Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 September 2009
In its nearly sixty years of existence the Arab League has achieved a relatively low level of cooperation. Although the League has had a measure of influence in socializing some Arab elites, it has fallen short in changing state preferences, in forcing significant adjustment of prior policies, or in achieving a pan-Arab blueprint to guide their collective behavior. At the same time, to the extent the League was designed to enhance state sovereignty, it has certainly succeeded in doing so. Prima facie, this relatively limited cooperation is something of a surprise for several reasons. First, the League of Arab States was the first regional organization established after 1945. Second, its members share a common language, identity, and culture. Third, there is an arguable shared threat in Israel and continuing suspicions of the West. Fourth, there have been expectations of joint gains from trade and commerce, although similar production patterns detracted from benefits achievable through complementarity. Such shared identities and interests would surely place the Arab states system high on most predictors of regional institutionalization. Yet, the most that can be said is that a shared Arab identity keeps Arab states oriented toward one another, but obstacles toward meaningful institutionalization and cooperation of any depth have never been surmounted.
Why such disappointing results? We reject several conventional explanations for sub-Pareto outcomes and failure to cooperate.