To Play Nice or Not? – Gar Meng Leong

This week’s readings take a critical approach on Mearsheimer’s opinions, who claimed that realism is the only approach that is valid in today’s context of states co-operating, and this is due to the fact that there is no governing authority to police each state effectively. Achieving interdependence under institutionalist theory can be tricky, although achievable, and the nature of it has changed, in my opinion.

The article makes a point which I believe to be true, that like realist theory, institutionalist theory is utilitarian and rationalistic. The premise is that states will only cooperate if they see themselves motivated by relative gains. It is typically hard to quantify how much each actor also gains in this problem, as there is an incentive to lie and cheat about how each side actually gains from respective transactions from trade.

Developing norms today also have made interdependence different. Even with the presence of NATO during the Cold War era, the silent war between the US and USSR threatened to break out anytime, and both sides were readily arming themselves in a game of see-saw, preempting each others’ moves in regard to their arsenal of nukes. Credible information was lacking during this period, and it led both sides to participate in a nuclear arms race.

Interdependence in that era would have been difficult as compared to today. Off the back of World War II, the US and USSR would come out as the dominant superpowers, looking to exert their influence around parts of the world with their respective ideologies, with the former trying to contain the Communist influence of the latter. While an actual war did not actually break out, NATO could not ease the tensions between both sides, and the effectiveness of the UN was hampered.

While the article makes the claim that many member states have made investments in institutions such as the EU, NATO, GATT, and that membership in these groups have increased, it can be due to the fact that norms dictate that membership in these institutions is necessary for continued support and aid, and being a member enforces this different aspect of interdependence, where members rely on one another for the interests of their state, rather than city-states allying themselves with the hegemony of the two major powers during the Cold War.

Issue linkages and reciprocity today, enforced by institutions, also lessen problems. The example given by Martin, describes how the EC managed to have sanctions against Argentina, which reduced fears of cheating.  The proposed sanctions against Russia also may have removed Russian troops from Ukraine also show how issue linkages may have aided in this move.

Interdependence has shifted from a balance-of-power aspect to one where states are more invested in their own needs. While institutions may have helped in sanctions and easing in cooperation, the threat of self-interest and lack of centralized authority still looms. Russia may have played nice, but it remains to see if this is a temporary measure or not.


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