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Intentions in Great Power PoliticsUncertainty and the Roots of Conflict$
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Sebastian Rosato

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780300253023

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300253023.001.0001

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(p.1) Introduction
Intentions in Great Power Politics

Sebastian Rosato

Yale University Press

This chapter begins by explaining that the question of whether or not great powers can be confident that their peers have benign intentions is of enormous importance in both the real world and in international relations theory. In a nutshell, confidence causes peace and uncertainty causes security competition with the potential for war. The chapter then addresses the intentions question in three ways. First, it briefly describes a theory—intentions pessimism—that says great powers can rarely if ever be confident that their peers have benign intentions, because it is extraordinarily difficult for them to obtain the requisite information. Second, it argues that intentions pessimism matches up well with the historical record, and specifically, that it offers a compelling explanation of how great powers have actually thought about each other’s intentions over the past 150 years. Third, it applies intentions pessimism to the future of great power politics, predicting that the United States and China will each be uncertain about the other’s intentions, which will, in turn, cause them to compete for security and perhaps go to war.

Keywords:   Intentions, Confidence, Uncertainty, Trust, Great power politics, International relations theory, U.S.-China relations

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