Cooperation between Adversaries: The US and Russia’s Joint Effort against the Islamic State in Syria
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The Syrian civil war has generated international media attention and interest since it broke out in 2011 as an Arab Spring uprising. The local conflict quickly became internationalized with two major coalitions at odds with each other—one supported by the United States and the other by Russia. The Russian coalition has included and backed the Assad regime in Syria, while the American coalition has supported several opposition groups and conducted air strikes against the Syrian government. However, the United States and Russia have managed to work together against a common enemy—the Islamic State. Cooperation is difficult to achieve, even between allies; oftentimes individuals defect in favor of their self-interests instead. Then how have the US and Russia managed to overcome their differences and incentives to defect and cooperate (avoiding war with each other) against the Islamic State? The answer rests in a thorough understanding of game theory and the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma in which the two coalitions find themselves trapped.