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Idealist Internationalism and the Security Dilemma

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2011

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The heartbreaking plight in which a bipolarized and atom bomb-blessed world finds itself today is but the extreme manifestation of a dilemma with which human societies have had to grapple since the dawn of history. For it stems from a fundamental social constellation, one where a plurality of otherwise interconnected groups constitute ultimate units of political life, that is, where groups live alongside each other without being organized into a higher unity.

Wherever such anarchic society has existed—and it has existed in most periods of known history on some level—there has arisen what may be called the ‘security dilemma’ of men, or groups, or their leaders. Groups or individuals living in such a constellation must be, and usually are, concerned about their security from being attacked, subjected, dominated, or annihilated by other groups and individuals. Striving to attain security from such attack, they are driven to acquire more and more power in order to escape the impact of the power of others. This, in turn, renders the others more insecure and compels them to prepare for the worst. Since none can ever feel entirely secure in such a world of competing units, power competition ensues, and the vicious circle of security and power accumulation is on.

Research Article
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 1950

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