Conflict and Cooperation

Strategic interaction within and across nations involves conflict and cooperation.

Disagreement between a country’s population and its leadership can cause internal conflict, oppression, and terrorism. War (whether between nations or civil conflict) is not only a fundamental, recurrent cause of human suffering but also a primary impediment of economic development. This research area focuses on the fundamental causes of conflict and cooperation, using a rigorous methodological approach that integrates empirical research and formal modeling and brings together economists and political scientists.

A critical insight based on research in this area is that conflict often arises despite the presence of some cooperative solution that may have satisfied all the relevant actors. Here are two examples.
  • Mutual fear: Mutual fear can trigger conflict as a defensive strategy to forestall an opponent’s attack. On the one hand, communication of motives or confidence-building measures, such as allowing arms inspections, may diffuse tension. On the other hand, these actions may increase the chances of conflict by exposing the strength or weakness of a country’s arms capabilities. What is the most likely outcome in a given situation or scenario? What might be conflict-mitigating factors?
  • Desire for political survival: Desire for political survival will force a country’s leader to appease supporters. Will this increase or decrease the chances of conflict or cooperation? Does the domestic political system play an important role in influencing the probability of conflict, in general? For example, are democracies indeed more likely to be peaceful than other political systems?
These and other, similar issues are this research area’s focus. We will also offer policy prescriptions for arms inspections, counterterrorism, and sponsorship of democracy.

While violent conflict constitutes a paradigmatic case to analyze the drivers of conflict and its resolution, the ensuing lessons also apply to other contexts. Importantly, similar conflict dynamics exist within business settings. Disagreement between workers and owners can lead to costly delays due to strikes and other labor strife. Firms can trigger price wars that destroy value and force them and competitors into bankruptcy. Activists can target firms or industries to change their business practices. The general goal of this research area is to study conflict features in these domains and propose policies that prevent or mitigate such conflict.
  1. Political Economy
  2. Activists and Activism
  3. Political Economy of Law
  4. Corporations and Private Politics
  5. Institutions and Ethics
  6. Development

For more information, please contact Sandeep Baliga, Director, Initiative on Conflict and Cooperation.