I'm trying (I'm a simple citizen) to infer the intentions of my country's allies, and whether they will truly back us in case of a conflict with our aggressive (yet rich) neighbor or they'll intentionally provide inadequate support.

I've noticed that domestic media websites are often used to a great extent from governments in order to "prepare" public opinion of forthcoming events.

For example a country that prepares to attack can gradually increase propaganda through domestic media in order to predispose negatively their own population against the target-country (meaning less resistance, protests etc) as well as motivate their army and keep their conscripts' morale high by depicting their targets as unjust and aggressive.

  1. Would reading the most popular media websites of my allies be a reasonable indication of their intentions? I'm not expecting this to be a 90%-accuracy predictor, but still it would set boundaries within which they will behave (eg. depicting the escalating conflict in a neutral way, while we are clearly defending ourselves is a strong indication they prepare to double-cross us)

  2. If this would work, what other factors should I take into consideration? (eg. investigating each website's affiliation as well as audience)

  3. Is there a better way to determine my allies' intentions?

  • 6
    I am tempted to say that you need a crystal ball for that. As media outlet is typically not largely controlled by the state - except your allies are, for example, China or Iran - inferring the intentions of the government from the leading newspapers is difficult to impossible. Reading Western media, you would have been sure that we would intervene in Ukraine or in Syria against Assad, but we didn't. Such decisions are often made behind locked doors, considering the momentary situation. There mostly is no master plan followed by the government and prepared in the media.
    – Thern
    Feb 22, 2018 at 14:35
  • 1
    Additionally, if it was something that you could tell, it would be something that others could tell. So, in the case your allies were not going to do their part or were doubtfult, they would make any effort to avoid it being noticeable; if it could be know A) your government would not be happy to be in an alliance with someone who is not going to honour it and the alliance would fall apart and B) the deterrence value of the alliance would be lost.
    – SJuan76
    Feb 22, 2018 at 17:02
  • It's also not necessarily so that the country knows how they will react. If they have an absolute monarch, who is healthy and almost certain to live past the crisis point, that's the most reliable situation. If we're talking about a typical representative democracy though, everyone in the government could change. For example, when the US negotiated nuclear weapons from Ukraine (1994), they didn't know that the crisis would occur during the Obama administration (2014). They didn't even know that the US would be war weary after more than a decade of counter-terrorism wars (2001-).
    – Brythan
    Feb 23, 2018 at 3:21
  • This is written in a hypothetical way, making no reference to actual countries, actual events or actual politics. It almost reads like a plot for a novel. If this is a question rooted in reality please add a country tag. If not then I think any answer will be opinion based.
    – James K
    Feb 23, 2018 at 18:01
  • @JamesK I refrained from using the actual states involved to avoid "yes-no-yes-no-..." type of arguments, and as well as avoid being labeled. Politics has a lot in common with religion; the less I annoy a fanatic the better. I ll think about it and perhaps add the actual facts tomorrow.
    – user
    Feb 23, 2018 at 20:55

2 Answers 2


You Can't

Sometimes a knowledgeable citizen can reasonably make inferences about public policy based on their own experience, knowledge, and publicly available information. International relations is not one of them. It's notoriously "closed" compared to other areas of policy.

Even for professional analysts in this field (who have access to officials, classified information, and years of subject-matter experience) the signals are noisy. So in the best case, it is difficult to determine what an ally (or any other nation) will do. Without any of those benefits it's going to be tough to reliably estimate what a nation will do.

Public Information

What is the best that you could do? Read a variety of publicly available information and subject it to extensive critical thought.

In practice, this is how much of the intelligence community works (see the wikipedia article on open-source intelligence).

Based on my experience from the academic side of political analysis, I would recommend keeping two things in mind:

  1. Be Critical: Most publicly available information is not purposefully deceitful. However, much of it is biased to some degree. Many sources will also have honest errors. And occasionally you will find something that does have purposeful omissions or errors. Always be critical of the source and its claims.
  2. Context is Important: When reading about the politics of another country, there is always a temptation to assume that the country operates similarly to your own. However, countries have different institutions, cultures, and incentives which change the course of their politics. Professional analysts typically have subject-matter expertise in a particular region or policy area, which most citizens will lack. Do your best to understand how the particular political environment in that country works and how it will influence their decisions.

I would use game theory to infer your allies intentions.

International Relations 101: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLB5965C13F4B0B2DA

You may estimate and guess your allies best moves in a given situation, so rationally decide if their actions are in their best interests, regardless of their stated position. Assuming a country with sufficiently large population, there will surely be residents who will also be using game theory, despite the pompous rhetoric of its leaders.

Once you finish the course, you will see why it is so useful. There are so many concepts that would be too extensive to cover in this answer, such as commitment problems.

Along with game theory, you could use spies to gather more concrete evidence of your allies intentions that they may not divulge.

I would not use media as a proxy of intent, as media can be controlled, owned, and manipulated by forces other than the host government. Consider CNN at odds with the US government, Charlie Hebdo at odds with the French Government, and Facebook at odds with many world governments.

  • 4
    This doesn't provide an answer to the question. It sounds more like a suggestion for how someone else could answer the question. It is fairly easy to write a concise answer to how game theory could be used to understand this (via information sets, for example). Feb 23, 2018 at 21:42
  • There are like 99+ videos in the playlist. It's been a few years since I've watched them. I don't remember which one referred to allies.
    – Chloe
    Mar 1, 2018 at 15:55
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    This post seems too focused on the YouTube series and too little focused on the actual question. While it may be an interesting resource, it doesn't directly help those interested in the question.
    – JJJ
    Oct 15, 2019 at 19:01

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