Harmony, Cooperation and Discord

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The basic status of relations between states in the international realm is a vital first step to understanding more complex relationships and potential policy decisions. According to Keohane, whether a state of harmony, cooperation or discord exists between or among a given number of states centers on the question of whether states view other actors’ policies as furthering the attainment of their own goals. Practically speaking, international regimes and their compliance levels are helpful indicators of the presence of harmony, cooperation or discord. Finally, as today’s world is potentially moving away from a hegemonic model and towards a more balanced international power distribution, this discussion of the status of relations between states is especially pertinent.

Complete harmony in the international arena is extremely rare, and perhaps only feasible in a perfect world. Nonetheless, harmony exists when states who are acting in their own interest by consequence happen to also benefit other states in the pursuit of their own goals. If one state’s policies are viewed by other actors as hindering the pursuit of their goals, then harmony will not exist, but rather cooperation or discord. The distinction between the latter two is whether attempts are made by the unpopular actor to modify their policies. If no attempts are made, discord is the result. If attempts are made and all actors’ policies become “significantly more compatible” then cooperation ensues (Keohane, 53). If not, discord is again the result.[1]

Keohane is careful to clearly differentiate between harmony and cooperation and, for him, these two notions are incompatible. Students of IR and IPE should therefore use both with caution. By insisting on that difference, Keohane is not only clarifying a lexical subtlety but also making what James Morrison would call an "elegant" move, that is anticipating the Realist criticism of his argument. Yes, International Regimes do make sense in a "self-help system".[2] Indeed, because harmony can hardly be hoped for in such a system, there is a need for institutions that will foster and facilitate cooperation among states.


  1. Keohane, Robert O. After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.
  2. Waltz, Kenneth Neal. Theory of International Politics. Reading: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1979, pp 103-104.