Mathematical solutions for international affairs?

The need for certainty in the complex field of International Affairs has led to the development of many schools of thought which hope to solve the problem of anarchy through realistcooperative or constructivist solutions. However, some authors like Bruce Bueno de Mesquita propose the exploration of different paths. In his case, he has combined International Relations Theory with Mathematics in order to provide what we may call “Rational Choice and Game Theory Models” that can be applied to the field of Global Affairs.

Think of a negotiation between several parties. For instance, in the on-going Libyan crisis, we may identify the following main actors: states like the United States, France and Great Britain… plus international bodies like the Arab League, the African Union, the United Nations, NATO or the European Union.

By running a mathematical calculation (in this case, a factorial), we see that even by leaving out many other players and simply considering eight stakeholders, there are 40,320 different interactions that may take place between them… Such a large number is made of thousands of different processes, which may include direct negotiations, third-party missions, back channels

For example, Barack Obama may call Nicolas Sarkozy directly, but he could also follow a less direct path and call the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, expecting him to play a mediating role with the French President.

The “Rational Choice and Game Theory Model” looks to bring some clarity to this complex scenario. Some have called Bueno de Mesquita a 21st century Nostradamus, yet his work for US Presidential candidates, Fortune 500 companies or the CIA proves that his efforts are no “smokes and mirrors” trick. Stanley Feder, a former CIA analyst, has said that 90% of Bueno de Mesquita’s work with the American intelligence agency has proven to be accurate.

Obviously, this does not mean that a calculator can solve every single conflict in the world, but it does help make international relations less anarchic and more predictable. In the complex field of International Relations Theory, there must be room for authors like Bueno de Mesquita, whose studies bring a different light to the study of global affairs.

Written by Diego Sánchez de la Cruz, alumnus of the Master in International Relations (MIR)