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 conflicts between 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 the state 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 not all 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 is more 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 a