Russia’s Security Dilemma


by Spencer

There is a concept in realist international relations theory called the “security dilemma.” Among other things, this refers to the inherent problem in international politics wherein state actions taken purely for defensive motivations almost always appear offensive in the eyes of other states. Take, for example, Chinese defense spending this year: it rose by about 12%. In the eyes of China, this is a necessary precaution to counter the United States’ “pivot to Asia.” In the eyes of the United States, this is an aggressive move meant to further Chinese control in the South China Sea. Therein lies the dilemma: the Chinese think they are being reasonable and defensive, the United States thinks they’re being aggressive and provocative. This is just one illustration of the problem; another is Russia’s intervention in Crimea. When considering said intervention, we must keep the security dilemma in mind.

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