Applying Domestic-Level Variables in Context to Relative Gains, Reciprocity and Anarchic Concepts to Examine Institutional Cooperation in the Middle East

In my initial studies of international relations and world politics through the mainstream theoretic lenses, the idea that “liberal” institutions operating within the anarchic structure of the international system can facilitate cooperation and reduce the likelihood of conflict has deeply intrigued me.  The increasing societal interconnectedness brought about by globalization personalizes the hope that such institutions may offer potential to make the world a safer place. While neorealism and neoliberalism disagree to some extent on the causes and likelihood of cooperation, combining essential components of these theories may prove invaluable to understanding the viability of institutional cooperation. However, neither view seems to fully account for the impact of domestic variables on international outcomes.

Joseph Grieco’s concept of “relative gains” and Robert Keohane’s “principle of reciprocity” in particular have significantly furthered our understanding of the causes and conditions for durable cooperation among states.  Might these tools be inherently flexible enough to incorporate domestic variables, thus loosening anarchic assumptions and opening the door for enhanced cooperation through institutions? Moreover, can the inclusion of domestic variables in context to these tools explain subpar cooperation in the Middle East?

The essay’s first section will offer a brief explanation of the Middle Eastern context in which these theoretical tools will be examined. This politically and religiously fragmented  region is marked by huge disparities between wealth and poverty, Sunnis and Shias, and common nationality and sectarian strife. It all makes the Middle East (ME) an outstanding area to examine the impact of domestic-level variables (DLVs).  In the second section I will lay out a summary of the reciprocity and relative gains concepts and make a general assessment of their ability to explain ME conflicts and lack of regional, institutional cooperation.

In the third section, I will apply DLVs as part of reciprocity and relative gains concepts to analyze the unique intergovernmental organization of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Companies (OPEC) within the double security dilemma of competing state and domestic interests. In the fourth section I’ll review the anarchic environment and role of process as specific variables and causal determinants of state interests and outcomes within a structural view of the state that incorporates a simultaneous, dual security analysis,  and shift the focus from  reciprocity and relative gains to the theoretical perspectives of neorealism and neoliberalism from which they’re derived.

In the essay’s fifth and final section, I will present some ideas on moving forward towards greater stability and equitable prosperity in the ME through the promotion of a few specific ideas to include a greater role for capitalism, education, job creation and religious tolerance. Additionally, the application of “soft power” and “contextual intelligence” will be reviewed as potential strategies that utilize DLVs to shape interests and preferences, thereby influencing outcomes. {20 pages double-spaced + 18 references}

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