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The Security Dilemma and How It Can Be Solved

Can the security dilemma ever be solved?

The Security Dilemma is one of the most important concepts in international relations and is a huge source of conflict between states. There have been many writers of the security dilemma like Ken Booth, Nicholas Wheeler and "Herbert butterfield who first mentioned about the security dilemma in 1949, but it was John H. Herz that had brainstormed the concept of the security dilemma." John H. Herz refers to the security dilemma as, “Groups and individuals who live alongside each other without being organized into a higher unity... must be... concerned about their security from being attacked, subjected, dominated, or annihilated by other groups and individuals. Striving to attain security from such attacks, they are driven to acquire more and more power in order to escape the effects of the power of others. This, in turn, renders the others more insecure and compels them to prepare for the worst. Because no state can ever feel entirely secure in such a world of competing units, power competition ensues, and the vicious circle of security and power accumulation is on.” This is essentially what happened throughout the cold between NATO and the WARSAW pact. The security dilemma is a cause for tensions and is a cause for conflicts to break out. So, what is the security dilemma and how can it be solved to prevent tensions from raising and be able to keep the peace. I will be discovering what the security dilemma is and if there are any solutions that can help solve the security dilemma.

In my own words the security dilemma, is when a state decides to increase its security, but for another state, this causes the predicament on whether this increase of military power, is for defensive or for offensive purposes. The state must decide whether to act and increase its own security to be able to keep the balance of power. If they choose to keep the balance of power this may result in a security spiral, causing an arms race and increase in tensions which can potentially lead to war or one state unable to compete and lead to an economic disaster for one of the states. The other option for the state is to launch a pre-emptive attack to prevent the arming of the state to gain hegemony to protect its security and to prevent the state from upsetting the balance of power in the first place. The security Dilemma is essentially the linchpin to the defensive and offensive realism. "For defensive realists it is the security dilemma that makes possible genuine cooperation between states— beyond a fleeting alliance in the face of a common foe." "For offensive realists, however, the security dilemma makes war inevitable and rational." Defensive realism comes from the ideas of Kenneth Waltz in his book the Theory of international politics. Waltz argues that the anarchical structure of the international system encourages states to maintain moderate and reserved policies to attain security. Waltz is saying here that states must keep the balance of power for there to be a strong security between nations. States will keep the balance of power and attain security for basic motive of survival of the state. Mearsheimer has been a prominent participant for the offensive realism argument. States will try to “maximize their relative power” to be able to gain hegemony. Offensive realism is to seek power and influence to achieve dominance and hegemony for their own security. Removing that fear and placing that fear on others secures your own survival. Both offensive and defensive realism is an element in the relations of states in the security dilemma.

The security Dilemma involves a "two-level strategic predicament," a "dilemma of interpretation" (D of I) and a "dilemma of response" (D of R). Dilemma of interpretation happens when the military preparation of one state creates and unresolvable situation for another states as to whether these military preparations are for defensive or offensive preparations which leads back to the offensive and defensive realism. The dilemma of response is when the state needs to decide if to react to the dilemma of interpretation which means that they will either increase its own military power or will try to signal the other state for reassurance to the increase of preparations. The dilemma of response is crucial to get right because tensions can get worse if the response is not the right decision. Trying to reassure can be dangerous in case the other actor is aggressive and takes advantage of the unpreparedness of the state. If the state responds in kind this can cause a spiral of mutual hostility as both sides experience an interlink of the dilemma of response and interpretation. The consequence of the hostility between the two states leads to the security paradox. The security paradox is the idea that each state seeks to act to enhance its security, but through its actions it makes itself less secure.

Three of the most important theorists of the security dilemma are Butterfield, Herz and Jervis. Butterfield who is the first person to ever to mention the security dilemma believes that, states can be driven to war because of the security dilemma, even though they do not want to harm each other. Butterfield’s writings contain six propositions about security dilemma: firstly its ultimate source is fear, which is derived from the “universal sin of humanity”; secondly it requires uncertainty over others’ intentions; thirdly it is unintentional in origin; next it produces tragic results; also it can be exacerbated by psychological factors; and finally it is the fundamental cause of all human conflicts. Herz also has six aspects of the security dilemma which entail: firstly he says the ultimate source of the security dilemma is anarchy—the lack of “a higher unity”; secondly an immediate cause of the security dilemma is states’ uncertainty and fears about each other’s intentions to do harm under anarchy; thirdly, states’ means of self-help—trying to escape from the security dilemma by accumulating more and more power—generates a cycle of power competition; also states’ attempt to escape from the security dilemma by accumulating more and more power may not increase their security at all, becoming self-defeating and even tragic; next he says the security dilemma can cause war, but is not the cause of all wars; and finally the dynamic of the security dilemma is a self-reinforcing “vicious cycle.” Robert Jervis had very similar ideas on what is the security dilemma. He has seven aspects of the security dilemma which are: firstly the security dilemma is structural in origin; secondly states’ uncertainty and fears about each other’s present and future intentions is crucial for forming and maintaining the security dilemma; thirdly it is caused by defensive actions, thus unintentional; next he says that it tends to produce unintended and self-defeating results—that is, decreases in one’s own security; also it tends to produce unintended and tragic results—that is, war; then he says the security dilemma can cause war, but is not the cause of all wars; and finally the dynamic of the security dilemma is self-reinforcing and resembles a spiral. All three writers of the security dilemma have some overlapping agreements with each other but not all three completely agree with to the same factors as each other. The major thing they have in common apart from Butterfield is that the security dilemma is anarchic in nature.

All states are in an environment of anarchy due to the lack of a world government controlling all states. Marc Trachtenberg who is a professor of political science says, “the logic of the security dilemma . . . applies to all states in the system.” Which he is referring to the fact that the security dilemma is the inevitable consequence of anarchy. In the anarchic system states must look after themselves and with that they will accumulate power, especially military power, to be able to defend themselves against foreign threats. But due to this anarchic nature, each state has no idea on each other’s intentions which hence leads to the dilemma of interpretation. With no world government to be sure on their intentions the security dilemma will persist between states.

There have been many ideas on how the problem of the security dilemma can be solved but can they realistically work? Idea of a global NATO, a world government and improved communications of intelligence between states are idea that have been brought forward to escape the security dilemma. But can they help to escape the security dilemma, and can they realistically be achieved. The idea of having a world government is an idea to fix the route cause that many people believe cause the security dilemma which is anarchy. Having a world government to control all states on their actions will eliminate the anarchic nature that we live in. A government would be able to control the actions of states which could potentially eliminate the security dilemma through nuclear disarmament, a state would not be able to proceed with any military activities without the world government knowing, so it will eliminate not knowing the intentions of each other. This will also help to share ideas, technology and wealth around the world which in turn will lead to a more peaceful and prosperous world. But can this realistically work? I do not believe that It can work in the short term. Many states are still unwilling to be part of an integrated world and with many states not trusting each other this can be very hard to achieve.

A global NATO is an idea which Is be promoted by many people. They believe that to get rid of the security dilemma, states need to integrate its militaries of the world into a common defence organisation like a global NATO. The first step would be to bring Russia into NATO. This would mean that Russia could be a member, with all the benefits, as long as it would comply with the joint decisions (or abstain from joint actions, as currently some members do, but not act against them). It would have an equal say in the decisions, though, like all other members. Russia sees NATO as a threat so for Russia to join NATO will just be impossible for them because they will not join something that is a threat to them. Cornelia Beyer a lecturer at the university of hull has argued that Russia and China might start to balance against the West if the West will not integrate them sufficiently into the new world order. An example of how this may work if Russia and many other states joined NATO, would be very similar to what we have seen with Germany when they was included in NATO originally to prevent a future threat from Germany to European states and especially France. This approach to solving the security dilemma is a long-term perspective and will take a long time to integrate Russia and the many other states. If this was to be successful NATO could develop into a policing role like the UN blue-helmets. NATO would have a nonviolent role, but it will not solve civil wars and terrorism, but NATO can act as an early warning system into possible civil wars and NATO can quickly react to prevent an escalation.

Improved communication and cooperation between states is another good short term solution to the problem of the security dilemma. The Arms race provides a good example of the problem of cooperation. On the one hand, if all governments spends a lot of money on military forces, no government gains any additional security or is better able to influence others. Thus, countries are better off if they can somehow all agree to refrain from engaging in a military build-up—they will enjoy the same level of security without an arms race as they do with an arms race, but without an arms race each country saves the resources it otherwise dedicates to the military. So there is more gains to have if both states cooperate with each other. We have seen how strategic interaction in the anarchic international system creates incentives for governments to enter an arms race and complicates their abilities to effectively end arms races. We have seen this play out between the US and USSR when they have both decided not to cooperate between each other. Both sides decided to build nuclear weapons and because of this they have both ended up worse than they would have been if they had cooperated and would have limited their nuclear weapons, meaning they can use their recourses elsewhere. But since the cold war they have cooperated and have reduced the amount of nuclear they yield which has gave both states the chance to use their resources and money for other areas, but this doesn’t completely solve the security dilemma indefinitely and the security dilemma can arise at any point.

The ultimate source of the security dilemma is the anarchic nature of international politics. Under anarchy, states cannot be certain about each other’s intentions in the present and in the future and as a result of this dilemma, and this tends to scare states and fear each other. The security dilemma is unintentional in its origin and the security dilemma exists when two states are in a spiral of arms race to which neither know of each others intentions. Can the security dilemma be solved? In the short term, I do not believe it can be solved and many of the ideas on how to solve it can only really be achieved in the long term, but it will be very difficult to achieve a state where the security dilemma can be solved. I think the best idea is to have a world government, but this cannot be a realistic solution while state still do not trust each other. States will need to start communicating with each other gaining trust with each other and all states need to embrace democracy and multiculturalism, before a world government can potentially be a reality. International policies and other practises can help improve relations and how they react with each. The security dilemma may not be possible to escape as a logical problem but may be weakened, however dilemma can be intensified by states failing to see themselves as others do and therefore underestimating other states’ security dilemmas. Thus, while there is hardly any prospect of escaping the security dilemma with traditional ways of thinking in the short term, it can be weakened which will help reduce the risk of any escalations. But overall achieving a solution will only happen in the long term and when all nations are willing to integrate with each other for the better.

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