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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. This means that 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 with the original texts of the classics, such Von Neumann and Morgenstern, Luce and Raiffa, Farquharson, Nash and Axelrod.

Content: In the first part of the course (block 1) we discuss basic components such as the difference between zero-sum and positive-sum games, between sequential games and simultaneous games, between non-cooperative and cooperative games, between two-persons games and n-persons games and between one-shot games and games with an unknown number of rounds (super games).

In the second part of the course (block 2) the focus is on applying game theory on problems and situations in the field of International Relations, such as the rationality of preemptive war, the deterrence of superpowers, the states concern for relative versus absolute gains in International Relations, reciprocity versus Hobbes’ ‘state of nature’ in International Relations.

Methods of Instruction

Lectures and discussion.

Study Material

Robin Farquharson, Theory of Voting Yale University Press

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


One research paper.


Tuesday 10 September until 10 December, 9.00-11.00 hrs in 5B16

  • This seminar is full, registration is no longer possible.