Security dilemma

Security dilemma

Security dilemma is a term used in international relations and refers to a situation wherein two or more states are drawn into conflict, possibly even war, over security concerns, even though none of the states actually desire conflict. Any attempt a state makes to increase its own security will cause the other to act in kind thereby actually decreasing its security.

The Term was coined by John H. Herz in his 1951 book "Political Realism and Political Idealism". At the same time British historian Herbert Butterfield also described the same situation in his "History and Human Conditions", but referred to it as the "absolute predicament and irreducible dilemma" [ [ Roe, Paul. The Intrastate Security Dilemma: Ethnic Conflict as a 'Tragedy'? Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 36, No. 2. (Mar., 1999), pp. 183-202. ] ]

A frequently cited example of the security dilemma is the beginning of World War I. Supporters of this viewpoint argue that the major European powers felt forced to go to war by feelings of insecurity over the alliances of their neighbors, despite not actually desiring the war. Furthermore, the time necessary to mobilize large amounts of troops for defense led some Great Powers (such as Russia) to adopt a particularly accelerated mobilization timetable, which in turn put pressure on other states to mobilize early as well. However, other scholars dispute this interpretation of the origins of the war, contending that some of the states involved really "did" want the conflict.

The security dilemma is a popular concept with cognitive and international relations theorists, who regard war as essentially arising from failures of communication. Functionalist theorists affirm that the key to avoiding war is the avoidance of miscommunication through proper signaling.


ee also

*Balance of power in international relations
*Prisoner's dilemma

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