Monday, April 20, 2009

Game Theory, Political Economy, and the Evolving Study of War and Peace

By Bruce Bueno de Mesquita


Studies of war and peace increasingly center around domestic interests and institutions for clues on how to shape international affairs. This change in thinking coincides with advances made in non-cooperative game theory and political economy modeling.

De Mesquita refutes realism and state-centric theories as logical explanations for the causes of war. He simultaneously enhances the validity of the liberal peace theory by examining the influences which democrats need to consider when threatening or declaring war.

Realism's claim about a balance of power needed to maintain international stability is refuted by the political economy approach. Simply put, the political economy approach states that the causes of and solutions to international conflict can best be understood by looking within states. It treats leaders as the object of study, not the states as realism does.

A game-theoretic focus concludes that war conducted by rationally acting states is always ex post inefficient. Leaders conduct wars at times to maintain a hold on power, since their domestic constituencies would likely vote them out of office (for democratic states). Autocracies have the advantage of not needing to concern itself with the well-being of their citizenry since they do not face election.

Game theory also validates the liberal peace theory. It claims that leaders (as the object of the political-economy approach to international relations) will only wage war when the outcome is victory, as a 93% success rate for wars initiated by democracies indicate. Since both sides need to consider their reelection prospects, a negotiated settlement to the conflict is the preferred method for resolving conflicts between democratic nations.
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