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Average: 80.3. The Prisoners’ Dilemma and the Liberal Tragedy. Lecture 9. The Liberal Vision: International Politics as Tragedy. All Countries Lose From War. Therefore, All Countries Would Gain If All Would Prepare Less for and Engage in Fewer Wars.

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the liberal vision international politics as tragedy
The Liberal Vision: International Politics as Tragedy
  • All Countries Lose From War.
  • Therefore, All Countries Would Gain If All Would Prepare Less for and Engage in Fewer Wars.
  • Tragedy: Even Peace-loving Countries Are Forced to Militarize by the Anarchic Structure of the International System.
the prisoners dilemma
The Prisoners’ Dilemma
  • The Liberal Tragedy Arises From Strategic Interaction.
  • The Prisoners’ Dilemma Is the Game We Will Use to Model this Interaction.
  • The Prisoners’ Dilemma is a General Model of Cooperation.
    • Between Individuals
    • Between Governments
the elements of a game
The Elements of a Game
  • The Actors: Who Is Playing?
  • Actors’ Strategies: What Choices Do The Actors Have?
  • Outcomes: What Are the Results of the Interactive Choices Actors Make?
  • Preference Orders: How Do the Actors Rank All of the Possible Outcomes?
  • The Solution: How will Each Actor Play the Game, Given the Strategies, Outcomes, and Preference Orders?
the india pakistan nuclear game
The India-Pakistan Nuclear Game
  • The Actors: Pakistan and India
  • The Strategies: Two Choices
    • Build Nuclear Weapons
    • Don’t Build Nuclear Weapons
  • The 4 Possible Outcomes:
    • Arms Race: Both Build Nuclear Weapons
    • Stable Military Balance: Neither Builds N. Weapons
    • Pakistan Advantage: Pakistan Builds, India Doesn’t
    • India Advantage: India Builds, Pakistan Doesn’t
  • For Preference Orders….

Solving the Game: Backwards Induction

2,2 (Arms Race)




don’t build

4,1 (India Advantage)


1,4 (Pakistan Advantage)


don’t build


don’t build

3,3 (Stable Balance)

the prisoners dilemma again
The Prisoners’ Dilemma, Again

Dominant Strategy

Pareto Optimal





Nash Equilibrium

other examples of the logic of the prisoners dilemma
Other Examples of the Logic of the Prisoners’ Dilemma
  • Current Struggle Between Israelis and Palestinians.
    • Strategies: Retaliate; Turn the Other Cheek
  • France and Germany Following WWI.
    • Strategies: Re-Arm; Don’t Re-Arm
  • United States and Iraq
    • Strategies:
      • US: Pursue Objectives Through Inspections Regime OR Use Force to Overthrow Regime
      • IRAQ: Allow Inspections in Compliance with UN Security Council Resolutions OR Refuse to Cooperate
  • Military Force is a “Rational” Strategy for Both Parties In All of These Conflicts.
broader importance of the prisoners dilemma
Broader Importance of the Prisoners’ Dilemma
  • Tragedy of International Politics: Both Can Be Better Off, but Unable to Realize These Joint Gains.
  • Inability to Realize Joint Gains Arises From Inability to Make Binding Commitments.
  • If Agreements Could Be Concluded and Enforced, Then Joint Gains Could Be Realized.
  • The Absence of an Enforcement Mechanism—Anarchy—Is the Source of Tragedy.
  • Change the Institutional Framework, Change International Politics.
is there a way to escape the dilemma
Iterated PlayRepeated Play of the Game Without a Known End Point.

Tit-For-Tat StrategiesDecentralized Enforcement Mechanism.

Alters Calculation of Payoffs

Single Play: One Time Payoff

Repeated Play: Stream of Payoffs Over Time

Stream of Payoffs > One Time Payoff

Becomes Rational To Play a Cooperative Strategy

International Organizations Help Promote Transformation.

Provide Rule-Based Structure for Interaction.


Provide High Quality and Potentially Unbiased Information About Behavior of Others.

De-Politicize Monitoring

Help Ensure that Retaliation/ Enforcement is Proportional.

Prevent Vicious Cycles

Is There a Way to Escape The Dilemma?