restricted access Who Gets What: Domestic Influences on International Negotiations Allocating Shared Resources (review)
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Reviewed by
Asgeirsdottir, Aslaug. 2008. Who Gets What: Domestic Influences on International Negotiations Allocating Shared Resources. New York: SUNY Press.

In Who Gets What, Aslaug Asgeirsdottir takes on an important and challenging issue in international relations: once states have agreed to cooperatively manage shared resources, how do they determine national allocations? Basing her answer in game-theoretic wisdom—particularly Putnam’s concept of two-level games—the author argues that powerful domestic interests constrain win sets, providing their governments with leverage over less-constrained counterparts. Her in-depth case studies test the hypothesis that Norway will increasingly lose out to Iceland in negotiations for access to straddling fish stocks because the Norwegian fishing interests have become less powerful, while the Icelandic fishers have maintained considerable political influence.

Asgeirsdottir sets the context for her analysis by describing the evolution of the United Nations Law of the Sea Regime, including the extension of coastal jurisdiction to 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and the subsequent addition of an agreement for managing fish stocks that either range across one or more zones (straddling stocks) or are only found on the high seas (highly migratory stocks). She then provides a detailed description of the political influence of domestic fishing interests in her two focal countries. It is clear from her evidence that Norwegian fishers wielded considerable political power in the 1970s and early 1980s but that their effectiveness has declined with their numbers. In addition, the rise of petroleum production and the end of the Cold War reduced the relative importance of fisheries in the Norwegian economy. In contrast, Icelandic fishers have been and remain a powerful political force due to their role as the major export industry in the Icelandic economy.

Having supported her underlying assumptions with these useful reviews of domestic fishing interests, Asgeirsdottir goes on to relate the results of seven distributive agreements that cover four species of fish: capelin, herring, cod, and oceanic redfish. The capelin case in particular supports her hypothesis. Negotiations in 1980, when Norwegian fishers were still powerful, were quite equitable, while subsequent negotiations from 1986–1989 and in 1998 resulted in smaller and smaller catch allocations to Norway as the influence of Norwegian fishing interests waned. Negotiations over herring in 1996 and 1997 and for cod from 1993–1999 favored Iceland over Norway in spite of the fact that much [End Page 142] of these stocks reside within the Norwegian EEZ. Recent attempts to manage ocean redfish have not triggered much interest from domestic fishers from either country, and thus were difficult to evaluate.

Indeed, Asgeirsdottir’s interviews with decision-makers and interest group representatives show that Norwegian fishing interests were consistently infuriated by the losses accepted by their government and that Icelandic fishers were quite happy with the same outcomes, providing further support for her hypothesis. Several important points are missing from her analysis, however. First, as she points out, Iceland relies heavily on domestic stocks for most of its production, while Norway mainly exploits straddling stocks. Norway is therefore in an inherently weaker bargaining position, as evinced by Norway’s historic tendency to prefer multilateral over unilateral fisheries action. Iceland, one of the first countries to unilaterally extend its coastal seas, has shown the opposite behavior.

A second and related concern arises when considering not only the willingness to accept sharing arrangements but also the willingness to defect from cooperative management altogether. For instance, Iceland’s growing appropriation of access rights in the capelin fishery coincides with a shift in distribution of fish that placed a de facto limit on Norwegian access. Thus in 1980 the Norwegian fleets were a greater threat to continued Icelandic harvests than in subsequent years. Also, Iceland had a much smaller stake in the successful management of both herring and cod than did Norway, and could therefore wield the threat of non-cooperation. This is exactly what Iceland did, eventually forcing Norway to agree to Icelandic terms or risk stock collapses like those experienced in the 1960s. If Norwegian fishers had been more powerful they might have delayed these agreements, but eventually they too would prefer a less equitable agreement over declining stocks.

In spite of...