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Gamesmanship and Brinkmanship

Andrew Kydd uses game theory to study international conflict. He looks at the war in Ukraine, a year after Russia’s invasion.

Andrew Kydd specializes in game theory, but very few people would want to play the kinds of games he theorizes about. “I have written on the causes of conflict, causes of arms races and arms control, international trust and mistrust, reassurance, the possibility of transitioning from enmity to friendship, and international relations in general,” he says. “I teach a course on nuclear weapons and related topics, another course on conflict resolution and how wars come to an end, and a course on terrorism.”

You know. Games.

On February 28, Kydd will join The UW Now Livestream to discuss the state of the war in Ukraine after a year of fighting. Drawing on his understanding of game theory and his knowledge of international relations, he’ll look at where the conflict stands and consider how the situation may progress.

My Main Area of Research Is:

My area of research is international relations, focusing on international conflict. The kind of research I do typically involves game theory, with is the mathematical modeling technique used to study strategic interaction, especially in economics and political science, to answer questions like, “If the other side does this, then what would the rational response to that be?” I don’t really have a special regional focus or expertise. I’m more focused on specific topics, the origins and conclusion of wars wherever they might be.

On The UW Now Livestream, I’ll Discuss:

The war has settled down into a war of attrition. Ukraine seems to have good prospects if it can be well armed, but the Russians are going to try again with renewed forces in the spring. [Vladimir] Putin — I think he probably feels that if he were to lose the war, if he were to withdraw Russian forces, he would be overthrown and possibly killed. I’m not actually convinced that that’s the case, but he may feel that way, with some justification. And I think he identifies himself with this project, and for it to be an utter failure, I think he would be willing to do almost anything to avoid that. And the Ukrainians are not going to give up, and they are getting support from the international community. So that’s a recipe for a long war on both sides. Ukrainians certainly have the will to win. I think they have a prospect for winning. Putin certainly has a will to win and the willingness to pour resources into it, and those resources seem to be available to him. So that seems to be a recipe for a long war.

The One Point I want People to Understand Is:

The war between Ukraine and Russia, and our role in it, is quite different than our experience with the intervention in Afghanistan and the intervention in Iraq. And so we should be very wary in applying the lessons or attitudes or beliefs that may have arisen in this country based on Afghanistan and Iraq to the Ukrainian situation. With Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States was directly involved, our forces were there fighting and dying, and we had host governments that were typically weak and corrupt and didn’t enjoy broad popular support and had difficulty fielding forces willing to fight. However, that’s not what’s going on here. Here we have a government in Ukraine which is much more competent. It enjoys broad popular support. The Ukrainians have a will to fight. Their independence — their existence as a sovereign state, as a democracy — is at stake here. It’s a very different conflict.

To Get Smart Fast, Read:

Aside from general sources of news, like the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN and abroad, the Economist — aside from those places, two specific sources I might recommend would be:

  • The Kyiv Independent, a newspaper in the capital of Ukraine, which provides the Ukrainian perspective. You’re not going to get a pro-Russian perspective, but it’s good for events that are happening on the ground. If there’s news out of Ukraine, you’ll get it there
  • A good podcast by these folks over at the Daily Telegraph in the UK called Ukraine: The Latest. It’s a round table, and they have a couple of their journalists, some of whom either are in Ukraine right now or have been and come back and are covering the war. 

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