By: Ali Sarfraz
The subject of International Relations (IR) deals with the interactions among specific actors which include nation-states, international organizations and multinational corporations. These interactions involve interdependent, goal-directed activities. Interdependency means that the achievement of the goals of any nation-state does not depend only upon its own actions, but also upon those of the other nation-states. In the domain of IR, this is called the Game Theory which explains the behaviour of decision-makers in situations of strategic interdependence.
Game theory, also known as interactive decision theory, is based on an abstract form of reasoning arising from a combination of mathematics and logic. As a branch of pure mathematics, the theory of games sets forth postulates from which mathematical conclusions are derived. Nearly all game theorists agree that the theory with which they deal is addressed to what is rationally correct behaviour in situations in which actors engage in interaction in the form of a game with specific strategies, goals and preferred outcomes. Here the actors are trying to win or maximize gain or minimize loss. For centuries, kings and military officers have played war games (not actual wars) as a practice of strategies. Game theory, in modern times, is also applied to other social sciences, not only in psychology and economics. Its founders are John Von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern who published the book The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior in 1944.
Game theory is generally defined as a body of thought dealing with rational decision strategies in situations of conflict and competition, wherein each participant or player seeks to maximise his gains and minimise losses.
Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics defines game theory in the following words:
“A game is any situation in which the outcomes (pay offs) are the product of the interaction of more than one rational player. The term, therefore, includes not only games in the ordinary sense, such as chess and football, but an enormously wide range of human interactions.”
Scope in IR
Game theory provides a number of advantages for the analysis of international relations. It requires that a conflict situation or decision process be examined from the point of the utilities and disadvantages that alternative courses of action are offered to each participant. Since it postulates a setting in which both sides make rational calculation of their own self-interest, game theory offers the opportunity of viewing one’s antagonist as something other than an incompetent swine or omniscient superman.
Because game theory can offer the opportunity for quantitative procedures and for the systematic treatment and comparison of otherwise diverse situations, advocates of game theory have tended to argue that if a problem is genuinely understood it can also be represented by a mathematical model. But its opponents have countered by saying that such reduction of a problem results in oversimplification and sterility. Here are elements of truth in both arguments.
The game theory takes inspiration from the model of parlour games of conflict and cooperation, and, by analogy, applies these to similar real-life situation in the world. The theory was primarily propounded by mathematicians and economists. Neumann and Morgenstern developed this theory in the sphere of economics. Later, it was applied to many fields of social science including international relations with modifications. Shubik, Schelling, Rapoport, Deutsch, Riker et al., take recourse to this theory for explaining international politics.
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