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Vibin Lakshmanan asked: Can zero-sum game explain the mix of conflict and cooperation in the present dynamics of international relations?

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  • Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: The zero-sum game essentially means gain for one of the players and loss for the other. It was long believed in the true tradition of realism that international relations are conducted in an environment of anarchy, where each actor is constantly working towards maximisation of its power and realisation of its interests. However, international politics, as it evolved over the years, has become more and more complex. While states' pursuit of their interest remains a constant, their action is often dictated by their own realisation of the constraints on their behaviour— lack of resources, expertise, technological know-how, etc. This has led states to engage with one another with a view to both sharing and accessing resources, learning from each other and improving their condition and status at the global level. Consequently, the states find themselves in a complex web of relationship with one another which makes them networked in a world of '"complex interdependence", a phrase popularised by Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye. This state of international relations reduces the effects of anarchy which is a state of war of each against all.

    While cooperation is increasingly becoming the norm as far as international relations are concerned, the possibility of conflicts engendered by realist power-play remains especially amongst states who stick to their crass realism in their behaviour, unable to adapt to the changing nature of international politics.