The Empirical Promise of Game Theory
- Alexandre DebsAlexandre DebsDepartment of Political Science, Yale University
Game theory is a set of mathematical tools used to analyze the strategic interaction between decision makers. Proponents of game theory have offered different perspectives about its potential benefits in the study of politics: It is a rigorous apparatus that can offer a solid foundation for the scientific enterprise; it offers predictions that could be tested with statistical analysis; it can account for the essence of unique cases and could be tested with qualitative evidence. Critics of game theory, in political science and international security specifically, argued in the 1990s that it had generated few empirical insights. Two decades later, game-theoretic approaches to international security remain a robust research program, but their prevalence remains limited. It is important to evaluate the potential benefits of game theory and the contributions that it has made to international security, so as to devise appropriate strategies to maximize its empirical purchase. The controlled comparison approach, using qualitative evidence on a medium number of cases, appears especially promising.