Players, game theory and territorial disputes
In any situation in which there are agents of different kinds (so the same is true of a community of states) relations amongst them introduce identity and conflict of interests. Territorial disputes are an example of conflict of interest. Game theory refers to the logical analysis of situations of conflict and cooperation with certain characteristics:
- There are at least two players. A player may be an individual, but it may also be a more general entity like a company, a nation, or even a biological species.
- Each player has a number of possible strategies, courses of action which he or she may choose to follow.
- The strategies chosen by each player determine the outcome of the game.
- Associated to each possible outcome of the game is a collection of numerical payoffs, one to each player. These payoffs represent the value of the outcome to the different players.
Game theory allows to assume the rationality of the players, their choices in terms of strategies and the information available to them. However, real territorial disputes such as the Israel-Palestine difference, the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, Gibraltar, Kashmir and Crimea are more intricate. In that sense, “[t]he best we can hope to do is to build a simple game which models some important features of the real situation.”
While in game theory it is possible to limit a territorial dispute to a two-agents and non-zero-sum game and assume things like communication or the lack of communication between these players and, therefore, payoffs, real-world cases include a plurality of pluralisms.
This blog series has already introduced several agents (individuals, communities and states) as well as a variety of players (hosts, participants, attendees and viewers). Consequently, it should be self-evident by now that the two-players’ assumption is a starting point to develop epistemological and methodological tools to better assess and understand territorial disputes. Yet, game theory on its own cannot offer a complete ontological comprehension. This is the reason why a multi-dimensional analysis that includes game theory elements can contribute to a more robust understanding of territorial as long as it embraces their multi-level, multi-contextual and multi-layer nature.
The next post will make use of examples of real-world territorial disputes in order to demonstrate both the usefulness of game theory in their comprehension and its limitations.
Players, game theory and territorial disputes (cont.)
Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2020).
Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017).
Wednesday 19th May 2021
Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez
 John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Revised Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 4. In what matters here Rawls says that “[t]here is an identity of interests since social cooperation makes possible a better life for all than any would have if each were to live solely by his own efforts. There is conflict of interests since persons are not indifferent as to how the greater benefits produced by their collaboration are distributed, for in order to pursue their ends they each prefer a larger to a lesser share […].”
 Philip D. Straffin, Game Theory and Strategy (Washington, DC: Mathematical Association of America, 1993), 3.
 Philip D. Straffin, Game Theory and Strategy (Washington, DC: Mathematical Association of America, 1993), 4.