Summary of the Article: Starting with familiar games, Jervis demonstrates how fear and uncertainty amongst status quo states can lead to conflict and arms racing.
Jervis observes that the anarchic structure of the international system (the fact that exists no higher authority to mediate conflictsbetween states) and the tendency of states to focus on others’ weapons capabilities (as opposed to their intentions of whether to use them) can lead to “spirals of hostility” between states. The security dilemma—that is, many of the means by which a state tries to increase its security in turn decrease the security of other states by inadvertently threatening other states—is made worse when thestate on the “offensive” has the advantage. (“Offensive advantage” meaning it is easier to destroy other’s army and take its territory than to defend one’s own. “Defensive advantage” meaning it is easier to protect and hold than attack and conquer.) In other words, the intuition that the best defense is a good offense is not the case in international relations.
Jervis bluntly asks “Why are we notall dead?” or, what conditions ameliorate the impact of anarchy and the security dilemma? Jervis answers this through repeated trials of the Prisoner’s Dilemma game. He determines that when the defensive aspects of states have the advantage, the security dilemma is reduced. Because defensive states are only preparing for an attack and because doing so does not decrease others’ security, war ismore likely to result in a stalemate. “Fortification,” he argues, “is the great equalizer.”
By establishing simultaneous means of developing non-menacing mechanisms for self-defense, and in particular by clearly delineating states’ offensive and defensive strategies, weapons and policies, the security dilemma can be relieved or possibly eliminated altogether.
Jervis concludes his paper with adiscussion of the “Four Worlds” and includes a handy chart:
| |Offense has Advantage |Defense has Advantage |
| |Doubly dangerous |Security dilemma, but security requirements may|
|Offensive Posture Indistinguishable from|No way to avoid security dilemma |be compatible |
|Defensive Posture | |SD exists but states can indicate their |
| | |intentions |
||(Europe pre-WWI) |(Most periods in history) |
| | | |
|Offensive Posture Distinguishable |No security dilemma, but aggression and |Doublystable/safe |
| |possible |States have no reason to acquire offensive |
| |Spirals of tension and conflict |weapons and will give notice of their |
| ||intentions |
| |(Not likely to occur) |(Would have existed in early 1900s) |
Dependent Variable: Conflict and arms-racing between status quo states
Independent Variables: Fear resulting from the security dilemma, the nature of offensive and...