Security Dilemma: Meaning and Analysis

According to some experts in the field of international affairs, the security issue is the primary reason for wars between nations. They believe each country must assume responsibility for its defense because there are no legal monopolies of conflict and no global government. Because of this, ensuring a state's safety is its priority.

Nevertheless, many of the steps used to achieve that aim, including purchasing weapons and developing new military tech, would inevitably reduce the protection of other governments. The creation of a dilemma is optional to mitigate security for other nations, but if a state reduces its security, the other countries will likely do the same.

What is Internal Security Dilemma?

The security dilemma occurs when a state's attempts to improve its security result in responses from other states, resulting in a reduction rather than an improvement in that country's security. Some experts see the security problem in the field as the primary catalyst for international tensions. It is argued that since there is no legal concentration of violence in global politics, each country must ensure its safety and existence.

This is why providing a state's safety ranks as the highest priority. Many of the measures governments take to strengthen their security, like weapons purchases and the creation of new military technology, will undermine the safety of everyone else, even if states concentrate only on this aim and do not intend to injure others. A state may not be bound if it reduces its citizens' security, whereas, in an anarchic system, other governments are likely to comply if one state is armed.

History of Security Dilemma

Herbert Butterfield originally articulated the reasoning behind the security problem in 1949. John Hertz first used the word in 1950. Supporters of the word do not regard it as bound to a particular historical period, even if it seems to fit exceptionally perfectly with the military struggle between the United USA and the Soviet Union during the Civil War. Instead, it illustrates the cruel irony of world affairs: even when states work for peace in the region, violent conflict often ensues. Therefore, conflict may arise even if all nations are status quo powers seeking only peace and stability due to the anxiety and insecurity resulting from the global system's anarchy nature.

So-called realist theory, also known as magic realism, holds that international law is a self-help framework where nations must prioritize their interests to optimize their likelihood of survival and protection in a world of increasing anarchy. In particular, this so-called critical theory relies heavily on the security dilemma reasoning. Defensive realists argue that governments should prioritize stability within the international system above growth to optimize their chances of peace and security. However, academics from different theoretical schools have identified security predicament logic from their respective unique vantage points and offered suggestions for overcoming it to build a better, more peaceful society.

Discussion between Governments

The severity of the security problem may also vary depending on the nature of the governing system in place. Even while democracies fight often, they seldom fight other democrats. Security spirals may get out of hand when two authoritarian governments confront one other or when a democracy and an autocracy do so. This is because each side sees the other's action as potentially dangerous. However, this is very unusual when two democracies go head to head.

There are two reasons why modern democratic states are so successful. To begin, when observed from outside of the nation, the policy procedures of liberal democracies are relatively open. Parliamentary discussions are often available to the public (and sometimes even broadcast), as well as opposition groups from outside the state, the journalists, and lobby groups work together to guarantee that few significant government choices are made without scrutiny as well as national discussion.

Second, democratic nations are less likely to go to war because established norms and procedures constrain them. For specific policies, the bar is set very high, restraining the officials and sending a message to the broader world that judgments cannot be undertaken without forewarning. These two features of contemporary liberal democracies help ease the security problem by lowering fear. According to Charles Lipson's summation, democracies are better equipped to collaborate, develop trust, and avert conflict as their citizens get a more realistic view of the opposing side.

Military Dilemmas

There is far less war between nations now than there has been for most of human history. Concurrently, war resulting from weak and failing countries is becoming a significant contributor to insecurity in many regions of the globe. While this new reality may appear at odds with the concept of unitary state players mired in a military conflict inside a chaotic international system, some academics maintain that the stability dilemma's underlying logic could still apply.

Transparency in the System

In today's complex foreign relations, disclosure is a systemic level element for peace, conflict avoidance, and intelligence sharing. This assumption is supported by the few published studies that examine the link between openness and safety in international interactions. Researchers, for instance, have compared the effectiveness of the balance and coalition of powers security frameworks in simulating a stable world order.

Jervis argues that the high levels of communication and openness in the concert system increase the likelihood of military cooperation. That said, the balance of power does not have such a one-to-one relationship. Since 1815, politicians have understood that communicating openly and honestly improves the prospects of continuing collaboration. To this purpose, they often disclosed their plans to others, even if they knew the recipients disapproved of the conduct, sacrificing the potential benefits of surprise. The periodic gatherings of the world's superpowers served in part to accomplish this. If all countries were aware of each other's strategies, they might avoid the frequent error of overestimating the danger they perceive from their neighbors.


The last fascinating idea is the role of internal politics, namely regime kind, in the security dilemma. Even though unique literature of neoclassical idealism has emerged in response to the rising recognition of the importance of domestic affairs in affecting state conduct, significant connections have yet to be made between this literature and the realist theory.

Similarly, the book on Washington consensus has failed to draw any critical link with the security dilemma literature, even though proponents of democracy have long contended that democratic processes prevent conflict among republics by resolving the security dilemma. For example, some think the security issue worsens because authoritarian regimes keep their decision-making processes secret.

Updated on: 13-Mar-2023


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