This paper explores the prisoner’s dilemma in the context of interactions between Libya’s Tripoli- and Tobruk-led actors in the period between Gaddafi’s 2011 ousting and the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement. In so doing, it reveals the extent to which Libyan decisions aligned with the game’s principal outcome-maximizing strategy to ascertain authority and a non-outcome-maximizing strategy’s conflict resolution-through-cooperation goal. In contrast to the game’s assumptions, however, the findings convey how negotiations between the two players were driven by contextual factors, predominantly: Libya’s historical makeup, internal–external links, and hydrocarbon control. This informs my contention that the complexities of the Libya case study demonstrate the limits of the prisoner’s dilemma in illuminating the dynamics of a given political phenomenon. As a result, this account presents a novel Libya-specific blueprint of the prisoner’s dilemma that highlights the limitations of this framework and concludes with a reflection on what this means for understanding this type of game.

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