Catalyzing Conflict: The Internal Dimension of the Security Dilemma
Today’s emerging powers and potential challengers to US and Western Hegemony, Russia and China, are developing states that exhibit profound weaknesses in terms of the legitimacy of their political regimes and state institutions. There are growing fears in both countries that these internal vulnerabilities are actively being exploited by the US and other Western powers. We are used to thinking of security competition between states in terms of the security dilemma: each state’s efforts to improve its security make other states less secure. But there is also an internal dimension of the security dilemma that is often overlooked. Internal insecurities can give rise to fears in one state that other states will exploit their internal vulnerabilities and foment internal unrest. States that have these concerns will push back against states that they believe are exploiting their internal vulnerabilities, setting off the cycle of reaction and counter-reaction that constitute the security dilemma. Building on the literature on internal security in developing states, the article presents a modified version of the security dilemma that accounts for the role that internal vulnerabilities play in catalyzing inter-state conflict. It examines how the internal dimension of the security dilemma has exacerbated conflict between Russia and the West and suggests ways in which Western leaders can reassure Russia and China that they will not exploit their internal vulnerabilities. Managing these fears will be of critical importance if we are to avoid the reemergence of security competition between great powers in the future.