This chapter outlines a theory called intentions pessimism. It begins by describing the information problems that confront states seeking to divine each other’s intentions. The first problem is that it is particularly difficult for a great power to access firsthand information about another state’s current intentions, that state’s actual ideas about how it intends to behave. The second problem is that although great powers can acquire information about each other’s declarations, interests, and actions, all of which are related to its intentions, this secondhand information is unreliable, which is to say that it is consistent with both benign and malign intent. The third problem is that states cannot access firsthand information about each other’s future intentions, while secondhand information on the matter is especially unreliable. The chapter then argues that given the inextricable link between information, on the one hand, and certainty and uncertainty on the other, these problems of access, reliability, and the future virtually preclude great powers from being confident that their peers have benign intentions, or more simply, from trusting them. Indeed, they typically cause states to be acutely uncertain about each other’s intentions. The chapter concludes by exploring the effects of uncertainty on great power politics.
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