Extensions to a Classroom Game on War and Peace in IR Theory

Today we have the second of two guest posts by Nathan Alexander Sears, a PhD student in political science at the University of Toronto and previously a professor of international relations at the Universidad de Las Américas, Quito. He can be reached at n[dot]sears[at]mail[dot]utoronto[dot]ca.

The game that I described in my previous post can be modified to demonstrate additional theoretical concepts.

Relative Power: Changing the amount of resources each state possesses at the beginning of each round creates differences in their relative capabilities. For example, State A could begin with $10, State B with $7, and State C with $5. This change may lead to balancing and bandwagoning behavior, which is important in neorealism.

National Identities: The game can be played with actual country names, such as the United States (State A), the Soviet Union (State B), the People’s Republic of China (State C), Great Britain (State D), and France (State E). This opens up the possibility that students’ ideas about national identities or knowledge of history may influence behavior and outcomes, which is central to constructivism.

Democratic/Authoritarian States: The game can include democratic and authoritarian structures for internal decision-making. For example, one team might be required to make decisions by majority vote, while another group may have a single individual who makes such decisions with the other students acting as advisors. Regime and institution type is important in liberalism, especially in democratic peace theory.

Iterative Prisoner’s Dilemma: The game can be played with students grouped as the same states across multiple rounds, instead of creating new groups each round. This allows students to consider strategies like “tit-for-tat.” This kind of iteration is an important explanation of international cooperation in neoliberal institutionalism.

Private Information: If each group knows only the resources possessed by its own state (with only the instructor knowing the resources possessed by all states), the level of uncertainty in the game increases. Teams have the incentive to misrepresent their capabilities by bluffing, which is central to rationalism and bargaining theory.

Crisis Decision-Making: The simulation can include a “crisis round” with rigid time constraints in order to reflect the stress of making foreign policy decisions in crisis situations. For example, students could be given a maximum of two minutes in one round to make a decision.

Additional details about this game can be found in Nathan’s 2018 article in the Journal of Political Science Education, “War and Peace in International Relations Theory: A Classroom Simulation.”


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