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Conflict and Cooperation: Applying Game Theory in IR



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

Game theory is used in the field of International Relations to explain the possibility of cooperation as well as the likelihood of conflict. Thomas Schelling argues in his book The Strategy of Conflict that conflicts in international politics can be modelled as a bargaining game that includes mutual interests as well as conflicting interests. The idea of studying a conflict as a cooperative game is at first sight counterintuitive, because having a conflict is the result of having opposing interests. The notion of a conflict as a bargaining model becomes more plausible when Schelling explains that his bargaining model contains several rounds in which participants in each round can make a choice to cooperate or to defect. The consequence of modelling a conflict as an iterated variable-sum game is that it becomes possible to assume that participants have conflicting and common interests. Furthermore, a single move in a iterated game can be seen as a signal of one player to the other. The signal can be a warning that any further use of military force will escalate the conflict. Or the signal can be a form of testing the waters to find out whether a some agreement is feasible. “Thomas C. Schelling’s Strategy of Conflict is a masterpiece that should be recognized as one of the most important and influential books in history of social science” (Myerson 2009).

Content: The focus of the whole course is on applying game theory on problems and situations in the field of International Relations.

Methods of Instruction

The seminar is only in Block 2 of semester 1 and we meet twice a week during block 2.

Lectures and discussion.

Study Material

Thomas C Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict. Harvard University Press.

Extra literature available on Blackboard.


Students write one paper article style (+/- 8000 words). Regular attendance is required.
Details about the paper will be presented at the beginning of the course.


See preliminary info