At the turn of the century, international relations are faced with a stream of extremely fast and unexpected changes, which cannot always be explained. Familiar theoretical postulates, categories, and concepts, which influenced the experts in prior periods, do not always work in the new environment. In the last quarter of a century nuclear superpowers, which demanded to give them the strength, were twice defeated by the states. International terrorism, in general representing the non-governmental structures, managed (albeit briefly) to paralyze the powerful countries of the modern world, and broke the Warsaw Pact, aimed at repulsing the attacks of the external enemy. However, NATO, which was similarly oriented, was preserved and reformed. The appearance of the world strength pole, represented by superior power of the state (and its associations), led to the creation of coalitions that can balance the power pole. However, with the emergence of a unipolar world (represented, mainly, by the United States), there were no attempts to restore the equilibrium of the world, as it happened in the past, when the Entente opposed the Triple Alliance, and the anti-Hitler coalition was created to fight against the Axis countries.


Politicians have been discouraged by the fact that their foreign policy schemes, designed on the basis of the past (trusted) historical experience, led to results far from expected. The unpredictability and complexity, coupled with the rapid pace of change, have created a difficult situation for both government officials and experts. Under these conditions, the government was doomed to making errors due to the incorrect perception and understanding of reality, while experts could not avoid giving objectionable (ill-conceived) recommendations. Meanwhile, the control over the external environment (global processes) was lost not only due to the inadequate response of national governments, but also because of the critical state of international relations themselves. Therefore, this paper is aimed at regarding the key particularities of such a term as “security dilemma.” To do this, it is significant to go through the essence of international relations in terms of peace, military intervention, and weapons.

The internal policy of the state is executed under the presence of the central government, its vertical hierarchical structures, and the existence of laws and codes of conduct, mandatory for all citizens and organizations. These rules are of public and legal character. They appeared because of the need to subordinate private (natural) will of individuals, social groups, and interests of the society. Hence, it is inevitable for the state to introduce legal coercion and subordination. Power ensures compliance with rules of conduct and laws, which in some cases involves the use of a legitimate violence. Moreover, it is taken for granted, as a form of social contract between the rulers and the ruled.

When regarding the essence of the security dilemma, it is necessary to bear in mind that, in contrast to the internal policy, the international one is implemented in an environment, where there is a higher (central) control authority, which would make its judgments on the legality of actions of the subjects of international relations, having power above all the states. Consequently, in this environment there is the guarantor of peaceful coexistence and so-called 'moral behavior.' The state has a monopoly on political power only within its national borders. Beyond them, it is one of many formally equal and politically independent entities. In this environment there is no permanent establishment with the power to stand above the individual states and the authority to impose laws (regulations) on their behavior or to settle their disputes.

This is the essence of the “security dilemma” that occurs in each country. In an effort to increase (multiply) its safety, the state, without even wanting it, may take steps to objectively affect (undermine) the security of other countries. It forces them to take countermeasures, neutralizing the actions of other states, including those that may pose a threat to them, or those that are seen as probable to do that. Accordingly, a state may feel the need to take additional steps, which in their turn can trigger new countermeasures, and so on ad infinitum. The nature and the key principles of the “security dilemma” suggest that the action-reaction spiral can involve two or more countries in such a way that each of them, spending large sums on all kinds of weapons, does not increase the level of its security but, in fact, may even reduce it. All processes evolve faster, but security either remains the same or decreases. It increases the unpredictability and uncertainty of the natural environment.

The arms race, which was run by the Soviet Union and the United States during the cold war, clearly confirms this conclusion. The NATO leaders believe that the expansion of the Union to the East is a movement towards the establishment of a comprehensive security from Vancouver to Vladivostok. However, many Russian politicians see NATO’s expansion to the East as only a process of approaching its powerful forces to the borders of Russia, despite the fact that the Union for a half-century of its existence did not conduct any military operations against Moscow or its allies. It is true and important that it does not matter how normal or friendly relations between China and Russia are today, because the latter cannot ignore the fact that it borders with a state that is capable of putting an army of 200 million soldiers in the event of war. However, historical experience is not only alarming, but it as well instills certain optimism. Canada, for instance, is hardly concerned about the military power of its neighbor, the United States. Therefore, safety is established not only due to the ability to counter the threat, but also because of something else that goes beyond the traditional military readiness (Magagna).

Meanwhile, the presence of “security dilemma,” in conditions of an uncontrolled international environment, creates a situation, in which the desire of politicians to protect national interests may lead to a collision, even if all parties want to avoid it. However, the fact that countries are involved into conflicts or even wars involuntarily does not mean that they will never seek war. “Security dilemma” can explain why some wars appear, but cannot find reasons for all of them.

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The management of international relations by the rules (political commitments) also comes from ancient times, when the states needed to somehow codify their interaction. In this respect the norms in the international arena are a set of rules of conduct of the states in the outside world in general and in relation to each other in certain situations (mainly conflicts), as well as in relation to the problems that arise between particular countries. However, the outside world has never been predominant through the control standards. Only in the present situation, marked by the processes that seem to interfere in the national borders and sovereignty, defining the behavior of the states with regard to the value criteria, inherent in the 21st century, the system of international relations, which is based on moral and ethical imperatives, can get a chance of success.

In addition, one can speak of a model, based on the power principles of regulating the world (when the power is the main source of influence on the behavior of the states) or of a model of regulatory principles, according to which the behavior of the states in the external sphere is regulated primarily by an appropriate regulatory framework (Doyle 91). If one tries to classify the international relations themselves, taking a particular model of regulating the world as a starting point, there is a reason to analyze the power system of international relations and their regulatory system (Magagna). Incidentally, one of the current differences in the US between the Republicans (mostly conservatives than liberals) and the Democrats (mostly liberals than conservatives) in their approach to the foreign policy is that the first think of international relations primarily in the power perspective, whereas the second view them in normative perspective. In international relations, there is a tendency to hold a sharp distinction between the diplomacy that emphasizes the power factor and the foreign policy, based on values. In other words, one can be either a realist or a supporter of the values, principles, and norms.

Many researchers of the “security dilemma” agree that it is valid only under certain circumstances in a certain world order. Therefore, according to all accepted versions, this theory works effectively in a multipolar world, the most striking proof of which is the development of the world politics in the period from the Peace of Westphalia to the Second World War.

The most obvious manifestation of the dilemma is the development of the events on the eve of the First World War, when, in the absence of the hegemonic power in the world, countries were forced to maneuver in order not to remain in alienation. As a result, they created alliances to ensure their own safety. The dilemma here is that all parties that were joining the alliances were forced to follow certain obligations. Due to the fact that all participants acted according to the same principles, it was guaranteed that if a party does not fulfill an obligation or does not enter into an alliance, others will do the same thing. Therefore, the fear to remain in alienation, forced countries to sacrifice their powers, potentially receiving an optimal benefit or creating situations that are disadvantageous to each state.

However, a spiral of “security dilemma” was spinning increasingly after the creation of alliances. For example, following an agreement between England and France, Germany took a step directed against their interests and immediately began to establish its counter-alliance. This situation was in part the result of aggressive promises of both sides or the wrong interpretation of these promises.

As a result, an unprecedented arms race began due to the incorrect perception of reality (the belief that the privilege of a first strike would lead to a decisive advantage in the upcoming war), so the local provocation has led humanity to one of the largest massacres in history. In the thirties of the 20th century the dilemma worked in the opposite direction. The reluctance and fear of England and France to form a coalition (under the influence of memories from the recent disaster) gave negative signals, so that Hitler’s aggressive politics led them to a situation, when it was not in their power to keep the events under control.

Another distinctive feature of the “security dilemma” is an internal dilemma between the allied countries in a multipolar world, which is called 'alliance game.' Its essence lies in the fact that even the allied countries are forced to use special tactics in relationships with each other in order to avoid a situation, in which a partner has a desire to change the associates and to be sure that in the event of a direct conflict with the enemy they will receive the full support of each other.

The history has shown that many aspects of the dilemma in a bipolar world do not work in a multipolar system (Doyle 25). Hence, the situation was almost impossible during the cold war, when a country has changed its policy and joined the opposite block. However, the “security dilemma” has fully worked between the two opposing blocks, when the arms race has reached its climax.

Now, summarizing the historical aspects of the “security dilemma,” it is necessary to move on to the present day and to consider the situation that has developed around Iran and its hypothetical nuclear bomb through the prism of the dilemma that has been examined. First of all, there is a need to determine which world system exists in a given period of history. With each passing year it becomes clear that the US has lost the position of the sole hegemony in the world politics. However, the situation is becoming less apparent when we try to focus on a particular region. In general, we can agree that the new multipolarity is an undeniable milestone in world history.

In conclusion, if the Iranian case of a multipolar model is taken as a basis, the following nuances can be seen. On the one hand, there is the alliance of Israel and the United States with the countries of the Persian Gulf, but, on the other hand, the alliance of Iran and Syria can be seen. However, the cooperation between Iran and Syria is not a classic example of the alliance, as there are no serious mutually binding agreements between these two countries. Therefore, it is obvious that in this case “security dilemma” can be considered only in the context of Iran on the one side and Israel and the United States on the other side. In this situation, establishing its own weapons of mass destruction is now a vital necessity for the Islamic Republic, although it is not an optimally effective option. Therefore, there is the awareness of the need to begin to act according to the “security dilemma.”

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