Introduction to International Relations

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Last updated: April 11, 2019

The concept of the Security Dilemma asserts that in an anarchical international system, states will take actions that will make their state more secure, while concurrently–and unintentionally–menacing other states and making them less secure. Prior to discussing the Security Dilemma, it is necessary to evaluate why states are inclined to pursue power–and what the implications of pursuing such power are–by taking the perspective of a structural realist.Then, by evaluating two other schools of international relations theory–in this case, Liberal Institutionalism and The Democratic Peace Theory–one came come to a more informed understanding of ways to mitigate the Security Dilemma, and apply it to the current Indo-Pakistani relations. According to structural realists, the Security Dilemma is the situation in which nations take actions for the enhancement of its security, which eventually cause other states to respond with similar procedures because they sense a threat.

These reciprocated actions result in tensions that can lead to conflict, even if neither of the nations intended to intimidate the other. Because of this, the Security Dilemma implies that a state cannot increase its national security–whether by increasing its military force, or developing atomic weaponry–without offending other nations: other nations will, by default, feel threatened and counter the actions. The reason for the occurrence of the Security Dilemma is because in an anarchical system, states will pursue “self-help,” to guarantee their survival.According to structural realists, anarchy causes states to act in a way that ensures benefit and security for themselves; however, this school of theory believes that there are ways to mitigate anarchy and the Security Dilemma. Despite the structural realist belief that the Security Dilemma can be mitigated by Game Theory and offense/defense differentiation, classical realists have a different view: this school believes that the Security Dilemma cannot be mitigated because states will always take actions to gain power, even if it offends other states.Morgenthau, a figure of the school of classical realism, believed that power was the only goal of nations; therefore, classical realism concludes that the Security Dilemma could not be mitigated because all states seek to do is dominate and obtain power1. These theorists also conclude that anarchy and human nature causes states to be inherently conflicting with other states, and that all states want to maximize their power. Because states are so uncertain of each other’s intentions, they will always take actions that will keep them at the same level of security as other states, promoting the inevitable Security Dilemma.

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Though sharing similar assumptions about the pervasive effect of anarchy on the international system, scholars of Liberal Institutionalism take a different standpoint on the ability for the mitigation of the Security Dilemma. These theorists believe that institutions can foster cooperation because they allow for states to realize the other’s intentions. Essentially, institutions allow states to increase their security, without threatening other states in the process.By being members of institutions such as treaty and trading organizations, states must follow sets of rules and behaviors; therefore, states would cooperate for risk of being kicked out of the institution, and losing power on the international front.

States participating in the institution provide clarity and a clear outline of their expectations and intentions. If the states within the institution have conflicting interests, Liberal Institutionalism states that cooperation is the best option for the both of them: not cooperating would lead to security competition2.Because institutions’ purpose is to foster cooperation, mediation could occur between conflicting states, which would resolve problems before they escalate.

Therefore, the Security Dilemma can be mitigated through Liberal Institutionalism because it allows for trustworthy relationships between states because the states have the ability clarify that they do not have offensive intentions. Similar to Liberal Institutionalism, which states that cooperation can occur if conflicting states are in the same institution, The Democratic Peace theory asserts that states will cooperate if they are both democracies.In theory, if all states were democracies, the Security Dilemma would not occur in international relations because democracies do not go to war with each other–therefore, they would have no reason to increase their defense. According to the theory, democracies are better able to communicate with other democracies, which would solve the Security Dilemma between to potentially conflicting nations. In pertinence to the rivalry between Pakistan and India, Liberal Institutionalism and The Democratic Peace theory could have reduced the security dilemma between the two nations.Because the two nations have a history of disagreement–particularly disagreement over the Kashmir territory–they are suitable models for the application of both theories.

Liberal Institutionalism would have had the ability to reduce security competition and land disputes because the two states would have had a mediator that would have promoted cooperation. In fact, this occurred when the United Nations interfered with the situation due to Pakistan’s belligerent military and terrorist tactics.Had this not occurred, the security dilemma between the two nations would have persisted because they would not have had anyone to mediate their conflict. Also, Liberal Institutionalism would have allowed for the two states to make compromises on the land disputes, which would have prevented the resorting to military force and offending the other state.

If applying Liberal Institutionalism to reduce the security dilemma did not work, The Democratic Peace theory could have been applied.Because neither of the nations is democratic, their intentions cannot be clearly conveyed, thereby enabling the security dilemma to occur. After experiencing a stage of uneasiness during a democratic transition, the two nations would be able to communicate more effectively and foster peace about the land disputes and other conflicts. Essentially, delving into these theories–and other international relations theories–can allow for a better understanding of how nations interact when faced with the Security Dilemma.

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