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Rationalist Approaches to International Cooperation: A Call for Theoretical Reorientation


  • Lloyd Gruber


For several years now, rational choice theorists of international relations have been working aggressively to incorporate models of power, bargaining, and distributional conflict into their larger explanatory edifice. So far, however, few of these theorists have thought to challenge the view, most closely associated with the “neoliberal” scholar Robert Keohane, that international cooperation facilitates positive-sum gains – if not for the world as a whole then certainly for the voluntarily cooperating states or governments in question. This article introduces and develops the notion of go-it-alone power to demonstrate how, even when cooperation among nations (or, for that matter, among firms or individuals) takes place on a strictly voluntary basis, the resulting arrangements need not in fact be mutually beneficial. That is, some actors may rationally decide to take part in these arrangements even though they fully expect to incur absolute losses relative to the non-cooperative status quo. What emerges from this discussion is a broader – albeit less sanguine – theoretical perspective on power, cooperation, and the continuing proliferation of new “Pareto-improving” regional and multilateral initiatives.

Suggested Citation

  • Lloyd Gruber, 1999. "Rationalist Approaches to International Cooperation: A Call for Theoretical Reorientation," Working Papers 9919, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  • Handle: RePEc:har:wpaper:9919

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