Understanding Global GovernanceLogin Subscribe now
Zhang Yuyan is Director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).
IT WAS around half a century ago when Harvard University professor Thomas Schelling published a book entitled The Strategy of Conflict (1960). Schelling wrote that whether and how potential players participate in a game depends both on their common and conflicting interests.
To explain the co-existence of these two, Schelling gave an example: Two players can share $100 as long as the sum of their expected amounts is smaller than or equal to $100. So, in order to get at least some of the $100, the two must cooperate. This is the common interest of the two players. However, one may get more and the other will thus get less. This is the conflicting interest of the two players. In other words, the game they play is a zero-sum one. This is very common in life: even though you aim to maximize your own interests, it is also wise to take into account the other party’s interests.
Common and conflicting interests exist not only among individuals, but also among sovereign states or other types of organizations whose aim is to maximize their particular interests. Global issues—such as peaceful coexistence, climate change, a fair and open trade system, cyber-security, cross-border crimes including terrorism, money laundering, and a stable international monetary or financial architecture—are all vital to the wellbeing of humanity.
No single country or group of countries can address these issues alone, thus making international cooperation necessary. Every country is a stakeholder in this process and, thus, all countries have common interests. However, addressing these issues involves both cost and benefit sharing—there is no such thing as a free lunch. Once cost and benefit sharing are involved, stakeholders will have conflicting interests, and fierce bargaining becomes inevitable.
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