Security Trade-Offs and Sacred Values

Interesting research:

Psychologist Jeremy Ginges and his colleagues identified this backfire effect in studies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2007. They interviewed both Israelis and Palestinians who possessed sacred values toward key issues such as ownership over disputed territories like the West Bank or the right of Palestinian refugees to return to villages they were forced to leave—these people viewed compromise on these issues completely unacceptable. Ginges and colleagues found that individuals offered a monetary payout to compromise their values expressed more moral outrage and were more supportive of violent opposition toward the other side. Opposition decreased, however, when the other side offered to compromise on a sacred value of its own, such as Israelis formally renouncing their right to the West Bank or Palestinians formally recognizing Israel as a state. Ginges and Scott Atran found similar evidence of this backfire effect with Indonesian madrassah students, who expressed less willingness to compromise their belief in sharia, strict Islamic law, when offered a material incentive.


After giving their opinions on Iran’s nuclear program, all participants were asked to consider one of two deals for Iranian disarmament. Half of the participants read about a deal in which the United States would reduce military aid to Israel in exchange for Iran giving up its military program. The other half of the participants read about a deal in which the United States would reduce aid to Israel and would pay Iran $40 billion. After considering the deal, all participants predicted how much the Iranian people would support the deal and how much anger they would feel toward the deal. In line with the Palestinian-Israeli and Indonesian studies, those who considered the nuclear program a sacred value expressed less support, and more anger, when the deal included money.

Posted on March 19, 2010 at 6:58 AM38 Comments


Tim March 19, 2010 7:32 AM

Makes sense. America offering money is effectively saying “We’re rich enough to do anything we want – we can just pay off those who oppose us.” which is somewhat insulting.

Grande Mocha March 19, 2010 7:37 AM

I would think that these results should be obvious to anyone who has ever held a value to be “sacred”. But, perhaps most political leaders arrive in their positions of power because they are exactly the type of people who will compromise any value for material gain.

Winter March 19, 2010 7:50 AM

@Grande Mocha:
“But, perhaps most political leaders arrive in their positions of power because they are exactly the type of people who will compromise any value for material gain.”

That is a politician’s job.

It is a very ineffective, ie, bad, politician who will not work for the benefit of voters and their believes just because that would compromise her own sacred values.

Think a surgeon who cannot stand the sight of blood.

Clive Robinson March 19, 2010 8:04 AM

The question it does not answer is what happens when both parties hold “sacred values” but eventualy agree to compromise…

Then one party does not carry out their side of the agrement but continues to insist the otherside gives away their sacred values…

Such is the state in the middle east.

Frank Ch. Eigler March 19, 2010 8:31 AM

A countering tactic is clear. It would be to the advantage of a player to foment belief that she holds many more “sacred values” than she really does. That way she can trick the opponent into believing that her sacrifices during negotiation are larger than they really are.

Bob March 19, 2010 8:38 AM

@Winter: A politician should share his constituents beliefs. Anybody who compromises their own belief system is not somebody I want representing mine.

American March 19, 2010 8:43 AM

How about a compromise, I’ll give you this money in exchange for something you hold sacred. In return I will not call you a dirty communist for being offended at the thought of taking money, something all Americans hold dear.

geomark March 19, 2010 9:00 AM

“Belief” indicates lack of knowledge, i.e. ignorance. Obviously, once you “know” you no longer have any need to believe. Advocating that someone must share your beliefs is advocating they must be just as ignorant as you. Clinging to beliefs is so obviously the root of these sort of conflicts.

AppSec March 19, 2010 9:06 AM

That’s assuming that those beliefs are true and are not just a ploy to remove the other (see Frank’s comment above).

Greed is commonly associated with monetary, but there’s lots of other greed that exists..

Roenigk March 19, 2010 9:09 AM

The inverse argument would be that those that readily accept payoffs have no sacred values.

I believe that proof is supported by the actions of the majority of those in the US Congress. I cannot comment on the British pols.

Winter March 19, 2010 9:17 AM

“A politician should share his constituents beliefs.”

Where I live, it is said that two people make 3 religions. When religious believes are involved, everyone seems to have their own special mix.

I will vote for one that defends my sacred values. I basically do not really care whether she actually considers them sacred too.

You are right, though, that I will have much more trust that my representative will actually defend these values if she shares them.

But then, if a job depends on expressed personal believes, who is to be trusted?

Note that knowledge and experience tend to shatter sacred believes. It is unlikely that a politician who knows how the cogs of the world turn will keep a lot of faith in anything but the divine (and even that is often lost).

What is a really sorry sight is to me a politician who is defending mutually exclusive policies that will really hurt his constituency, and you can see he actually knows. But his voters believe in the impossible and so he must go on pretending.

beliver March 19, 2010 9:22 AM


How do you resolve the Iranian nuclear program issue without violating either side’s belief that such a program would be good or bad? Until such a program is implemented, both sides are arguing from “ignorance”, as you claim.

Clive Robinson March 19, 2010 9:42 AM

@ geomark,

“”Belief” indicates lack of knowledge, i.e. ignorance. Obviously, once you “know” you no longer have any need to believe.”

Are you arguing that the Universe is determanistic and all things knowable are known?

The problem with the word “belife” is it is over used and thus almost meaningless as is the word “faith” and to either a greater or lesser extent depending on your viewpoint so is “trust”.

“Advocating that someone must share your beliefs is advocating they must be just as ignorant as you.”

No, two people may chose to hold that an outcome is either true or desirable but their reasoning does not have to align. In fact often the reasoning does not which usually sugest that the outcome is more likley to be true than if the reasoning was the same.

“Clinging to beliefs is so obviously the root of these sort of conflicts.”

People are entitled to belive what they wish, however they do not have the right to impose their beliefs on people who disagree with them. Unless it is a majority choice and their is no other viable choice that will be accepted by the majority.

The problem with politicians is they do not get told by the majority what the majorities view point is. Invariaably the only people who get on a politicians case are a self serving minority, and as the saying has it “the squeakiest wheel gets the grease”.

Thus it could be argued that the “majority choice” is actually a “minority choice” with strong advocates.

Clive Robinson March 19, 2010 10:03 AM

@ beliver,

“How do you resolve the Iranian nuclear program issue without violating either side’s belief that such a program would be good or bad? Until such a program is implemented, both sides are arguing from “ignorance”, as you claim.”

Actualy no they are not.

If you take a wider view point you will see that a large number of “nuclear capable” countries have decided that nuclear meets their current energy production requirments (ie the US, Europe, Russia, and several others).

Therefore it is easy to argue that a nuclear program for energy production is a national security issue.

Now Iran as well as many other oil producing nations know they only have 10 or 20 years to reinvest the “oil money” into securing their own energy needs.

So the argument is actually not about “if Iran should persue nuclear energy production”, but “how” and under “who’s” viewpoint.

From a US point of view irrespective of the weapons argument they would like Iran and as many other nations as possible to become “energy dependent on the US”. The US are not alone in this we see Russia using energy as a tool of “state craft” to keep satalite nations under the thumb.

So Iran appears to be wise to persue it’s own nuclear capability to ensure it’s own independance from the likes of the US and Russia.

Then of course there is US behaviour to those nations that do and do not belong to the nuclear club…

History has shown that the US viewpoint towards a nation changes dramaticaly when a nation get nuclear capability (India, Pakistan, North Korea, to name but three).

Thus irespective of the weapons issue it is most definatly in Iran’s national interest to persue nuclear capability. Just about everything the US, Russia, UK, France has done in the past 50 years tells the Iranians the only sensible option to ensure their own national security is to persue nuclear…

And even if the US changed it’s position nobody would trust them anyway or particularly care due to the likes of Russia and China etc…

Clive Robinson March 19, 2010 10:09 AM

@ Shachar,

“If only that were the whole of it…….”

Yes, if it was it would give some hope of a solution in the “near term”.

But sadly it is but the tip of the iceburg.

kangaroo March 19, 2010 10:35 AM

Of course, everyone forgets that our (for certain values of us) “sacred” value IS money. It holds just as central a place as their hilltops and rivers. Often, our attachment is just as irrational — as the Marxists say, a fetish.

So how about they give us money, and we give them special hills?

james March 19, 2010 10:59 AM

kangaroo and ukvisa above have it right, with the caveat that the capitalist democracy is arrogant enough to assume its values supersede all others. Maybe that’s where the outrage comes from?

AppSec March 19, 2010 11:00 AM

Deterministic? (I know you said it in a comment, not that you believed it)..

I like the phrase:
A child cannot choose it’s parents, but it can choose it’s friends.

As such, in some case, the world is quite deterministic… As if those parents eliminate the opporutnity of choice and control education the path will be pre-determined.

Adam March 19, 2010 11:05 AM

It bothers me the real answer to the US interest is completely different then anyone talks about…

The what does everyone really want? Israel, Iran, US, etc

Israel and Iran want Nukes to protect and defend their interest in a cost effective way mainly from each other.

The US does not want Iran to have Nukes to protect and defend its interest.

Real Answer is not money(that could be used to fund a nuclear program), the Real answer is a weapon system that can be used for defense by Iran but not against the US.

Such as giving Iran American made Aircraft, vechs, ships that require American parts to keep running or/and systems that the American Military has an easy trump card on.

Added benefit is these systems would be too bulky and expensive to hand off to a terrorist organization.

Any talk of getting the sides to not use the most potent and cost effective weapon available is wrong without offering a sensible alternative.

Winter March 19, 2010 11:21 AM

“Israel and Iran want Nukes to protect and defend their interest in a cost effective way mainly from each other.”

Not quite.

Israel needs their nukes for more enemies, eg, Syria and a Turkey fallen to Muslim extremists.

Iran needs the Nukes to protect itself against a US invasion and a number of other enemies.

Two of Iran’s neighbors have been conquered by the USA, and one is an ally of the USA.

Almost every Sunni Muslim country is an enemy of Iran. One of them, Pakistan, has it’s own nuclear weapons and can fall to Sunni extremists any moment. Iran has fought a devastating war with (Sunni) Iraq because it did NOT have a nuclear bomb.

Nuclear weapons are almost Iran’s only protection against the USA and Israel, with Pakistan on the horizon.

H. F. Mudd March 19, 2010 11:24 AM

@Tim, uk visa, james

The issue is not about money, per se, it’s got to do with value.

Someone holding a “sacred belief” holds that the sacred object is infinite in value-therefore the only thing that it can be traded for would be something else of infinite value.

By offering to barter that for money, /they/ are treating that sacred object with disrespect and cheapening it. Hence the outrage. it has nothing to do with money or democracy or nations at all. The barter could be for pigs, goats, cars or anything that has a finite value.


Great idea. ….but money is sacred, but it’s also money… so we have to accept and yet it backfires, but it’s sacred…

…does not compute, Norman coordinate… does not…

Dom De Vitto March 19, 2010 11:56 AM

This really isn’t about security [again] it’s about people [again]. e.g.

Hey, lady, if I get you drunk, will you sleep with me?
Hey, lady, if I get you drunk, and give you £10, will you sleep with me?

Which one’s most likely to get a result?
Which one’s most likely to get me a slap?

Would the slap be harder if I only offered £5 ?

Yeah, yeah, anyone who knows me knows I’d get a slap in all cases 🙂 (Even from my Mrs!)

Adam March 19, 2010 12:11 PM


The US military was prepared to fight the USSR(30k+ Nukes) in a nuclear war. The Patriot missile system, stealth technology, M1 Abrams Armor(hardened against Neutron bombs), etc…

The limited number of nukes Iran could field if it wanted to would be terrible, but would not stop the US military.

I agree nukes are the most cost effective deterent within Iran’s grasp, but I propose we offer a much newer, higher, and US dependant technology. Something that would be impossible for Iran to maintain without outside support.

Philippe March 19, 2010 12:50 PM

« Something that would be impossible for Iran to maintain without outside support. »

Thus negating totally its value. Would the US rely totally on defensive/offensive technology/weapons wholly dependant on the goodwill of another nation?

Philippe March 19, 2010 12:53 PM

added : yet most people do it everyday on another level when using proprietary operating software like windows or applications. We rely on Microsoft or other companies to ensure our computer security. The only freedom would be through opensource where you have access to the source code.

Clive Robinson March 19, 2010 1:25 PM

I’m not sure many of the commenters here understand nukes.

Without a delivery system nukes are the equivalent of having a handgrenade gaffer taped to your arm. They act as a deterant to those that can only attack you close up.

Another way of looking at them is to “salt the earth” that is make any attackers victory piric.

Although almost any vehical can carry a tactical nuke. Most nukes are most definatly not tactical and if you look at the early US and CCCP nukes you will see why early delivery systems where heavy lift bombers.

The danger with Pakistan and North Korea was they have delivery systems that are difficult if not impossible to stop (ie missile systems).

However delivery systems are getting easier and easier to design but for some reason we don’t talk about them we just talk about the potential payload

Adam March 19, 2010 1:45 PM


Yes, the US would, see F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter, uh-145 helicopters, Airbus 330 refuelers, etc

Descartes before the horus. March 19, 2010 2:51 PM


We don’t actually “know” anything. We only believe that we do. (You may be a brain in a vat. I may not even exist, if I don’t think…)

The real problem is the non-recognition of ignorance, and the subsequent willingness to act on “facts” without sufficient examination of their validity.

DC March 19, 2010 9:04 PM

@Dom De Vito,
I believe the original of that joke is the one where a man offers a woman millions to “sleep” with him.
She says yes.
As they go down the hall to the assignation, he changes the offer to 20 bucks.
She responds “what type of woman do you think I am”, to which he responds,
Madam, we’ve established that — now we are dickering on price.

Same situation here I think.

Robert March 19, 2010 9:53 PM

Let’s think: if I only had one or two small nukes and a satellite launch vehicle. I’d be working on a HEMP weapon.
Think K-project!
Militarily insignificant, economically disastrous.

Snarki, child of Loki March 20, 2010 6:55 PM

One obvious problem is that the offer of money is clearly not a “sacred value”, as others have noted.

If the counter-offer was “no, keep the money, but instead your country has to change from dollars to Euros”, THAT is where sacred values get dinged.

Clive Robinson March 21, 2010 12:28 AM

@ Snarki, child of Loki,

“If the counter-offer was “no, keep the money, but instead your country has to change from dollars to Euros”, THAT is where sacred values get dinged.”

Well we already know what happened to one country on talking about switching from USD to EUR…

As reported in the European press a shortish time after (what the rest of the world regarded as) the faux election of GWB and his taking offfice, Iraq’s Saddam had aproached various continental EU nations (in the Euro Zone) to talk about selling Iraq’s oil in Euro’s not Dollar’s to get the US off of his back.

Well the Euro Zone countries were a little luke warm, so he upped the anti by changing the offer to selling Iraq oil “only in Euro’s”. Which as it was the worlds second largest producer of oil would have instantly promoted the Euro to being the world trading curancy virtualy over night.

Well the US had a significant problem as Paul Wolfowitz later let slip with his infmous “lake of oil” comment.

Basicaly the US had for some considerable time taken on significant world debt as the price of trying to keep the US Dollar the world trading currancy.

The reasons for this are a little complicated, but in essence it enabled the US to stay afloat with ever increasing deficit due to amongst other things US domestic energy demands.

Thus the USD was badly over subscribed and if it ceased to be the world trading currency then it would have gone down the proverdial plug hole and the US economy would have followed rapidly.

Now the question is why did the Euro Zone not jump on this offer “to do the US down”. Well the reason was and still is quite simple. Most European countries are much more acutely aware of the significance of “currancy stability” than most in the US are. It would not have been in the world economies interest to have the US go down the plug (and still isn’t which the “China APT” mob tend to conveniently forget).

The reason being that unknown to most in the US the Clinton administration had been heading of global recesion for almost the entire term by buying up stratigic debt to stop it snowballing and bringing the world economy down (look at Far East property bubbles etc).

Now the GWB administration for various reasons either did not or for political reasons chose not to belive that Europe had little intrest in “Doing the US down” (it has been said that this was because the GWB backers only viewed the world through their own intent).
Thus the GWB backers belived (incorectly) that Sadam’s plan as a “master stroke of an evil guenius” to take the US out…

Not what it most likley was ie Sadam’s last ditch gamble to stop the effects of the sanctions causing him to lose control of Iraq.

Unfortunatly the US could not “go it alone” on a “Grand Adventure” and thus up stood Tony Blair who had grandiose notions of self worth.

He thought that he could be a new “Churchill” and be better than his hated role model “Margret Thatcher”. Europe had quite politly told Tony he was not even close to being the “Iron Lady” and infact they where quite openly laughing at him amongst themselves about how he wanted to be “The European President” and thus not “Bush’s lapdog” but “A Court Jester”.

So various little plans where “cooked up”. And the UK and the US developed a spiral of stories about “WMD”. It was quite clear to many that there was absolutly no substance to the WMD story and thus distanced themselves from it but “still staying on message” (see CoPow statment’s where he keeps refering to UK Intel AKA the “dodgy dosier” put together by Blair’s cleque of spin misters in 10 Downing St. from Internet downloads…).

It was by the way well known by both the US and UK security services (CIA / MI6 et al) that there was absolutly no factual evidence Sadam had WMD. They actualy knew Sadam had to maintain the illusion so as to keep the countries surounding Iraq out of Iraq.

Almost laughably stories like the Uranium Yellow Cake where put about by the US Gov supported Iraqi congress (in exile) where well known to jornos as compleate fakes.

It was later made obviouse from the desperate claims of “mobile biological weapons” the photos where of “hydrogen generators” for inflating “barage ballons” that the UK had sold to Iraq as “war surplus” several years previously along with a load of “arc light” vehicals…

So the result of the GWB backers not trusting Europe to be self interested was the “Grand Adventure”.

The main side effect is the US did the likes of Iran a huge favour and took the Sadam rod off of their backs (with the consiquences we see today).

Meanwhile of on the “Grand Adventure” both the US and UK ellected officials had taken their eye off of their domestic issues such as “property bubbles” and their ilk. These where very obviously overheating the US and UK economies due in the main to “deregulation of financial markets” and financial market inspired tax regulation changes.

So whilst the cat’s where out hunting sewer rats, the house mice played and gnawed through the foundations and had an even worse effect than the sewer rat alone could ever have done.

The financial pain both the US and UK are currently fealing would not have bitten so deaply if Bush and Blair had not wasted trillions of USD on actually increasing the chances of a middle east disaster…

As we currently see those countries that either did not partake or only paid a token effort in the Bush Blair “Grand Adventure” are not realy suffering the effects of the colapse of the UK/US banking industry (even though many in Europe have been playing fast and lose with “debt offsetting” to keep in the ERM).

There are however a few countries whose “rob Peter to pay Paul” fiscal behaviour to keep government debt of the balance sheet has been unmasked (Iceland, Greece etc) in the process.

But the US & UK have been badly hurt. The UK more so due to timidity and “off books debt” caused by PPI/PFI stupidity and the shmoozing of the financial industries of government ministers to get favourable deregulation.

Oh and the real joke of it all is that the USD and EUR have been so weakened that China (if it was stupid enough) could actualy promot it’s currency (yuan) to that of a third international trading currency ( ).

GreenSquirrel March 22, 2010 3:40 AM

@ Adam

“The US military was prepared to fight the USSR(30k+ Nukes) in a nuclear war.”

Indeed but the US was not prepared to initiate a first strike attack (Cuban missile crisis posturing aside) and as a result we had the Cold War.

Iran, without nukes, is at almost constant risk that a hawkish US president will decide its time to close the gap and do a bit more regime change. Likewise, Iran is pretty hated by the Arabic nations in the middle east. It would be a reasonable assumption to most Iranians that any signs of weakness will lead to one of the Arab nations deciding it was time the world had less Persians.

Now, if Iran had nukes – with or without an intercontinental delivery system – the whole game changes. Pretty much forever.

No matter what the world thinks of them, they are drastically unlikely to get invaded either by the US or any other country. Their only real challenge is getting them fast enough that they can become North Korea rather than Iraq.

Now I am not for one second saying I think the world would be a better place if Iran had nuclear weapons but gaining them is the only rational move for that country.

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