The Security Dilemma

The two most famous strands of international relations theory – realism and liberalism – dictate that the international system is characterised by ‘anarchy’.

In 1951 John Herz published a book entitled Political Realism and Political Idealism in which he coined the famous term ‘The Security Dilemma’.

“A structural notion in which the self-help attempts of states to look after their security needs tend, regardless of intention, to lead to rising insecurity for others as each interprets its own measures as defensive and measures of others as potentially threatening”

– John Herz

In practical terms, the security dilemma refers to a situation in which, under anarchy, actions by a state intended to heighten its security, such as increasing its military strength, committing to use weapons or making alliances, can lead other states to respond with similar measures, producing increased tensions that create conflict, even when no side really desires it.

Herz labels this as an “absolute predicament and irreducible dilemma”.

This is an absurd situation for logical humans to find themselves in, yet we see it more than ever with the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the advancement of military capability through technology in the 21st century.

Not only is this absurd, but with the existential risks of modern day weaponry it is downright stupid. The hope is that globalisation will promote worldwide channels of communication to such an extent that, a few decades from now, dilemmas such as these will have become laughably outdated.

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