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Game Theory for International Relations


Credits: 4 ECTS

Second semester

Elective Courses




Game theory deals with the analysis of strategic situations, defined as situations of inter-dependence between rational actors. Game theory can thus be used to (1) generate testable hypotheses about outcomes; (2) explain outcomes; and even (3) predict outcomes. Examples include: 

(a) The sub-optimal levels of effort currently exerted by national governments to curb climate change; 

(b) The unpopular measures imposed by international organizations on countries experiencing economic meltdown; 

(c) The relative rarity of revolutions even under very oppressive regimes;  

(d) The fact that some criminals do not need to hide from the authorities; and

(e) National leaders' and central bankers' sophisticated attempts to come across as more or less predictable -- or indeed as more or less unpredictable.

This is an introductory/intermediate course in game theory for students interested in international affairs. Although we make as little use of formal notation as possible, we teach game theory in a rigorous, yet relevant, way.

We introduce the course by noting that game theory falls under the rubric of “rational choice”, and by delimiting the realm of rational choice. The main part of the course is then divided into two roughly equal parts: (1) games with sequential moves; and (2) games with simultaneous moves. In both parts we first start from the basics (setting up a game, describing outcomes and payoffs, and techniques used to solve a game), and we then keep adding layers of complexity (parameterized payoffs, games with uncertainty, subgame perfection, mixed strategies, and repetition).

Throughout, we pay particular attention to connecting game theory to real-world strategic situations in the news. We thus build bridges between the abstract learning of game theory and applications to international political economy, international public policy, and international security.


  • Mid-term exam: 40% of the final grade
  • Final exam: 40% of the final grade
  • Participation: 20% of the final grade

Competences, learning outcomes and teaching activities (PDF)


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