Ameliorating the Security Dilemma: Structural and Perceptual Approaches to Strategic Reform

Author/s (editor/s):

Andrew Butfoy

Publication year:


Publication type:

Working paper

Find this publication at:
IR Working Paper 1996/1 (PDF, 3.72MB)

Andrew Butfoy, 'Ameliorating the Security Dilemma: Structural and Perceptual Approaches to Strategic Reform', IR Working Paper 1996/1, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University, April 1996.

According to the international relations literature, the security dilemma poses a significant threat to peace. Much of the literature goes on to suggest that an obvious way to mitigate this threat would be to shift planning towards non-offensive defence. Despite having some merit, there are a couple of weaknesses with the approach. First, it tends to be rather abstract and mechanistic: it tends to be based on the idea that the security dilemma is a product of the structure (rather than the political flux) of the international system. Second, the scope for non-offensive defence to be translated into policy appears to be very limited. In order to move the debate forward, there is a need to focus on the 'socially constructed' nature of the security dilemma. After all, the security dilemma is not universally relevant: it represents only one dimension of the security relationships between some states at particular periods. This suggests that the phenomenon is contingent on political factors and thus might be better dealt with by a greater emphasis on the development of international strategic regimes. These regimes would build on, but not be limited to, the insights of the structural arguments provided by advocates of non-offensive defence; in addition they would also place considerable stress on perceptual and contextual changes in the international strategic environment.

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