International politics is about strategic interaction among actors, especially states, in the world arena. When governments make choices about the size of their military forces, whether to reduce barriers to trade, or whether to comply with international agreements on environmental issues, they take into account the likely responses and actions of others. This course introduces the logic of strategic interaction in international politics by way of simple game theory. The principles of game theory are introduced, and you will learn how to solve simple games. Mathematical topics covered include probabilities, set theory, summation notation and infinite series, and linear equations. The games are motivated and illustrated with examples drawn from international politics. The logic of strategic interaction and techniques of game theory developed in this class have wide applications outside the field of international relations.
When we study international relations, we take into account the incentives for states to anticipate the likely actions and responses of other states. States cannot gain their objectives in the international arena if they behave naively, ignoring the potential for others to react to their actions. As Thomas Schelling put it, international politics is a realm of “interdependent decision.” States strategize. Analysts study this strategic interaction using both informal and mathematical methods. One mathematical approach to strategic interaction is called game theory, and basic game theory includes the use of algebra, set theory, and probability theory.
The strategic analysis of international politics has deep historical roots. It began with studies of deterrence and bargaining. Over time, studies of these issues have become more mathematical in their approach. They have also been supplemented by studies of other types of international interaction, such as trade, cooperation, and environmental issues. Today, the use of game theory is standard in the analysis of international relations. The type of game theory used
ranges from very simple to highly sophisticated.
The study of international strategic interaction thus provides an ideal framework for introducing the basics of game theory. From the perspective of quantitative reasoning, perhaps the most important set of lessons will be the logic of strategic interaction and the notion of an equilibrium. Introducing basic game theory also allows you to use the following mathematical tools: algebra, set theory, functions, and probability theory.