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Conflict and Cooperation: Applying Game Theory in IR



Purpose: Game theory is used in the field of International Relations to explain the possibility of cooperation as well as the likelihood of conflict. Some games will result in conditional cooperation and other games have an inevitable outcome of mutual destruction. Thus, the choice for a model of conflict or a model of cooperation is paramount in reaching a conclusion in some real-life conflict of interest. The choice between cooperation and defect are part of the so-called non-cooperative games. We also present examples of cooperative games in which nations are involved in a process of bargaining and negotiation. The problems of bilateral bargaining are different from negotiations with a group of states to reach an agreement. Games with three actors or more are spatial voting games in which the decision-making is decided by the majority vote.

Scholars in International Relations must have knowledge of game theory dealing with models of conflict and cooperation, and spatial voting games. This course is a nontechnical introduction of game theory and how to apply game theory in international politics

Content: After an introduction of the general features of the theory of games in the first meetings we discuss on Thursdays a contribution in the field of international relations in which game theory is applied. These meeting have a seminar style in which the students talk about the articles. On Fridays the meeting will be more of a lecture style in which the nuts and bolts of game theory will be presented.

The focus of the whole course is on applying game theory on problems and situations in the field of International Relations, such as the security dilemma of nations in international politics in which there is no central authority, the deterrence of superpowers, the states concern for relative versus absolute gains in international relations, bargaining between states, the veto power of states, the power of the European Parliament for agenda setting, and the working of the majority vote rule in international treaties.

Methods of Instruction

Lectures and discussion.

Study Material

A range of book chapters and journal articles (available on Blackboard)


Students can write seven short papers during the course. The final grading will be based on the five best short papers. Regular attendance is required.

Details about the short paper will be presented at the beginning of the course on Blackboard.


Master students that started their studies in September 2014 can register for one seminar in uSis from 10 December 12.00 hrs until 17 December 12.00 hrs.

For Master students that start their studies in February 2015 registration is possible from Wednesday 14 January 2015 12.00 hrs until Friday 23 January 2015 12.00 hrs. Please send an email with your full name, student number and preference for three seminars to the institute secretariat ( You will receive an auto-reply with a confirmation that we have received your e-mail. You will be informed about the seminars for which you have been registered before February 1.

Please note that elective seminars have a maximum capacity of 20 students and placement is subject to availability. Registration is on a first come first served basis.


Thursday 5 and 12 February, 15.00-17.00 hrs in 1A24
Thursday 19 February, 15.00-17.00 hrs in 0A28
Thursday 26 February, 15.00-17.00 hrs E002A *
Thursday 5 March, 15.00-17.00 hrs in 1A27
Thursday 12 March, 15.0-17.00 hrs E002B*
Thursday 19 March, 15.00-17.00 hrs 0A28
Thursday 26 March, 15.00-17.00 hrs in 1A24
Friday 6 February until 27 March, 15.00-17.00 hrs in 1A22 (except 20 March 1A01)

  • Van Steenis Gebouw, Einsteinweg 2 Leiden