International Organizations and Interstate Cooperation


Cooperation between countries has been analyzed as long as the world exists. While some states are in a constant state of conflict, others try to find resolutions to complicated situations and endeavor to mitigate disagreements. Quite often, the participation of a third-party state is necessary for the successful resolution of a conflict situation. However, there are states that succeed in arranging positive relationships in a variety of spheres, including politics, economics, education, security, and others. In order to find out the causes of states’ cooperation, as well as the reasons for their failed attempts, a review of literature has been performed. The review of literature intends to elucidate the main research question, which is “Why do states cooperate?” Additional issues to be investigated in the process of the literature review are as follows:

  • What are the main reasons for bilateral and plurilateral cooperation between nations?
  • To what extent do environmental issues promote interstate cooperation?
  • What aspects of homeland security serve as the core reasons for states’ collaboration?

Critical Evaluation of Sources

Cooperation between States in Regard to Compliance and Formal Organizations’ Activity

The primary aspect to be analyzed in relation to state cooperation is the creation and functioning of formal organizations and compliance with their regulations. The article by Abbot and Snidal (1998) offers a comprehensive analysis of the reasons why states utilize formal international organizations (IOs) (3). It is viable to note that the article is not generalizable, which means that its findings relate to the specific setting of the study. However, the research is rather valuable due to its explanation of the relationship between IOs’ functioning and community value implementation.

The main purpose of the article is to find out why the states use IOs and what key attributes formal organizations have. Scholars remark that there are many cases when unilateral efforts on mitigating conflicts are not sufficient (Abbot and Snidal 1998, 3). Frequently, the formation of an IO is inevitable when such values as security, peace, nuclear armament, intellectual property, and other crucial aspects are under threat. Indeed, formal IOs serve as a basis of stability in resolving disputes between and among countries. Therefore, the goal that scholars set before conducting their study has been pursued successfully. The explanation of IOs and their role in interstate cooperation has been elucidated amply.

Formal organizations are created in order to make sure that states do not violate the agreements made between them or that they do not infringe on any rights or policies. In this respect, compliance should be analyzed as the main aspect of the international normative order (Bilder 2000, 65). An article by Bilder (2000) explains the utmost role of compliance in determining international relations (65). According to the author, the main prominence of compliance is not on its likelihood to make states behave but on promoting their successful cooperation (Bilder 2000, 65). It is impossible to disagree with this point since it is a positive endeavor to explain the need for interstate cooperation. The scholar’s main objective is to explain the variability in states’ treatment of compliance depending on their understanding of what is expected from them. Specifically, Bilder (2000) emphasizes that each nation’s legal system is different from the international normative system (66). Therefore, compliance is treated by every state in its own way.

Another crucial issue in regard to compliance is that its extent is also understood in a non-identical way by various countries. Hence, as Bilder (2000) notes, some states comply with international conditions only partially or occasionally (69). At the same time, even such compliance may be enough, depending on what level of commitment is considered as sufficient. The article pertains to the specific setting of the study, which makes it a reliable source of consideration when analyzing the selected research questions.

A review article by Tsingou (2014) pays attention both to the compliance issues and IOs (671). The author’s opinion relates to the ideas expressed by Abbot and Snidal (1998) in that international norms and policies help to regulate the cooperation between states (Tsingou 2014, 671). The scholar singles are out several options available for the states that face a conflict: using the existing IO, choosing among alternative solutions, altering current arrangements, or generating a new organization (Tsingou 2014, 671). The article is a critical overview of a book, in which the author expresses valuable ideas on the topic of research and helps to explain the key aspects of IOs’ role in international collaboration.

Cooperation within the Issues of Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Criminal Court

Probably the most frequently mentioned topic in relation to interstate collaboration is that of security. The issues included in this dimension are terrorism, criminal justice, and homeland security. The reviewed sources that focus on these problems are study-specific, their findings pertaining only to the designated topic of research. Vogele (1994) outlines the control of armament at an international level as a prominent issue of state cooperation (1). The scholar notes that despite the efforts to eliminate the amount and use of arms, the generation of new types of weapons, along with technological advancements, leads to numerous instances of violating international agreements. At the same time, states are forced to comply with arms control issues whenever they are trying to arrange some collaboration (Vogele 1994, 17). Furthermore, as Vogele (1994) remarks, the resolution of a conflict does not always presuppose coming to a harmonious conclusion (17). Most often, cooperation is viewed as the agreement of all sides of the conflict on certain issues within certain time frames.

Meanwhile, Piemani’s (1998) study concentrates on the analysis of post-Cold War relations in the world, with the emphasis on the major players at that war (7). The author emphasizes the difference between the states’ collaboration after World War II and after the Cold War, noting that the post-Cold War era is characterized by the development of multipolarity. According to Piermani (1998), one of the factors affecting international cooperation is the phenomenon of regionalism (8). This concept has evolved as a result of tense relationships between East and West during the Cold War. Regionalism was largely employed as a method of eliminating the cost “of containing the Soviet bloc” (Piermani 1998, 8). Hence, not all organizational division was productive fornterstate relations due to differences between the organizations’ economic and security opportunities. In the case of the Cold War, one can trace a negative aspect of state cooperation, namely, when one state has to find solutions to instability caused by the other state.

International collaboration based on anti-terrorist goals is gaining more and more attention from policymakers and scholars. As Bensahel (2006) argues, the notion of the term “coalition against terror” is frequently misleading, even though its use is quite common (35). The diversity of anti-terrorism coalitions is impressive, including such areas as intelligence, law enforcement, financial and military spheres, and reconstruction (Bensahel 2006, 35). While numerous coalitions exist separately and independently, they are intricately connected, which results both in the promotion and limitation of their actions. For instance, the activity of a military coalition may cause adverse outcomes for the intelligence coalition if the former one damages or deletes important data during its attacks (Bensahel 2006, 35). The purpose of the researcher is to identify the typical challenges emerging from the activity of anti-terrorist coalitions. The first problem singled out by Bensahel (2006) is the need for coalitions to collaborate with local forces (37). Whereas local forces can share valuable information about terrorists, they can also pursue interests different from those of the coalition, which may result in the clash of interests and the impossibility of mutual support.

Another type of misunderstanding may develop in relation to financial anti-terrorist activity. Many states do not hurry to implement the financial agreements, the adoption of which was supported with much enthusiasm (Bensahel 2006, 37). Additionally, some countries may experience unexpected financial difficulties, which disables them from the full-extent promotion of the arranged plan. The article by Bensahel (2006) elucidates many issues connected with anti-terrorist state cooperation, as well as explains the core reasons why some of the aspects of such collaboration are not always met.

The aspects of armament, security, and terrorism are all closely related to international criminal court law and its manifestations for interstate collaboration. The article by Oosterveld, Perry, and McManus (2001) is dedicated to this aspect of international relations (767-768). Scholars note that whereas the role of the International Criminal Court is the utmost, this organization cannot exist without the support from various states on the territories in which it has to operate. Therefore, international relations in the sphere of the criminal court are contingent on every party’s diligent pursuit of common goals. While other ways of interstate collaboration are important, the criminal justice system involves not only neighboring states or the ones that are in conflict with each other but all countries of the world.

Geographic and Environmental Issues as Causes for Cooperation

A significant aspect of interstate collaboration is represented by the countries’ environmental and geographic position and needs. Sometimes, even if two neighboring countries have political disputes, they need to find ways of negotiating their access to vital resources, such as water. Hallock’s (1993) study is aimed at analyzing the management of environmental issues under the premise of three theories: The Global Commons perspective, modified structural realism, and conventional structural realism (ii). The author covers a variety of environmental agreements that emerged out of the need to divide water resources between states. The paper is rather topic-specific and cannot be generalized to other settings. Hallock (1993) explains the need for international environmental cooperation by the lack of interstate monitoring and management of such resources (3). The author scrutinizes the cooperation between the USA and Canada in relation to the Great Lakes, which border on both countries. Whereas the study is limited by one geographic location, its findings are of utmost importance for the understanding of why the environment constitutes a crucial issue of interstate collaboration.

The book by Jägerskog (2003) is focused on yet another highly important cooperation process involving water resources. The Arab-Israeli conflict, the resolution of which has not been gained in either homeland security or criminal justice dimensions, nevertheless has some positive implications in the dimension of environmental cooperation. Jägerskog (2003) notes that each of the states involved in the conflict has developed its access to groundwater in its own way that was accessible (92-95). Despite the state of military disagreement, the states were able to find some viable solutions regarding the most burning environmental problem. The author has endeavored to analyze the water negotiation not only through geographical but also the socio-political prism. Based on the sources, one can conclude that environmental cooperation among states permits more opportunities for negotiations than other types of conflict relationships to do. Even if countries are at war, they must find solutions to the most significant issues upon which people’s welfare and even lives depend.

Bilateral and Plurilateral Cooperation between States (Aid, Migration, and Education)

Finally, a crucial dimension of international cooperation is the bilateral and plurilateral relationship between states. Such a kind of collaboration is most frequently observed in the spheres of aid, education, and migration. Each of the reviewed studies united by this subheading is not generalizable and should be viewed with respect to the selected issues only. Zhang (2017) analyzes the trilateral cooperation between China, United Nations agencies, and western donor states (750). The author investigates China’s tendencies to seek aid within the past few decades. Zhang (2017) has found that contrary to its previous tendency for bilateral collaboration, the country has recently changed its preference to trilateral associations (750). Based on the theories of cognitive learning and constructivism, Zhang (2017) investigates China’s estimation of its national interests and the country’s interstate engagement (750). The scholar remarks that Chinese foreign aid is the “newfound strength” of the state that it can exercise abroad (Zhang 2017, 751). Apart from that, China’s identity has gained unprecedented progress lately, the country seeing it in such dimensions as a “socialist country, a developing country and a rising great power” (Zhang 2017, 754). The study allows perceiving not only plurilateral cooperation among states but also the development of some countries’ identity via their aid efforts.

The focus of Kitamura’s (2007) research is education as a crucial dimension of international collaboration. The scholar notes that the international community is accountable for the promotion of the Education for All (EFA) program (Kitamura 2007, 31). Not only the governments but also societies bear responsibility for the successful implementation of international collaboration at the level of education. The goals of the article are to outline the mechanisms of global governance of EFA and to outline the significance of civil society as a significant factor in the process of interstate collaboration. The study also promotes an understanding of how cooperation between states can eliminate currently lacking access to data, capacity, policy, and financing of the EFA project. Since education is one of the most effective levers of international relations development, the article is a valuable source of learning about the viable options of promoting it.

Finally, migration as a significant component of plurilateral cooperation should not be neglected. Sykes (2013) argues that investment treaties and trade agreements among countries are much more widely investigated and paid attention to than migration issues (315). Meanwhile, the latter deserves more consideration since, to a great extent, international trade is possible due to migration. The author notes that the level of migration cooperation is much higher than the level of its reflection in official discussions and policies (Sykes 2013, 316). Since restrictions to migration come to “enormous cost to the world economy,” Sykes (2013) justly considers that this dimension of interstate cooperation should be studied more thoroughly (316). The article gives an interesting opinion on plurilateral international cooperation and singles out the most significant barriers to the successful organization of migration policies.

Questions for Further Research

The reviewed literature has covered a variety of aspects related to cooperation between states, the reasons for their successful interaction, and the barriers to positive collaboration. However, there are still some questions the responses to which have not been found in the literature consulted. Hence, further research should focus on finding answers to the following questions:

  • How can collaboration on environmental issues promote states’ positive relationships in other spheres (such as economic and political)?
  • What is the connection between cooperation in the sphere of education and migration?
  • Why do some countries change their aid cooperation from the bilateral to plurilateral type?


The review of literature has allowed identifying the most crucial topics in relation to interstate cooperation. It has been found that many states are quite successful at coexisting and solving common issues in the spheres of geography, environment, politics, and security. At the same time, more attention is required to the aspects of collaboration in the dimensions of international education and migration issues. Based on the reviewed scholarly studies, questions for further research have been identified. The literature review has served as a solid basis for investigating the research question, “Why do states cooperate?”


  1. Abbott, Kenneth W., and Duncan Snidal. 1998. “Why States Act through Formal International Organizations.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 42, no. 1: 3–32.
  2. Bensahel, Nora. 2006. “A Coalition of Coalitions: International Cooperation Against Terrorism.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 29, no. 1: 35–49.
  3. Bilder, Richard. 2000. “Beyond Compliance: Helping Nations Cooperate.” In Commitment and Compliance: The Role of Non-Binding Norms in the International Legal System, edited by Dinah Shelton, 65–73. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  4. Hallock, Stephanie A. 1993. “Why States Cooperate: International Environmental Issues.” Master’s Thesis, Virginia State University. Web.
  5. Jägerskog, Anders. 2003. Why States Cooperate over Shared Water: The Water Negotiations in the Jordan River Basin. Linköping: Linköping University.
  6. Kitamura, Yuto. 2007. “The Political Dimensions of International Cooperation in Education: Mechanisms of Global Governance to Promote Education for All.” International Perspectives on Education and Society 8: 31–72.
  7. Oosterveld, Valerie, Mike Perry, and John McManus. 2001. “The Cooperation of States with the International Criminal Court.” Fordham International Law Journal 25, no. 3: 767–839.
  8. Peimani, Hooman. 1998. Regional Security and the Future of Central Asia: The Competition of Iran, Turkey, and Russia. Santa Barbara: Praeger.
  9. Sykes, Alan O. 2013. “International Cooperation and Migration: Theory and Practice.” University of Chicago Law Review 80, no. 1: 315–339.
  10. Tsingou, Eleni. 2014. “How States Cooperate: Choosing from the Menu of Institutional Options.” International Studies Review 16, no. 4: 671–672.
  11. Vogele, William B. 1994. Stepping Back: Nuclear Arms Control and the End of the Cold War. Santa Barbara: Praeger.
  12. Zhang, Denghua. 2017. “Why Cooperate with Others? Demystifying China’s Trilateral Aid Cooperation.” The Pacific Review 30, no. 5: 750–768.

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DemoEssays. "International Organizations and Interstate Cooperation." January 3, 2023.