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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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Against Optimism

Against Optimism

(p.44) 2 Against Optimism
Intentions in Great Power Politics

Sebastian Rosato

Yale University Press

This chapter evaluates intentions optimism, the view that great powers can, under certain conditions, obtain the kind of information that would allow them to estimate the intentions of their peers with confidence. The first argument holds that there are some situations in which states can access firsthand information about each other’s intentions. The next three arguments contend that secondhand information about state’s intentions—evidence of their declarations, interests, and actions—can, on occasion, be a reliable guide to how they intend to behave. The fifth argument maintains that even if single clues are only marginally informative, multiple clues can, in combination, be a dependable indicator of a state’s intentions. The final argument deals with the future and contends that knowledge of how a great power intends to behave today can serve as reliable secondhand information about how it will intend to behave in the future. An evaluation of these arguments reveals that they are logically and empirically flawed. Intentions optimists have greatly exaggerated the odds that states can access firsthand information or acquire reliable secondhand information about each other’s current and future intentions. Hence, it is almost impossible for great powers to trust each other.

Keywords:   Intentions, Confidence, Uncertainty, Trust, Information, Great power politics

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