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Correspondence Current Gains and Future Outcomes 1 Charles L. Glaser JohnC.Matthews III To the Editors: John Matthews has offered an interesting reformulation of how and when concern over relative gains acts as a barrier to cooperation.' He introduces the concept of "cumulation effects": gains cumulate when current cooperation creates advantages that increase the probability of additional gains in the future. This concept clarifies why states are sometimes concerned about relative gains, focusing our attention on their impact on the future. Matthews argues that states' sensitivity to relative gains increases with increases in cumulation, and employs his argument to explain behavior in both the international economic and security realms. Matthews' framework is logically sound and appears to work well on the economic cases that he exploreswith it. However, I believe that he has misapplied it in the security realm. The relative gains problem is first and foremost about gains in ends. In the security realm the key end is security. Matthews, however, focuses on relative gains in means-for example, power and relative force size. Confusion about whether the focus should be on ends or means pervades much of the discussion of relative gains in the security realm; Matthews has not created it? This conflation of ends and means supports the mistaken belief that states are especially severely constrained by relative gains concerns when evaluating whether to cooperate on security issues3The implicationsare dramatic: framed incorrectlyin terms of means, relative gains problems are everywhere in the security realm; framed correctly in terms of security, the relative gains problem essentially ceases to exist. I begin by explaining the nature of this common misunderstanding, and then discuss the implications for Matthews' analysis of cooperation on security issues. Charles Glaser is Associate Professor in the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago. During the 2996-97 academic year, he is a visiting fellow at the Center fou International Security and Arms Control at Stanford University. Iohn Mutthms is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Columbia University. 1. John C. Matthews 1 1 1 , "Current Gains and Future Outcomes: When Cumulative RelativeGains Matter," International Security, Vol. 21, No. 1(Summer 1996),pp. 112-146. 2. For example, Joseph M. Grieco, "Anarchy and the Limits of Cooperation: A Realist Critique of the New LiberalInstitutionalism," International Organization, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Summer 1988),pp. 485507 , which launched the recent debate on relative gains, sometimes conflates means and ends. 3. Matthews does not present an extreme form of this view, arguing instead that sensitivity to relative gains in the security realm varies according to the extent of cumulation. However, as I explain below, focusing on ends instead of means would eliminate the appearance of any relative gains problems for the type of security cooperation that he considers. International Security, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Spring 1997), pp. 186-197 0 1997by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 186 Correspondence 1 187 One background point is essential for understanding the relative gains problem in the security realm. States pursue security cooperation to achieve the end of ~ecurity;~ power is a means to this end, but not an end in itself. This is a somewhat contentious claim, as whether power is a means or an end is a source of disagreement among realists:structural realists accept this position, while classical realists disagree. I assume the structural realist position in my discussion because the concern over relative gains has its origins in structural reali~m.~ In the context of the relative gains debate, a policy provides an “absolute gain” when it increases what a state values, that is, increases its achievement of ends. To see this, consider the classic formulation of the problem of relative gains. Structural realists argued that states that could achieve absolute gains from cooperation, and would therefore want to cooperate,might nevertheless refuse to cooperate becausecooperation would also result in relative losses. That absolute gains should be understood to be gains in ends flows directly from the requirements for a state to find cooperation desirable. By definition, a state will find cooperation desirable when it increases what the state...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4804
Print ISSN
0162-2889
Pages
pp. 186-197
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
N
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