The security dilemma , also referred to as the spiral model , is a term used in international relations and 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. The term was coined by the German scholar John H. Herz in his book Political Realism and Political Idealism. At the same time British historian Herbert Butterfield described the same situation in his History and Human Relations , but referred to it as the "absolute predicament and irreducible dilemma".
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Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I even say who wrote them.
If you have more recent summaries to add to this collection, send them my way I guess. Sorry for the ads; they cover the costs of keeping this online. Anarchy and the security dilemma make cooperation seemingly impossible. Why would states cooperate anyway? Presumably, there must be some mechanism which allows states to bind themselves and partners not to "defect," or at least some mechanism by which to detect defection early enough to respond appropriately. Using these two variables he creates a two-by-two matrix with four possible strategic environments:.
This world is very dangerous because countries have an incentive to take offensive action to increase their security and they have an inherent mistrust of each other because they cannot determine their neighbors' intentions from their actions.
The security dilemma is strong in this environment. The security dilemma will exist in this world, but the defensive advantage will give countries an incentive to invest in primarily defensive capabilities.
Security needs could be compatible. The security dilemma will not operate in this environment, but countries will have an incentive to use offensive action to protect themselves. Status-quo states can differentiate themselves from aggressors and there will likely be warning of an aggressors' intentions. This is the safest possible environment. In this situation the security dilemma does not have a significant influence because actors can differentiate between types when analyzing their counterparts.
Additionally, the advantage given to defense will cause nations to invest greater resources in defensive capabilities that do not threaten their neighbors. If defense is stronger then the security dilemma doesn't operate as powerfully, if offense has an advantage over defense then the security dilemma becomes more acute.
SLBMs, on the other hand, are clearly defensive since they are less accurate. So if we reduced ICBM numbers and relied instead on SLBMs, we could eliminate the security dilemma assuming, of course, that both sides are status quo powers. In a mutual defection scenario, the actors must pay the costs of war and the opportunity costs of the lack of coordination. Because states are aware of this, anarchy encourages behavior that leaves all concerned worse off than they could be, even in the extreme case in which all states would like to freeze the status quo.
This is true of the men in Rousseau's "Stag Hunt. Wikisum home : Index of all summaries by title , by author , or by subject.
Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I even say who wrote them. If you have more recent summaries to add to this collection, send them my way I guess. Sorry for the ads; they cover the costs of keeping this online. Anarchy and the security dilemma make cooperation seemingly impossible.
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