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Cooperation under the Security Dilemma

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2011

Robert Jervis
Political Science at U.C.L.A.
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International anarchy and the resulting security dilemma (i.e., policies which increase one state's security tend to decrease that of others) make it difficult for states to realize their common interests. Two approaches are used to show when and why this dilemma operates less strongly and cooperation is more likely. First, the model of the Prisoner's Dilemma is used to demonstrate that cooperation is more likely when the costs of being exploited and the gains of exploiting others are low, when the gains from mutual cooperation and the costs of mutual noncooperation are high, and when each side expects the other to cooperate. Second, the security dilemma is ameliorated when the defense has the advantage over the offense and when defensive postures differ from offensive ones. These two variables, which can generate four possible security worlds, are influenced by geography and technology.

Research Article
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 1978

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1 This kind of rank-ordering is not entirely an analyst's invention, as is shown by the following section of a British army memo of 1903 dealing with British and Russian railroad construction near the Persia-Afghanistan border:

The conditions of the problem may … be briefly summarized as follows:

(a) If we make a railway to Seistan while Russia remains inactive, we gain a considerable defensive advantage at considerable financial cost;

(b) If Russia makes a railway to Seistan, while we remain inactive, she gains a considerable offensive advantage at considerable financial cost;

(c) If both we and Russia make railways to Seistan, the defensive and offensive advantages may be held to neutralize each other; in other words, we shall have spent a good deal of money and be no better off than we are at present. On the other hand, we shall be no worse off, whereas under alternative (b) we shall be much worse off. Consequently, the theoretical balance of advantage lies with the proposed railway extension from Quetta to Seistan.

Nicholson, W. G., “Memorandum on Seistan and Other Points Raised in the Discussion on the Defence of India”, (Committee of Imperial Defence, March 20, 1903).Google Scholar It should be noted that the possibility of neither side building railways was not mentioned, thus strongly biasing the analysis.

2 Schroeder, Paul, Metternich's Diplomacy at Its Zenith, 1820–1823 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press 1969), 126.Google Scholar

3 Quoted in Howard, Michael, The Continental Commitment (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin 1974), 67.Google Scholar

4 Quoted in Wheeler, Gerald, Prelude to Pearl Harbor (Columbia: University of Missouri Press 1963), 167.Google Scholar

5 Quoted in Wainstein, Leonard, “The Dreadnought Gap”, in Art, Robert and Waltz, Kenneth, eds., The Use of Force (Boston: Little, Brown 1971), 155Google Scholar; Sontag, Raymond, European Diplomatic History, 1871–1932 (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts 1933), 147.Google Scholar The French had made a similar argument 50 years earlier; see Baxter, James Phinney III, The Introduction of the Ironclad Warship (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1933), 149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar For a more detailed discussion of the security dilemma, see Jervis, , Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1976), 6276.Google Scholar

6 Experimental evidence for this proposition is summarized in Tedeschi, James, Schlenker, Barry, and Bonoma, Thomas, Conflict, Power, and Games (Chicago: Aldine 1973), 135–41.Google Scholar

7 The results of Prisoner's Dilemma games played in the laboratory support this argument. See Rapoport, Anatol and Chammah, Albert, Prisoner's Dilemma (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press 1965), 3350.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed Also see Axelrod, Robert, Conflict of Interest (Chicago:Markham 1970), 6070.Google Scholar

8 Quoted in Brodie, Bernard, Strategy in the Missile Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1959), 6.Google Scholar

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10 For the development of the concept of subjective security, see Wolfers, Arnold, Discord and Collaboration (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press 1962),Google Scholar chap. 10. In the present section we assume that the state believes that its security can be best served by increasing its arms; later we will discuss some of the conditions under which this assumption does not hold.

11 The question of when an actor will see another as a threat is important and understudied. For a valuable treatment (although one marred by serious methodological flaws), see Cohen, Raymond, “Threat Perception in International Relations”, Ph.D. diss. (Hebrew University 1974).Google Scholar Among the important factors, touched on below, are the lessons from the previous war.

12 Still the best treatment is Wolfers, Arnold, Britain and France Between Two Wars (New York: Harcourt, Brace 1940).Google Scholar

13 Quoted in Gretton, Peter, Former Naval Person (London: Cassell 1968), 151.Google Scholar

14 Kaufman, Michael, “Tension Increases in French Colony”, New York Times, July 11, 1976.Google Scholar

15 Experimental support for this argument is summarized in Deutsch, Morton, The Resolution of Conflict (New Haven: Yale University Press 1973), 181–95.Google Scholar

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17 Similarly, a French diplomat has argued that “the worst result of Louis XIV's abandonment of our traditional policy was the distrust it aroused towards us abroad”. Cambon, Jules, “The Permanent Bases of French Foreign Policy”, Foreign Affairs, VIII (January 1930), 179.Google Scholar

18 This assumes, however, that these benefits to the other will not so improve the other's power position that it will be more able to menace the state in the future.

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23 Kahn, , On Thermonuclear War (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1960), 138–60Google Scholar It should be noted that the French example is largely hypothetical because France had no intention of fulfilling her obligations once Germany became strong.

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31 Schelling (fn. 20), chap. 9.

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33 Quester, George, Offense and Defense in the International System (New York: John Wiley 1977), 105–06Google Scholar; Sontag (fn. 5), 4–5.

34 Kahn (fn. 23), 211 (also see 144).

35 For a general discussion of such mistaken learning from the past, see Jervis (fn. 5), chap. 6. The important and still not completely understood question of why this belief formed and was maintained throughout the war is examined in Brodie, Bernard, War and Politics (New York: Macmillan 1973), 262–70Google Scholar; Brodie, , “Technological Change, Strategic Doctrine, and Political Outcomes”, in Knorr, Klaus, ed., Historical Dimensions of National Security Problems (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas 1976), 290–92Google Scholar; and Porch, Douglas, “The French Army and the Spirit of the Offensive, 1900–14”, in Bond, Brian and Roy, Ian, eds., War and Society (New York: Holmes & Meier 1975), 117–43Google Scholar

36 Some were not so optimistic. Gray's remark is well-known: “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time”. The German Prime Minister, Bethmann Hollweg, also feared the consequences of the war. But the controlling view was that it would certainly pay for the winner.

37 Quoted in Gilbert, Martin, Churchill, Winston S. III, The Challenge of War, 1914–1916 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1971), 84.Google Scholar

38 Quester (fn. 33), 98–99. Art, Robert, The Influence of Foreign Policy on Seapower, II (Beverly Hills: Sage Professional Papers in International Studies Series, 1973), 14–18, 2628.Google Scholar

39 Jarausch, Konrad, “The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914”, Central European History, II (March 1969), 50.Google Scholar

40 Brodie (fn. 8), 58.

41 President Roosevelt and the American delegates to the League of Nations Disarmament Conference maintained that the tank and mobile heavy artillery had reestablished the dominance of the offensive, thus making disarmament more urgent (Boggs, fn. 28, pp. 31, 108), but this was a minority position and may not even have been believed by the Americans. The reduced prestige and influence of the military, and the high pressures to cut government spending throughout this period also contributed to the lowering of defense budgets.

42 Kimche, Jon, The Unfought Battle (New York: Stein 1968)Google Scholar; Bethell, Nicholas William, The War Hitler Won: The Fall of Poland, September 1939 (New York: Holt 1972)Google Scholar; Alexandroff, Alan and Rosecrance, Richard, “Deterrence in 1939”, World Politics, XXIX (April 1977), 404–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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44 For a short time, as France was falling, the British Cabinet did discuss reaching a negotiated peace with Hitler. The official history ignores this, but it is covered in Bell, P.M.H., A Certain Eventuality (Farnborough, England: Saxon House 1974), 4048.Google Scholar

45 Macleod and Kelly (fn. 43), 174. In flat contradiction to common sense and almost everything they believed about modern warfare, the Allies planned an expedition to Scandinavia to cut the supply of iron ore to Germany and to aid Finland against the Russians. But the dominant mood was the one described above.

46 Brodie (fn. 8), 179.

47 Arthur Balfour, “Memorandum”, Committee on Imperial Defence, April 30, 1903, pp. 2–3; see the telegrams by Nicolson, Sir Arthur, in Gooch, G. P. and Temperley, Harold, eds., British Documents on the Origins of the War, Vol. 4 (London: H.M.S.O. 1929), 429, 524.Google Scholar These barriers do not prevent the passage of long-range aircraft; but even in the air, distance usually aids the defender.

48 See, for example, the discussion of warfare among Chinese warlords in Chi, Hsi-Sheng, “The Chinese Warlord System as an International System”, in Kaplan, Morton, ed., New Approaches to International Relations (New York: St. Martin's 1968), 405–25.Google Scholar

49 Some American decision makers, including military officers, thought that the best way out of the dilemma was to abandon the Philippines.

50 Quoted in Morrison, Elting, Turmoil and Tradition: A Study of the Life and Times of Henry L. Stimson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1960), 326.Google Scholar

51 The U.S. “refused to consider limitations on Hawaiian defenses, since these works posed no threat to Japan”, Braisted (fn. 27), 612.

52 That is part of the reason why the Japanese admirals strongly objected when the civilian leaders decided to accept a seven-to-ten ratio in lighter craft in 1930. Pelz, Stephen, Race to Pearl Harbor (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1974), 3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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54 Wright, Quincy, A Study of War (abridged ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1964), 142.Google Scholar Also see 63–70, 74–75. There are important exceptions to these generalizations—the American Civil War, for instance, falls in the middle of the period Wright says is dominated by the offense.

55 Kemp, Geoffrey, Robert Pfaltzgraff, and Ra'anan, Uri, eds., The Other Arms Race (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath 1975)Google Scholar; Foster, James, “The Future of Conventional Arms Control”, Policy Sciences, No. 8 (Spring 1977), 119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

56 Challener, Richard, Admirals, Generals, and American Foreign Policy, 1898–1914 (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1973), 273Google Scholar; Grey to Nicolson, in Gooch and Temperley (fn. 47), 414.

57 Quoted in Crowley, James, Japan's Quest for Autonomy (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1966), 49.Google Scholar American naval officers agreed with the Japanese that a ten-to-six ratio would endanger Japan's supremacy in her home waters.

58 Woodward, E. L. and Butler, R., eds., Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919–1939, Third series, III (London: H.M.S.O. 1950), 526.Google Scholar

59 Jervis (fn. 5), 69–72, 352–55.

60 Quoted in Tate, Merze, The United States and Armaments (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1948), 108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

61 Boggs (fn. 28), 15, 40.

62 Hagan, Kenneth, American Gunboat Diplomacy and the Old Navy, 1877–1889 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press 1973), 20.Google Scholar

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65 Boggs (fn. 28), 42, 83. For a good argument about the possible differentiation between offensive and defensive weapons in the 1930's, see Hart, Basil Liddell, “Aggression and the Problem of Weapons”, English Review, Vol. 55 (July 1932), 7178.Google Scholar

66 Quoted in Boggs (fn. 28), 39.

67 On these grounds, the Germans claimed in 1932 that the French forts were offensive (ibid., 49). Similarly, fortified forward naval bases can be necessary for launching an attack; see Braisted (fn. 27), 643.

68 The French made this argument in the interwar period; see Challener, Richard, The French Theory of the Nation in Arms (New York: Columbia University Press 1955), 181–82.Google Scholar The Germans disagreed; see Boggs (fn. 28), 44–45.

69 Oman (fn. 53) 57–58.

70 Quoted in Webster, Charles, The Foreign Policy of Castlereagh, II, 1815–1822 (London: G. Bell and Sons 1963), 510.Google Scholar

71 Boggs (fn. 28), 14–15, 47–48, 60.

72 Quoted in Jordan, Philip, Frontier Law and Order (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press 1970), 7Google Scholar; also see 16–17.

73 Boggs (fn. 28), 20, 28.

74 See, however, Ball, Desmond, “The Counterforce Potential of American SLBM Systems”, Journal of Peace Research, XIV (No. I, 1977), 2340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

75 Garwin, Richard, “Anti-Submarine Warfare and National Security”, Scientific American, Vol. 227 (July 1972), 1425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

76 The latter scenario, however, does not require that the state closely match the number of missiles the other deploys.

77 Schelling, Thomas, Arms and Influence (New Haven: Yale University Press 1966), 6978.Google Scholar Schelling's arguments are not entirely convincing, however. For further discussion, see Jervis, “Deterrence Theory Re-Visited”, Working Paper No. 14, UCLA Program in Arms Control and International Security.