The calculus of the security dilemma

Avidit Acharya, Kristopher W. Ramsay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Some scholars known as offensive realists claim that in the uncertainty of world politics, trust and cooperation between states is extremely unlikely. Others, such as defensive realists, claim that rational states are capable of finding ways to counteract the complications created by misperceptions and distrust, and to reduce uncertainty to levels where it no longer inhibits cooperation. In this paper, we construct a formal model to show how in some situations cooperation between states is indeed very unlikely: even in the presence of minor misperceptions, states fail to cooperate. We then ask whether diplomacy (modeled as cheap talk) is able to remedy the failure. We show that in many situations, allowing the countries to communicate prior to taking their actions does not enable them to cooperate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-203
Number of pages21
JournalQuarterly Journal of Political Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • Cheap talk
  • Cooperation
  • Higher order uncertainty
  • Incomplete information
  • International conflict
  • Realism
  • Security dilemma


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