us has terrorist and the government as two actors. The terrorist takes hostages, and the government is left to give ransom or kill the terrorist, who would then kill everyone as he dies.


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