The perfect 'security dilemma' in the South China Sea

By Sumantra Maitra
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, March 8, 2016
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As the world keeps an eye on the global economy and migrant crisis in Europe, an American carrier battle group headed to the South China Sea. The USS John Stennis escorted by five other warships steamed by the volatile zone, as a "show of force" freedom of navigation (FONOP) operation.

This comes in the heels of some rapid developments such as the plan by India, Japan and the United States to conduct military exercises in the region, as well as joint India-U.S. patrols. This is probably a situation to watch, and can be termed as a perfect example of what we call a "security dilemma" in international relations with far-reaching consequences. This is also the first time that a major Indian policymaker, in a speech to the Brookings Institute, mentioned a Security Dilemma between China and India.

So what is a security dilemma? It is a spiral model of conflict, which happens in a contested zone. For example, there is a regional great power, which is rising economically and militarily. Smaller states then are inclined to either jump on the bandwagon with it, or seek to balance it by bringing in other great powers.

The earliest example was between Athens and Sparta in the Aegean Sea, where Sparta was a rising power. It emerged again in the conflicts between Rome and Carthage right down to the Napoleonic wars, the first and second world wars, and now in Ukraine.

One needs to understand what is instigating this current outcome and what will be happening in the best and worst case scenario. The United States, for some time, has been trying to extricate itself from conflicts in Europe and Middle East and concentrate on Asia. It has been the traditional doctrine of U.S. administration since the 19th century Monroe Doctrine to stem the check of regional economic peer rivals.

While during the early years of the new millennium it was expected the rise of China would coincide with a perfect win-win model of economic cooperation with the United States, worryingly trust seems to be eroding. China is believed to be now eclipsing Western trade in Africa and Central Asia, and there is a growing economic rivalry, as U.S. allies like Britain and Germany court China and join the Chinese led AIIB which U.S. and Japan opposes, and protectionism continues rising within the United States. The traditional loyalties are shifting according to the laws of economic prowess.

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