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Cooperation and Bargaining and It's Impact on Studying International Politics

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There are two primary characterizations of interaction in the study of International Politics, the first is cooperation and the second is bargaining. Cooperation is formally defined as “An interaction in which two or more actors adopt policies that make at least one better off relative to the status quo without making others worse off” (Slide 23, Dr. B). Essentially a positive sum interaction between actors. Bargaining on the other hand results in a zero sum interaction between actors. Meaning that any gain made by an individual actor is offset by a loss of equal magnitude by the other actor. This is the primary difference between the two primary types of interactions in international politics, the resulting sum of the costs and benefits of the actors. In cooperative interactions there is a net positive sum result and in bargaining interactions there is a zero sum result in terms of costs and benefits.

Despite a variety of reasons why states should cooperate, including the possibility of mutually advantageous results, states often fail to cooperate. There are three important roadblocks to cooperation in International politics. The first of these is when an individual actor has incentive to turn away from cooperation. These types of interactions where individual actors have incentive to defect are called problems of collaboration according to Frieden, Lake, and Schultz (FLS, 53). This impediment to cooperation is particularly evident in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. As a whole it would be the most beneficial for both parties to remain silent but there is significant incentive to ‘snitch’ on the other party and instead take all of the spoils. The ‘real life’ example Frieden, Lake, and Schultz use to demonstrate this is the nuclear arms race between the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War. Each country had a massive nuclear weapons arsenal and were continuing to build. As a result of the problem of collaboration each state knew that the other had an incentive to cheat thereby preventing any deal from being reach to slow down or all together stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The second roadblock to cooperation in International Politics comes in regards to providing public goods (FLS, 55). Frieden, Lake, and Schultz define public goods as “Individually and socially desirable goods that are nonexcludable and nonrival in consumption, such as national defense”. The problem of collective action, free riding, is of utmost importance to discussing why public goods can provide a roadblock to cooperation. The reason collective action plays such an important role in stymying cooperation is that there is an incentive to free ride. The way individual actors view the situation is that, why would one participate if they can reap the benefits without any effort? This thinking is particularly applicable to public goods and that is why they present a challenge in International Politics when it comes to cooperation. Frieden, Lake, and Schultz mention a particularly powerful example, the Second Gulf War. Obviously many states have a vested interest in defeating a dictator and ending genocide but because the United States took over the operations many took a back seat and allowed the US to expend the effort. The third roadblock to cooperation in International Politics is self-interest. One example that is mentioned in the Robert Axelrod piece The Evolution of Cooperation, has to do with trade barriers (Axelrod, 7). Imagine two countries both erect trade barriers. If actors were not self-interested they would remove said trade barriers because free-trade would be beneficial to the other actor. The reality is, however, both nations are likely to maintain the trade barriers because, despite the benefit to the other actor, it would result in negative consequences for the nation removing their trade barriers. Furthermore, maintaining the trade barrier once the other actor’s trade barrier is gone is supremely beneficial. In this example self-interest serves as an crucial impediment to cooperation.

Despite a number of reasons why cooperation has potential to not work, cooperation is in no way, shape, or form uncommon. There are three circumstances in particular that lend to cooperation. The first of these situations is when there are a smaller number of actors (FLS, 56). When there are less actors it is easier to communicate and as Frieden, Lake, and Schultz put it “If necessary, monitor each other’s behavior”. In terms of public goods and the subsequent collective action problem, smaller numbers is another possible aid to cooperation. It is a possible aid in the sense that it easier to identify free-riders and it is far more likely that an actor levying the burden of the public good receive adequate compensation. Another circumstances that lends to cooperation in International Politics is iteration, defined as “Repeated interactions with the same partners” (FLS, 56-57). When actors work together over long periods of time the likelihood of defecting or free-riding is severely diminished for a number of reasons. First, the actors will understand that they are expected to work together in the future, preventing defecting or free-riding because of the potential benefits of future interactions. Second, the actors are likely to engage in some punitive measure against the other actor should the other party defect or free-ride. That punitive measure may be to withhold gains from future cooperative measures or withholding cooperation altogether. This employs the concept of linkage defined as “The linking of cooperation on one issue to interactions on a second issue” (FLS, 57). The third situation where cooperation is more likely is when the availability of information is high. This allows actors to check whether or not a fellow actor has cooperated or defected. Moreover, high information availability combats uncertainty and misperception. Examples of this can be seen in any election all across the globe. Individuals are less likely to cooperate and vote for a candidate if there is a lack of information surrounding that candidate or worse yet, misinformation surrounding said candidate.

Another way cooperation is facilitated is through International Institutions. International Institutions facilitate cooperation in a number of ways. The first way is in terms of setting norms and standards of behavior (FLS, 63). This helps to avoid any confusion or ambiguity when it comes to cooperation in International Politics. Also these standards help to assess whether or not an actor has violated the agreement. The second way in which International Institutions facilitate cooperation is verifying compliance (FLS, 64). In conjunction with actual rules and standards to determine compliance International Institutions also obtain information which helps to do qualitative and quantitative analyses on compliance. The third way in which International Institutions facilitate cooperation is through resolving disputes (FLS, 67). International Institutions provide an even playing field for actors to resolve disputes by referring to past agreements and serving as an indication of good faith to each of the actors just by being present. Each of these ways prevent many impediments to cooperation in International Politics. Despite the benefits of International Institutions there are obvious drawbacks including but not limited to the fact that international institutions are not value neutral (despite their best efforts) and compliance is often costly. With that said the question is, why do states comply with the rules of Institutions? The answer comes in two parts. First, since many disputes involve both bargaining and cooperation states are likely to accept the rules of the institution, despite its potential adverse effects, to avoid costly bargaining. Second, actors tend to comply because these institutions are well-established and relatively cheap, especially in comparison to creating a new institution. It is for these two primary reasons that actors tend to comply to institutions despite possible negatives (FLS, 70).

The study of international politics, especially negotiation, can be broken into two primary factors, cooperation and bargaining. These help to define the politics of the world and help political scientists define interactions between states for the benefit of social scientific study.

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