It is with great sadness that I report that my colleague George Downs passed away Wednesday. Before remembering George Downs the scholar, though, I wanted to just share a few words about my impressions of George as a colleague and friend.

George, while serving as dean of social science, helped recruit me to NYU, and from the day I arrived, he always made me feel completely welcome here. Although we say this a lot, he truly was one of the nicest people in the discipline. Perhaps most impressively, in a profession that has its share of hierarchy, George always made you feel like he was talking to you as an equal and a peer. He was also someone who cared tremendously for his students, which I was fortunate to be able to observe in action when he invited me to join a dissertation committee he was chairing. I am honored to have had a chance to work with him even in this limited capacity, and I know he will be greatly missed by all his colleagues and students.

I asked his long-time friend, colleague and co-author Bruce Bueno de Mesquita to share some thoughts on George’s contributions to the field of political science, which Bruce was kind enough to do at a difficult time.  Here was his response:

George Downs, the Bernhardt Denmark Professor of International Relations in NYU’s Wilf Family Department of Politics, was the first scholar to use non-cooperative game theory to model the effects of domestic uncertainty on international negotiations and to identify how to use tacit bargaining – actions rather than words – to resolve disputes and arms races without coercion.
Complementing this work was his ground-breaking analysis of the systematic ways in which international organizations and treaties fail to meet expectations or alter behavior while producing high, but shallow, compliance with treaty terms – a compliance process he and his co-authors labeled as “easy music.” (George Downs, David M. Rocke, and Peter N. Barsoom, “Is the Good News about Compliance Good News about Cooperation?” International Organization 50 (1996), 379-406).
In other innovative theoretical work that became known as “the resurrection hypothesis,” Downs (and David Rocke) provided the definitive explanation for why leaders facing virtually certain defeat nevertheless continue to fight. His contributions hold notable relevance in the current political climate, with President Obama and the Republican Congress pushing agendas they likely know will not succeed, while also shedding light on the extreme actions of groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda to sustain their relevance.
Downs provided the foundation for identifying policy solutions to intense international conflicts by avoiding the demonization of adversaries and by leaving room for post-war political survival for the vanquished. He was also a leader in the design of models to achieve practical success and advances in environmental negotiations and in the spread of human rights, the focus of his most recent research. Throughout his body of work he has shown how formal models can be used to extract practical solutions to fundamental problems always in the vein of his strong, humane sense of ethics. As noted by NYU’s Michael Laver, a successor to Downs as NYU’s Dean of Social Science “George was driven by trying to understand particular problems, such as international negotiations or human rights, rather than how they were addressed. He was always more interested in the question than he was in any particular answer.”
In recognition of his contributions to the field, Downs, a black belt in karate, was elected as a fellow to the American Academy of Arts and Science in 2014.
His books include Optimal Imperfection? (1995) and Tacit Bargaining, Arms Races, and Arms Control (1990), both co-authored with David Rocke, and The Search for Government Efficiency: From Hubris to Helplessness (1986), co-authored with Patrick Larkey.