The conventional literature on the commons involves small, local resources such as coastal fisheries, community forestry, small-scale irrigation, and community pasture. We focus on conflict and cooperation in the Caspian Sea – a global commons – involving five claimant countries as well as interests of major powers (the United States, European Union, and China). Building on the work of Stern and Young on the study of conflict and cooperation in global commons, we model the case as a prisoner’s dilemma game with the two different outcomes. In the North Caspian Sea, competing claimant countries – Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan – have agreed to cooperate and solve their differences over ownership of oil fields. In contrast, claimants in the South Caspian Sea – Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkmenistan – have failed to cooperate despite decades of trying. Using analytic narratives, we suggest that politics (or strategic calculations) could help explain these two different outcomes. In making these calculations, countries will act in their rational self-interest, given the prospects of international anarchy. We suggest that this realist account can be partly explained by the convergence of economic interests, geopolitics, and cultural distance. We argue that the study of global commons would benefit from understanding realist theories of international relations.
- Caspian Sea
- Prisoner’s dilemma
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science