d - 3 with how people interact strategically with one...

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3 CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS OBJECTIVES Columbus's negotiations with the Spanish, Portuguese, English, and French monarchs illustrate fundamental strategic concerns with national security and with the interna- tional political economy of development; these concerns endure today. Decisions are made by evaluating the costs and benefits of alternative courses ofaction and by weighting those costs and benefits according to the probability of their arising. Such calculations give us the expected utilities of alternative strategies aimed at achiev- ing the same ends. Game theory provides a systematic way to examine decisions when choices must be made and takes into account the likely response or actions of other decision makers. The Nash equilibrium provides a fundamental way to predict policy choices in situations that involve such strategic interaction as was experienced by Columbus and King Ferdinand. In this chapter we will focus on the decision of the fifteenth-century Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella to back the voyages of Christopher Columbus in his search for a water route to Asia. The story of Columbus is known to almost everyone, yet few have considered its implications for international politics. An examination of Columbus's odyssey-how it was initiated, by whom, and why-provides an opportunity to intro- duce strategic thinking about foreign policy in a familiar setting. At the same time it serves to emphasize the point that the ideas explored in this book are timeless. The logic used to account for events that took place more than five hundred years ago and the logic used to account for events happening today are the same. In the course of our study I will introduce some of the tools of decision theory and those of its subbranch, game theory. Decision theory concerns how an individual weighs alternatives by taking probabili- ties-the likelihood that different possible outcomes will arise-and utilities-the value the chooser attaches to alternative possible outcomes-into account. Game theory builds on decision theory by providing a means to evaluate how two or more people, interacting with each other although not necessarily sharing the same objectives, make choices while mindful of one another's maneuverings. That is, game theory is concerned with how people interact strategically with one other, each trying to choose the course of action that is expected to produce his or her best achievable outcome. Thus far I have laid out a set of core principles. Here I will illustrate how these prin- ciples influenced the Spanish decision to finance Columbus's proposed journey to Asia across the Atlantic Ocean even as they led the Portuguese, French, English, and others to reject it. The story of Columbus is enduring. It presents many features of international politics that are relevant today.
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This note was uploaded on 02/06/2011 for the course POL 130 taught by Professor Simonelli during the Spring '08 term at Purdue University-West Lafayette.

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d - 3 with how people interact strategically with one...

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