Mere Anarchy

Though I’m an historian, I’ve benefited from reading IR and politics literature. In particular, some concepts within the tradition(s) of realism, flowing from the mighty intellectual river of Thomas Hobbes:

anarchy: the absence of a Leviathan, or a supreme authority beyond the state capable of enforcing order and a rule of law, so that the international environment is still essentially a jungle or state of nature;

and the need to live with the two-pronged security dilemma: the problem that acquiring security for oneself can reduce the security of others. There is the interpretation problem: a built-in uncertainty about the motives, intentions and capabilities of others (and theirs of ours). And the response problem: the difficulty of reconciling deterrence and reassurance to a potential adversary. Failure in this regard can breed a security paradox, when leaders act in a way that creates a spiral of mutual hostility when neither wanted it.

Problems like this – the lack of authority, the lack of certainty, and the difficulty of ‘causing’ security for oneself, are responsible for the inherent insecurity in the human condition.

We therefore need grand strategy to use our limited power wisely in interpreting and responding to others, balancing the need to build confidence in others with the need to deter potential aggressors, and the need to interact with this dangerous jungle in ways that foster our way of life.

These ideas are beautifully laid out in Ken Booth and Nicholas Wheeler’s The Security Dilemma: Fear, Cooperation and Trust in World Politics.

Though the book is by no means an endorsement of fatalist pessimism, they describe the pessimistic tradition nicely:

‘ the search for security is primordial; that uncertainty is endemic in the condition of human existence because the leaders of groups cannot enter into each other’s minds; that the anarchical context impels groups to accumulate power in their struggle for security; and that the security dilemma has both psychological and material dimensions.’

I recommend it to readers here at OSB – greetings all, hope you are enjoying this site, on its one-week birthday.

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