Tag Archives: security dilemma

Expanding Japan’s Defense Forces

The Japanese helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga conducts training operations in 2009.

The Japanese helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga conducts training operations.

A study by the Japanese government concluded that the country should bolster its marine forces and introduce surveillance drones in an effort to expand its naval forces to address emerging regional threats. The report, ordered by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, also proposes improving the country’s defenses against ballistic missile attack and expanding its offensive potential to strike against enemy bases. Because Abe’s party controls both houses of parliament, it is in good position to implement the report’s recommendations after the report is finalized in December.

The report is the latest in a series of moves intended to expand the Japanese military. Earlier this year, Japan announced it would increase military spending by some $2.1 billion, largely to finance the acquisition of new missile interceptors and fighter jets.

The latest report clearly represents a growing concern in the Japanese government about two threats: North Korean ballistic missile technology and the ongoing standoff between Japan and China over the status of the disputed Senkaky/Diaoyu Islands. At the same time, Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution limits the ability of Japan to maintain an armed military force, restricting the country to a self-defense capacity only. The Article was included at the insistence of the United States at the end of World War II. Specifically, Article 9 reads,

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

In reality, Japan maintains a small military force known as the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). But the composition of those forces remains a politically sensitive subject both inside and outside Japan, with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan both asserting that Article 9 permits the maintenance of a military force for self-defense and advocating revision of Article 9 to make that point clearer. Leftist parties, though, argue that the JSDF is unconstitutional and propose dramatic reforms, such as transforming the standing military forces into something more akin to a national militia.

The question of increased military spending raises the specter of an arms race in the region. The challenge—as the security dilemma model suggests—is that increased military spending by one country is often met by increased military spending by others. As a result, the efforts of one country—in this case, Japan—to improve its security position by increasing military spending and capacity may actually be undermined as other countries—in this case, China and North Korea—respond in a similar manner. Security is actually decreased rather than improved as a result.

What do you think? Should Japan expand its military capacity in response to growing tensions in the region? Or does Japanese military growth merely exacerbate existing tensions? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Missile Defense, the Security Dilemma, and Russia-NATO Tensions

Russia tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) last week after NATO confirmed its commitment to building a missile defense system.

At a NATO summit in Chicago last week, members of the 28-country alliance reiterated their commitment to building a missile defense system.  The system would place radars and other anti-missile hardware in Turkey, Romania, Poland, and Spain.  NATO claims the missile “shield” is designed to protect Europe from a ballistic missile launch by a country such as Iran, but Russia–the former Cold War adversary of NATO–alleges that the system is intended to neutralize its missiles and strongly opposes the deployment of such a system.

Going back at least to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972, missile defense has been regarded as a threat to the stability produced by Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).  MAD is the strategy of nuclear deterrence that both the U.S. and the Soviet Union adhered to for much of the Cold War.  This doctrine states that if one side launches a first nuclear strike, the other side will retaliate with unacceptably devastating losses (i.e., if you destroy my country, I’ll destroy yours).  Hence, no rational leader would supposedly contemplate a nuclear strike, knowing this would be tantamount to national suicide.  But a missile defense that reliably prevented nuclear retaliation would upset this balance and tempt its owner to launch a first strike with impunity.  The ABM Treaty prohibited the construction of national missile defense, thereby keeping both the U.S. and Soviet Union vulnerable to retaliation and maintaining MAD. (President George W. Bush pulled out of the ABM Treaty after 9/11, citing the need to develop missile defenses against new threats).

President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was an ambitious attempt to develop a missile shield that would render nuclear missiles obsolete, but it faced serious technical and political obstacles and was never built.  But smaller defenses that can stop a limited number of missiles are more feasible and have been pursued by recent U.S. administrations–and now, NATO.

Even if a missile defense shield does not render its owner immune to retaliation, critics charge that it could increase tensions and provoke enemies to build up their arsenals in an effort to penetrate the shield and maintain their deterrent capability–thus sparking dangerous and unnecessary arms races.  This suggests a security dilemma may be operating here: steps that countries take to make themselves more secure may paradoxically make them less secure.

While it does not appear that the limited system envisioned by NATO could even come to close to threatening the Russian nuclear deterrent (given its thousands of nuclear weapons), if Russia perceives the defense system as a threat then  its responses could make NATO countries less secure.  Thus far Russia’s numerous threats, missile tests, and other saber-rattling efforts indicate NATO may indeed be facing a security dilemma in the context of missile defense.

What do you think?  Is NATO’s planned missile defense a good idea, given the threats faced by Europe and the likely responses of Russia?  Let us know your thoughts by scrolling down and taking the poll on missile defense posted on May 22.

Is War Becoming Obsolete?

Are current conflicts, such as the internal war in Somalia, simply the "remnants of war"?

A new book by Scientific American writer John Horgan has sparked debate with its central thesis that war is not an inevitable feature of human nature but is a cultural invention that can be overcome.  In an interview Corgan compares war to a virus: “Imagine your neighbor is a violent psychopath who is out for blood and land. You, on the other hand, are person who wants peace. You would have few options but to embrace the ways of war for defense. So essentially your neighbor has infected you with war.”  This scenario has much in common with the security dilemma, in which even defensively motivated arms buildups and alliance formation (assume the violent neighbor only wants to protect himself) will provoke “counterbalancing,” raise tensions, and ultimately leave both sides less secure than they were before this spiral began.  This logic of “one bad apple ruining the whole bunch” has also been used by democratic peace theorists to explain how democracies can behave so peacefully toward each other but, when facing an autocratic (and presumably more aggressive) state, their fear of being exploited or “suckered” leads them to act violently and perhaps even preemptively.

As noted realist scholar Stephen Walt points out, Horgan’s argument follows in the tradition of idealist thinkers such as John Mueller, who famously penned a book in 1989 called Retreat from Doomsday: the Obsolescence of Major War.  Mueller’s argument in that book and its sequel, The Remnants of War, is that “major war” (war among the great powers) has very likely come to an end.  This has occurred because the populations of the great powers have rejected war as a means of settling disputes, just as they earlier rejected institutions such as dueling and slavery when these practices came to be seen as uncivilized and reprehensible.  What we are today witnessing, Mueller argues, is the remnants, or the “dregs” of warfare–war not among professional armies controlled by legitimate governments but among thugs frequently running loose in failed states and seeking self-enrichment.

What do you think?  Is war an inevitable feature of human society or is it just an invention that can be overcome?  If it can be overcome, what can policymakers and ordinary citizens do to make this dream a reality?

State Failure, the Security Dilemma, and Libya’s Guns

Libya's interim Prime Minister Abdul Raheem al-Keeb has his hands full trying to establish a functioning government and disarm militias in the country.

An article in today’s New York Times describes a Libyan father’s accidental death at the hands of his son and raises an alarm about the vast arsenal of easily accessible weaponry in post-Qaddafi Libya.  On the night that Qaddafi’s “loathed and feared” son Muatassim was captured by Libyan rebels, the city of Misurata erupted in celebratory gunfire.  Rebel commander Hassan Nahassi, who had just returned home from the battlefront in Sirte in order to spend time with his family, acquiesced to his young boys’ request to fire a rifle in celebration.  His 12-year-old son Ali lost control of the automatic weapon and accidentally shot and killed his father.  Yet the surviving relatives and friends of Mr. Nahassi are not about to give up their weapons:

“Guns, many Libyans say, set them free. And with the future uncertain and memories of persecution fresh, almost no one is yet sure how to give the guns up, even as they acknowledge that much of their former ruler’s arsenal would be better not loose.”

Abdullah Kamal bin Hameda, a 22-year-old nephew of the deceased and now a caretaker in his uncle’s home, is quoted as saying the adults must keep the weapons out of children’s reach, but otherwise must keep them: “It is difficult to put down the guns right now, because I do not know who is my enemy and who is my friend,” Mr. Hameda said. “When we will have a new government, and it is strong and we trust it, then we will give them the guns. But not now, not to the N.T.C. [Transitional National Council, the interim Libyan government].”

Political scientists have pointed out that when governments are unable to provide security (a primary symptom of state failure) people commonly take up arms to defend themselves and their kin.  This frequently leads to the formation of militias along ethnic or sectarian lines, and can spark a security dilemma, whereby one group’s efforts to ensure its security (usually through an arms buildup) reduces the security of other groups, heightens tensions, and ultimately makes the original group less secure.  The security dilemma is more common in international politics, where there is no world government to ensure states’ security (a condition realist scholars call anarchy).  But when states fail, anarchy is produced within states.

Mr. Hameda’s experience is a chilling reminder of how state failure and its attendant security dilemmas can produce tensions and arms races despite people’s best intentions.  He told the New York Times that he “was eager to return to civilian life, and leave war behind.”  However, “he also said he intended to maintain a small armory at his home, where he has five automatic rifles claimed from the defeated Qaddafi forces, until he sees what comes next.  ‘My house is like an army base,’ he said.”

The South China Sea Arms Race

The Financial Times last week carried a story discussing the increasing level of arms purchases by several Southeast Asian states. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Singapore recently placed an order for two new submarines and twelve fighter jets to supplement previous deliveries which included six frigates and 32 fighter aircraft. All told, between 2005 and 2009, Singapore’s spending on arms imports increased 146 percent. Not to be outdone, Indonesia increased its spending by 84 percent, and Malaysia increased its spending by 722 percent (and no, that’s not a typo).Vietnam and Thailand have also announced intensions to increase military spending.

Though many have not publically stated the reason for the increases, most observers point to growing tensions over disputed territories in the South China Sea and dramatic increases in Chinese military spending as the primary causes.

The current South China Sea arms race provides a classic example of the security dilemma [glossary], in international relations. From the perspective of each individual actor, the rational course of action is to increase defense spending in order to facilitate greater security. However, the increase in the armament level of one state leads neighboring states to feel less secure. They therefore increase their own defense spending, leading to a regional arms race. The end result is that, while pursuing rational actions intended to increase their own security individually, all states wind up feeling less secure than they would have felt absent the increase in total military spending.

Russian Missiles and the Obama Doctrine

In a development that some are viewing as Obama’s first foreign policy test, Russia has announced its intention to develop a new missile base along the Polish border.  Financial Times blogger Gideon Rachman has termed it the “Polish Missile Crisis.”  Russian President Dmitri Medvedev made the move in response to the decision of the United States to deploy its missile defense system into Poland and the Czech Republic.

The current crisis is a classic illustration of the security dilemma, in which an action intended to improve the security of one state cause another state to fear for their own security and therefore respond in way that undermines the security of both states.  In other words, states behaving rationally in the pursuit of their own interests can produce irrational outcomes.  In this case, the decision of the United States to develop and deploy a missile defense system, intended to improve its own security, causes Russia to expand its deployment of missile systems along the Polish border to offset U.S. gains.  As a result, both countries feel less secure. 

According to liberal international relations scholars, the security dilemma can be overcome through closer economic, cultural, and political interactions which, over time, create a shared sense of empathy.  But will this be the case here?  After years of improving relations between Russia and the United States following the end of the Cold War, relations between the two countries have fallen sharply—remember Georgia?  Nevertheless, the FT’s editorial pages are hopeful, noting that  

even in difficult times in east-west relations, agreements can be struck on matters of mutual interest, as happened even in the cold war. There is much that binds Russia and the west, including energy and trade, and concerns about Iran, global terrorism and, most recently, financial stability. Reducing tensions over missile bases should be high on this list.

Sounds like a test for the Obama Doctrine.