Formal models of international institutions

Michael J. Gilligan, Leslie Johns

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    The past three decades have witnessed the development of a rich literature that applies the formal tools of game theory to understanding international cooperation and international institutions. We divide this literature into three "generations" of scholarship. With a few notable exceptions, the first generation used very simple models - 2×2 normal form games - to understand why states need to cooperate and why they comply with their cooperative agreements under conditions of anarchy. This first generation unfortunately bogged down in the neorealistneoliberal debate. Second-generation scholars began to use tailor-made models to address the neorealistneoliberal debate and to turn to new questions, such as how international agreements are created and how domestic political divisions affect international cooperation. With answers to the key questions of how international agreements are created and complied with, third-generation scholars could turn to increasingly refined models to answer specific questions about international institutions, such as the proper size of multilateral agreements, how the gains of cooperation are distributed, whether flexibility provisions should be built into agreements, and the specific functions of international organizations.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)221-243
    Number of pages23
    JournalAnnual Review of Political Science
    StatePublished - Jun 15 2012


    • bargaining
    • compliance
    • international cooperation
    • multilateral agreements
    • repeated prisoners' dilemma

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science


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