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Tyler Cowen

Beware the Nested Games of Russia’s War Against Ukraine

Sometimes tensions escalate because of dueling factions among allies, not increased conflict between enemies.

Eastern Ukraine, June 15, 2022.

Eastern Ukraine, June 15, 2022.


“Beware the nested game.” It is one of the least-known but most useful adages to keep in mind when following international affairs, and it is especially relevant now that Lithuania has announced a blockade of sanctioned Russian goods.

A nested game is what it sounds like — a game within a game. It recognizes that the actors in most real-world settings are not unified and have conflicting motives. The classic example is the failure of a proposed Middle East peace deal because some hard-line faction sponsored a terror attack or an assassination. The agreement was never just the two sides dealing with each other; each side was also dealing with its own internal conflicts.