Susan Hamilton

Posen, Barry R. 1993. “The Security Dilemma and Ethnic Conflict”. Survival 35 (1):27-47. Abstract This article applies the realist concept of the “security dilemma” to the special conditions of ethnic conflict, particularly as they arise when these ethnic groups suddenly find themselves responsible for their own security (such as after the break up of the Soviet Union). Summary The Security Dilemma The security dilemma can be applied usefully to collapsing imperial regimes because they can best be described as “emerging anarchy” and the security dilemma in realist theory relies upon the condition of anarchy in order to claim that security is the first concern of states. There will be competition for the key to security—power—until some states have amassed enough power to begin to threaten others. Thus relative power is the key. This causes the security dilemma: “what one does to enhance one’s own security causes a reaction that, in the end, can make one less secure.” The security dilemma is particularly intense when: 1) defensive forces cannot be distinguished from offensive forces, 2) offensive forces are superior to defensive forces; this leads to a greater likelihood of preventative war or aggression. These two conditions are often present in emerging states. 1) The “groupness” of the ethnic groups creates highly motivated infantry which thus make good offensive , as opposed to what they are traditionally viewed as, defensive forces. Thus, the main mechanism by which each side will assess the offensive intentions of the other side will have to be history. The result will be that each side will assume that the other’s group identity poses a threat. In sum, the military capabilities o f a group will be judged bases on the group’s sense of identity rather than their military assets which are usually limited. 2) Two factors influence the superiority of offensive to defensive capabilities equation: technology and geography. Technology only really matters in the case of nuclear weapons. If both ethnic groups have nuclear weapons then nationalism will play less of a role in the security dilemma. Political geography is what matters most, particularly islands of population of one ethnic group in another ethnic group’s territory. Whether or not to wage preventative war to protect these islands of population is a variable that changes in each situation. The vulnerability of civilians “makes it possible for small bands of fanatics to initiate conflicts,” by practicing “ethnic cleansing”. The UN’s typical behavior adds incentives to waging a preventative war since the UN just negotiates cease fires. The advantage thus usually goes to the group which initiated the conflict.

Russia and Ukraine: Posen finds the potential for conflict was not as great due to the following reasons: 1) Neither views the other ‘s cohesion and group identity as a serious threat. due in part to the fact that both had nuclear weapons and thus effective deterrents. 4) small bands of fanatics appeared on the scene.”3).” . 2) each side’s “conception of the other’s identity is comparatively benign. Those states which coalesce earliest will have a window of opportunity in which to wage a successful war. “If outsiders which to understand and perhaps reduce the odds of conflict. 3) preventative war incentives were high because the two sides were not equally strong. Posen then applies this version of the security dilemma to two test cases: Croats and Serbs. 2) “The risks associated with these conflicts are quite “The relative rate of state formation strongly influences the incentives for preventative war.Susan Hamilton shamilt@fas.harvard. they must assess the local group’s strategic view of their situation. Posen’s Conclusions 1) The security dilemma has “considerable ability to explain and predict the probability and intensity of military conflict” among groups emerging from collapsing empires. and Croats and Serbs: Posen finds that the likelihood of conflict is high due to the following factors: 1) both parties identified the others as offensive threats due to their previous history. 2) the offensive appeared to have the advantage for both sides.”(9).” 3) there are no significant “islands” of population to cause pressure for a preventative war. largely due to islands of Serbs in Croat territory.

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