First Advisor

Gary Scott

Term of Graduation

Summer 1998

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Political Science


Political Science




International cooperation, International relations, Liberalism, Realism



Physical Description

1 online resource (ii, 172 pages)


In the last twenty years, the issue of the impact of relative gains on interstate cooperation has been at the center of the debate between the two major schools of thought in International Relations theory, namely neoliberalism and neorealism. Over time, the relative gains problem has ceased to be a radically divisive issue and has worked as a common research program that has brought the two theoretical perspectives closer together. Both neoliberals and neorealists have set aside major questions regarding the origins of the relative gains problem and of states' preferences, and they have focused on the problem of determining the impact of relative gains in specific issue-areas. The result of this shift of focus has been that relative gains no longer represent an independent variable that may help to explain the phenomenon of international collaboration but an additional dependent variable to be explained by the strategic characteristics of particular issue-areas.

This paper argues that the recent attention to issue-areas is partially misdirected in that it overlooks the main research question -why states are concerned with relative gains and why this affects international cooperation. The analysis of the influence of relative gains on cooperation among states in the realms of security and international economy shows that states are concerned with relative gains not only across, but also above issue-areas. This occurs because states are multipurposed actors which are interested in both welfare and security, and which value their standing vis-a-vis other states because their relative position determines whether they can achieve the aforementioned goals. Regardless of the nature of the objectives they pursue, it is the competitive orientation with which states interact in the international system that makes relative gains important. From this systemic perspective, it is then possible to conclude that relative gains have an impact on interstate collaboration because they affect states' positionality, and to predict that such an impact will be greater when states' positionality is immediately at stake.


In Copyright. URI:

This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).


If you are the rightful copyright holder of this dissertation or thesis and wish to have it removed from the Open Access Collection, please submit a request to and include clear identification of the work, preferably with URL.

Persistent Identifier