In my previous post, I offered the theory that international institutions might serve conflict management functions. This proffer would allow institutions to more readily adapt, and, when adaptation fails, a likely culprit could be recognized in a given crisis.
This led me to consider what really was the difference between crisis management and cooperation, the more widely recognized function of international institutions. I think they are similar, but different in critical ways.
Cooperation is the prearranged agreement that neither party will renege on the commitment, even if a short term option that requires reneging would have a greater benefit. The parties would agree to pass on the short term benefit because a larger benefit awaits in the longer term. The motivation to renege could be because there is a large immediate profit, or because there is a large immediate cost.
Crisis management is a recognition that problems will inevitably arise – it arises from a Realist style view of the world filled with chaos and anarchy and problems, and those problems would clearly affect the way an institution can foster cooperation (I say Realist “style” because there is no place for international institutions in the dog eat dog world of Realism). Crisis management specifically addresses the motivation to renege when there is potentially a large immediate cost, but more than that, it is a recognition that there may be repeated immediate costs to cooperation throughout the life of an institution. These costs to cooperation could be mitigated through institutional adaptation, especially if those costs to cooperation are endogenously caused.
With this distinction in mind, it is not that institutions do not foster cooperation, because the literature is largely settled on that point, but it is a recognition that cooperation can be difficult and that the institutions that facilitate cooperation need another level of cooperation to ensure that the institution can continue and address persistent problems. This “second level of cooperation” is crisis management.