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Reciprocity in international relations

  • Robert O. Keohane

World politics is commonly referred to as anarchic, meaning that it lacks a common government. Yet a Hobbesian “war of all against all” does not usually ensue: even sovereign governments that recognize no common authority may engage in limited cooperation. The anarchic structure of world politics does mean, however, that the achievement of cooperation can depend neither on deference to hierarchical authority nor on centralized enforcement. On the contrary, if cooperation is to emerge, whatever produces it must be consistent with the principles of sovereignty and self-help.

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1. For discussions see Buzan, Barry, People, States, and Fear. The National Security Problem in International Relations (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983), especially chap. 3; Keohane, Robert O., After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984); and Waltz, Kenneth, Theory of World Politics (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1979).

2. Zoller, Elizabeth, Peacetime Unilateral Remedies (Dobbs Ferry, N. Y.: Transnational, 1984), p. 15.

3. Finlayson, Jock A. and Zacher, Mark, “The GATT and the Regulation of Trade Barriers: Regime Dynamics and Functions,” in Krasner, Stephen D., ed., International Regimes (Ithaca: Cornell University Press), p. 286. The provisions of the General System of Preferences (GSP) make exceptions to this principle for developing countries, although the impact of the reciprocity norm is evident in debates about when certain newly industrializing countries should “graduate” to full reciprocal status.

4. George, Alexander L., “The Basic Principles Agreement of 1972: Origins and Expectations,” in George, , ed., Managing U.S.-Soviet Rivalry: Problems of Crisis Prevention (Boulder: Westview, 1983), p. 108.

5. George, Alexander L., “Political Crises,” in Nye, Joseph S., ed., The Making of America's Soviet Policy (New Haven: Yale University Press for the Council on Foreign Relations, 1984), p. 155.

6. New York Times, 17 March 1984.

7. Axelrod, Robert, The Evolution of Cooperation (New York: Basic, 1984), pp. 136–39.

8. Keohane, , After Hegemony, p. 214.

9. Claude, Inis L. Jr., Power and International Relations (New York: Random House, 1962), p. 12. See also Haas, Ernst B., “The Balance of Power: Prescription, Concept or Propaganda?World Politics 5 (06 1953).

10. Wolfers, Arnold, “National Security as an Ambiguous Symbol,” in Wolfers, , Discord and Collaboration: Essays on International Politics (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1962), p. 147.

11. Viner, Jacob, “The Most-Favored-Nation Clause,” in Viner, , International Economics (Glencoe, Ill.: Free, 1951), p. 103.

12. Brown, Lucy, The Board of Trade and the Free-Trade Movement, 1830–1842 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1958), p. 2; Schuyler, Robert Livingston, The Fall of the Old Colonial System: A Study in British Free Trade, 1770–1870 (London: Oxford University Press, 1945), pp. 114–15.

13. Laughlin, J. Laurence and Willis, H. Parker, Reciprocity (New York: Baker & Taylor, 1903), p. 7.

14. Culbertson, William S., Reciprocity: A National Policy for Foreign Trade (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1937), p. 159.

15. Hay, Keith J. and Sulzenko, B. Andrei, “U.S. Trade Policy and ‘Reciprocity,’Journal of World Trade Law 16 (11–12 1982), p. 472.

16. U.S. Senate, Committee on Finance, Subcommittee on International Trade, Hearing on S. 144, The Reciprocal Trade and Investment Act of 1982, 98th Cong., 1 st sess. (4 March 1983). The statement of administration policy is on p. 19, the quotation from Senator Long on p. 33.

17. Fisher, Bart S. and Steinhardt, Ralph G. III, “Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974: Protection for U.S. Exporters of Goods, Services and Capital,” Law and Policy in International Business 14 (1982), p. 688.

18. Cline, William R., “‘Reciprocity’: A New Approach to World Trade Policy?Institute for International Economics, Policy Analyses in International Economics no. 2 (Washington, 09 1982), and Wonnacott, R. J., “Aggressive U.S. Reciprocity Evaluated with a New Analytical Approach to Trade Conflicts,” Institute for Research on Public Policy, Essays in International Economics (Montreal, 1984).

19. My distinction between specific and diffuse reciprocity was suggested by Peter Blau's distinction between social and economic exchange. Social exchange involves somewhat indefinite, sequential exchanges within the context of a general pattern of obligation. In economic exchange, however, the benefits to be exchanged are precisely specified and no trust is required. The distinction between specific and diffuse reciprocity also bears some similarity to Marshall Sahlins's distinction between “balanced” and “generalized” reciprocity. Sahlins, however, views generalized exchange as “putatively altruistic.” See Blau, , Exchange and Power in Social Life (New York: Wiley, 1964), pp. 8, 9397, and Sahlins, , Stone Age Economics (Chicago: Aldine-Atherton, 1972), p. 194.

20. Gouldner, Alvin W., “The Norm of Reciprocity: A Preliminary Statement,” American Sociological Review 25 (04 1960), p. 161.

21. Blau, , Exchange and Power in Social Life, p. 6.

22. Mauss, Marcel, The Gift (1925; reprint, New York: Norton, 1967), p. xiv.

23. Gouldner, , “Norm of Reciprocity,” p. 171. In the case of what I have called diffuse reciprocity, cooperation is contingent not on the behavior of particular individuals but on the continued successful functioning of the group.

24. Blau, Peter M., On the Nature of Organizations (New York: Wiley, 1974), pp. 208–9.

25. Bloch, Marc, Feudal Society (1940; reprint, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968). This quotation is from selections from Feudal Society in Schmidt, Steffen W. et al. , Friends, Followers and Factions: A Reader in Political Clientelism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), p. 205. On patron-client relations see two other articles in the Schmidt volume: Powell, John Duncan, “Peasant Society and Clientelist Politics,” and Scott, James C., “Patron-Client Politics and Political Change in Southeast Asia.” Imbalances in favor of the patron may be accounted for by the resources, sometimes including force, at the patron's disposal: that is, the patron's bargaining power may be greater than that of the client. Sometimes, however, the observable material flow of goods favors the client, which poses a potential paradox for exchange theory: why should a patron enter into an exchange relationship in which surrendered resources are greater in value than those received? Social exchange theory answers that the political deference of the client toward the patron balances the exchange. This deference may be used to extract resources indirectly, from the client and from other similarly placed people in the society, through the operation of the political system. Thus the eventual material rewards to the patron may be quite considerable. See Homans, George C., Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms (New York: Harcourt Brace & World, 1961), and Blau, , Exchange and Power in Social Life.

26. Moore, Barrington Jr., Injustice: The Social Bases of Obedience and Revolt (White Plains, N.Y.: Sharpe, 1978), p. 509.

27. Axelrod, , Evolution of Cooperation, p. 137, and Dunkel, Arthur, “GATT: Its Evolution and Role in the 1980s,” Li and Fung Lecture, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 23 March 1984, mimeo (Geneva: GATT), p. 6.

28. Blackhurst, Richard, “Reciprocity in Trade Negotiations under Flexible Exchange Rates,” in Martin, John P. and Smith, Alasdair, eds., Trade and Payments Adjustment under Flexible Exchange Rates (London: Macmillan for the Trade Policy Research Centre, 1979), quotation on p. 215, discussion of reciprocal concessions on p. 225. On the latter see also Finlayson and Zacher, , “GATT and the Regulation of Trade Barriers,” p. 286. A related article that helped stimulate my thinking on this subject is Roessler, Frieder, “The Rationale for Reciprocity in Trade Negotiations under Floating Currencies,” Kyklos 31, 2 (1978), pp. 258–74.

29. Zoller, , Peacetime Unilateral Remedies, p. 20.

30. If C represents a cooperative move and D an uncooperative “defection,” the order of preferences for player A is as follows, listing A's move first: DC > CC > DD > CD. For a detailed account see Axelrod, , Evolution of Cooperation, or the special issue of World Politics 38 (10 1985).

31. Taylor, Michael, Anarchy and Cooperation (New York: Wiley, 1976). As Axelrod points out, it has long been argued in the game-theoretic literature that in Prisoner's Dilemma with a finite number of plays, a rational player will defect continually: “On the next-to-last move neither player will have an incentive to cooperate since they can both anticipate a defection by the other player on the very last move. Such a line of reasoning implies that the game will unravel all the way back to mutual defection on the first move of any sequence of plays that is of known finite length” (Evolution of Cooperation, p. 10). However, this finding is highly sensitive to the assumption of perfect information embedded in it. In finite Prisoner's Dilemma even a small amount of uncertainty involving asymmetrical information can make it rational to follow a strategy of reciprocity, which yields higher payoffs than the “rational” strategy of defection under perfect information. A certain amount of ignorance is indeed bliss! See Kreps, D. and Wilson, R., “Rational Cooperation in the Finitely Repeated Prisoners' Dilemma,” Journal of Economic Theory 27 (1982), pp. 245–52, and other articles in the same issue.

32. On Prisoner's Dilemma see Oskamp, Stuart, “Effects of Programmed Strategies on Cooperation in the Prisoner's Dilemma and Other Mixed-Motive Games,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 15 (06 1971), pp. 225–59; Warner Wilson, “Reciprocation and Other Techniques for Inducing Cooperation in the Prisoner's Dilemma Game,” Ibid., pp. 167–95; and Alker, Hayward R. Jr., and Hurwitz, Roger, Resolving Prisoner's Dilemma (Teaching Module) (Washington, D.C.: APSA, 1981).

33. For some experimental evidence about the effects of reciprocity in a bargaining game that is quite different from Prisoner's Dilemma, see Esser, James K. and Komorita, S. S., “Reciprocity and Concession Making in Bargaining,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 31, 5 (1975), pp. 864–72; and Komorita, S. S. and Esser, James K., “Frequency of Reciprocated Concessions in Bargaining,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 32, 4 (1975), pp. 699705. See also Axelrod, Robert and Keohane, Robert O., “Achieving Cooperation under Anarchy: Strategies and Institutions,” World Politics 38 (10 1985).

34. Axelrod, , Evolution of Cooperation, p. 138. Reciprocity may be regarded as morally wrong even when it could be expected to lead to an agreement rather than to a feud. For instance, many ethical doctrines would consider it wrong for the United States to have seized innocent Shiite Moslem hostages in retaliation for the Shiite hijacking of a TWA airliner in June 1985. When adversaries hold themselves to very different ethical standards, one side may be unwilling to behave as the other does, making reciprocity unattainable.

35. Evans, John W., The Kennedy Round in American Trade Policy: The Twilight of the GATT? (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), pp. 3132. On problems of biased equivalence in implementing “aggressive reciprocity,” see Wonnacott, , “Aggressive U.S. Reciprocity,” especially pp. 1112.

36. Breslauer, George, “Why Detente Failed: An Interpretation,” in George, , ed., Managing U.S.-Soviet Rivalry, pp. 319–10. The quotations appear on pp. 321, 327, 334, and 335, respectively. Without focusing on reciprocity per se, Stanley Hoffmann also emphasizes the overambitiousness of America's détente policy–its lack of “modesty” –as a key reason for its failure. See Hoffmann, , “Detente,” in Nye, , ed., The Making of America's Soviet Policy, p. 259.

37. Axelrod, , Evolution of Cooperation, p. 138.

38. This constitutes what Axelrod and I in “Achieving Cooperation under Anarchy” call the “sanctioning problem.”

39. See Keohane, , After Hegemony, chap. 3; Russett, Bruce M., “The Mysterious Case of Vanishing Hegemony: or, Is Mark Twain Really Dead?International Organization 39 (Spring 1985), pp. 207–32; and the special issue of World Politics 38 (October 1985) on cooperation under anarchy. In the last see especially the contributions by Kenneth Oye, who developed the concept of privatization, and Charles Lipson's “Bankers’ Dilemmas,” which discusses the breakdown of large groups.

40. Brown, , Board of Trade, pp. 116–17.

41. Schuyler, , Fall of the Old Colonial System, p. 119.

42. Brown, , Board of Trade, pp. 123, 138–39.

43. Ibid., chap. 12.

44. Stein, Arthur A., “Coordination and Collaboration: Regimes in an Anarchic World,” in Krasner, , ed., International Regimes, p. 130. See also Stein, , “The Hegemon's Dilemma: Great Britain, the United States, and the International Economic Order,” International Organization 38 (Spring 1984), p. 130.

45. Brown, , Board of Trade, p. 206.

46. Quoted in Imlah, Albert, Economic Elements in the Pax Brittanica (New York: Russell & Russell, 1958), pp. 1415. The director-general of the GATT expressed the same sentiment 135 years later. He argued that the search for reciprocity “now threatens to set back the process [of trade liberalization].” In his view, “it makes no economic sense for [a country involved in world trade] to react to barriers in its export markets by imposing on itself the additional burden of inefficiency and price distortion.” Yet what does not make economic sense may be prudent politically: “It may pay to postpone one's liberalization if other countries can thus be induced to bring forward their own.” See Dunkel, , “GATT: Its Evolution and Role,” p. 7.

47. Taussig, Frank W., The Tariff History of the United States, 8th ed. (New York: Putnam, 1931), pp. 279 and 353.

48. Lake, David A., “Structure and Strategy: The International Sources of American Trade Policy, 1887–1939” (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 1983), pp. 319.

49. Sayre, Francis Bowes, The Way Forward: The American Trade Agreements Program (New York: Macmillan, 1939), p. 50.

50. Tasca, Henry J., The Reciprocal Trade Policy of the United States: A Study in Trade Philosophy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1938), p. 102.

51. Viner, , “Most-Favored-Nation Clause,” p. 104.

52. Ibid., p. 105.

53. Smith, Adam, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations (1776; reprint, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 1:518. This passage appears in bk. 4, chap. 3, pt. 2.

54. Sayre, , Way Forward, p. 108; Culbertson, , Reaprocity, p. 246; Sayre, , Way Forward, p. 109.

55. Sayre, , Way Forward, p. 109; Culbertson, , Reciprocity, p. 249.

56. Evans, , Kennedy Round, p. 275.

57. Hufbauer, Gary Clyde and Erb, Joanna Shelton, Subsidies in International Trade (Washington: Institute for International Economics, 1984), pp. 120–23.

58. Peccioli, R. M., The Internationalization of Banking: The Policy Issues (Paris: OECD, 1983), p. 78.

59. Sugden, Robert, “Reciprocity: The Supply of Public Goods through Voluntary Contributions,” Economic Journal 94 (12 1984), pp. 775 and 776.

60. Nevertheless, what I have elsewhere called “empathetic interdependence” should not be excluded a priori as irrelevant to world politics. See Keohane, , After Hegemony, pp. 123ff.

61. Lindblom, Charles E., The Intelligence of Democracy (New York: Free, 1965), p. 63.

62. Moore, , Injustice, p. 506; Gouldner, , “Norm of Reciprocity,” 169–71.

63. Blau defines norms as involving not merely standards of behavior but moral codes that supersede self-interest. He therefore refuses to associate reciprocity with norms, on the grounds that this would make reciprocity inconsistent with self-interest. Like Blau, I think that a valuable conception of reciprocity must be consistent with self-interested practice; but since obligations may be undertaken by egoists, it seems clearest to define norms as standards of behavior to some of which even egoists could conform. See Keohane, , After Hegemony, p. 57.

64. Masters, Roger D., “World Politics as a Primitive International System,” World Politics 16 (07 1964), pp. 595619.

65. The quotations are, respectively, from Blau, , Exchange and Power in Social Life, p. 92; Gouldner, , “Norm of Reciprocity,” p. 175; and Blau, , Exchange and Power, p. 94. In some cases, of course, reciprocity may reflect solidaristic social norms. Edward Schlieffen, for instance, accounts for reciprocity among the Kaluli, a New Guinea tribe with about 1,200 members, by pointing out that for this tribe reciprocity embodies a “socially shared sense of proportion, an ideology and a set of assumptions and expectations which form the basis upon which Kaluli approach and deal with many kinds of situations, both inside and outside the context of exchange.” See Schlieffen, , “Reciprocity and the Construction of Reality,” Man 15 (09 1980), pp. 502–17.

66. Sahlins, , Stone Age Economics, p. 201; Gouldner, , “Norm of Reciprocity,” p. 175, his emphases.

67. Haas, Ernst B., The Uniting of Europe: Political, Social and Economic Forces, 1950–57 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1958).

68. Keohane, Robert O., “The Demand for International Regimes,” in Krasner, , International Regimes, p. 158.

69. Ernst Haas, personal communication.

70. This, of course, is similar to the situation faced by major trading partners of the United States before 1923, as described above, insofar as they had made commercial agreements with the United States.

71. Viner, , “Most-Favored-Nation Clause,” p. 107.

72. Blackhurst, , “Reciprocity,” p. 231.

73. These three dimensions of situations, which affect cooperation, are discussed by Oye, Kenneth and others in the special issue of World Politics 38 (10 1985). Keohane, , After Hegemony, discusses how regimes facilitate cooperation.

74. Blackhurst, , “Reciprocity,” p. 224.

75. Evans, , Kennedy Round, p. 185.

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