c. relative versus absolute gains

A third feature of transitional justice is that it does not necessarily motivate states to jockey over relative gains, a point that relates in part to whether zero-sum games affect transitional justice decision-making. One of the central cleavages in the “neo-neo debate”18 involves relative versus absolute gains. In considering states’ opportunities to cooperate for shared gain, neorealists claim that states are concerned primarily with relative gains and thus will not cooperate if gains are uneven, while neoliberal institutionalists believe that states focus on absolute gains and thus will cooperate even if gains are une- ven.19 Unlike institutions that promote security or economic development, where the possibility of relative gains is more obvious, there are few tangible profits or other gains to be distributed among the member states of a transitional justice institution. On the other hand, suspected atrocity perpetrators may be concerned about relative gains. A transitional justice system in which some accused atrocity perpetrators enter into plea agreements may help convict other alleged atrocity perpetrators, leaving the latter group worse off. As such, neither neorealists nor neoliberal institutionalists would necessarily be skeptical of cooperation in this issue-area, as long as the operation of the transitional justice process did not depend upon suspected atrocity perpetrators. Even then, though, states would not necessarily incur, and thus would not necessarily be concerned with, their relative or absolute gains merely because suspected atrocity perpetrators’ gains may be uneven.

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