Security dilemma: Arms racing and alliance formation

By Beenish Altaf

Security Dilemma

The term “Security dilemma” explains a condition where two or more countries are trapped into disputes and conflicts, primarily due to their national security that ultimately lead them to war. Basically, the situation of security dilemma takes place when two countries feel insecure vis-à-vis each other and simultaneously increase their respective defence and weapon systems. Involved states do not want to start war but they keep themselves busy in developing diplomatically, militarily and resort to weapon modernization to make them more safe, secure and protected.

Case Study: South Asia

In order to understand the basic fact that security dilemma creates fear and alliance formation, the article will focus on the case study of India and Pakistan’s adversarial relationship. It generates a model armed security dilemma including the production and development of nuclear technologies, enhanced sort of arms racing and the interchange of national objectives / policies for deterrence and deterrence. Here one can see that the security dilemma is operational in nuclear subcontinent. The arms race between India and Pakistan is deeply rooted in regional conflict phenomena. The fact lies in the ultimate development of their nuclear and conventional capabilities, which is the expression of their security concerns. Both countries are facing numerous security challenges which largely result in security dilemma.

Rationale for Stepping Ahead

India carried out its first nuclear test in 1974, which revealed its ominous intentions. It was apparently a civil nuclear test however it transformed into the next crucial step for Pakistan’s security. Pakistan rightly perceived it to be a big threat to its national security after which it was compelled to go nuclear by hook or crook. That was the only way out for Pakistan to develop nuclear weapons for deterrence perspective. So, in order to justify the threat posed by Indian arms buildup, Pakistan reacted and developed a policy of nuclear ambiguity. Both countries conducted their nuclear tests wherein after India’s nuclear test Pakistan’s government at that point in time highlighted that “Pakistan’s failure to respond in kind would have made it vulnerable to its aggressive neighbor”.  Security dilemma is the situation in which state perceive the security of other state as its insecurity. Same is the situation of nuclear sub-continent. The speech of Sharif government has proven that for security, it was necessary for Pakistan to go for nuclear weapon capability. Resultantly, Pakistan’s verdict to go nuclear after the Indian so-called peaceful nuclear tests was the result of security dilemma.

Similarly, thenuclearization of Indian Ocean primarily by India, became a major concern for Pakistan as it has disturbed the strategic balance of power and increased the sense of insecurity. Both states are involved in conventional, missile and nuclear arms race to intensify their security concerns and to create a deterrence impact on each other however these vice versa actions of developing more and more nukes has given birth to insecurity between  both. So, both states are increasingly entangled in the web of security dilemma and disturbing balance of power.

Effecting States Decisions

Security dilemma plays a central role in arms race among the states, even those states that have fundamentally well-matched goals can still get involved in such a competition. Countries engage in arms race in order to achieve ultimate superiority. Arms races have both positive and negative impact and it usually occur come into play when internal and external factors cause a state’s decision to arms race.

There are two Indian ambitions that coerce Pakistan to remain involved in its up-gradation of weaponary, one, to develop more and more along with maintaining  a conventional gap between India and Pakistan’s military build-up that would be  asymmetric in nature, two, to sustain the Credible Minimum Deterrence (CMD). Such complementary objective increases security dilemma and propels an extensive arms race in the region further generating insecurity in the preservation and action of strategic equilibrium and the conventional military in the South Asia region. The Indo – Pak conventional asymmetry, missile race and nuclear arms race is among the most worrisome matters for the international politics today.

Implications for the Region

Indo-Pak arms race competition carries strong negative implications for the region that includes instability in region, risk to use nuclear weapon, disturbing balance of power, increasing security dilemma, economic deprivation, instability and civil wars, threat to human security etc.

Potential for arms race instabilities is always there, since both India and Pakistan are busy in building up their respective military capabilities, fissile material stocks and more sophisticated and enhanced missiles capabilities. India is also actively working on BMD systems, which would force Pakistan to introduce both quantitative as well as qualitative improvements in its arsenal. The India-US nuclear deal coupled with rapidly advancing fast breeder program has opened up vast new potential for India to substantially increase its fissile material stockpiles. It increased the security dilemma and has made Pakistan to follow action-reaction syndrome, which has historically determined the nature and direction of India-Pakistan relations.  This factor has also been instrumental in the hardening of Pakistani position with regards to Fissile Material Cut- off Treaty (FMCT) negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) at Geneva.

Alliance Formation

Likewise, the security dilemma leads to alliance formation as Pakistan did in the time of War on Terror (WoT) which became a serious challenge for Pakistan at that time. Pakistan served as an important strategic partner of the US in its War on Terrorism which later became the global war on terror. Pakistan has been the US strategic partner before this incident too; it was not the first time where the two had been a close ally.. Simultaneously, Islamabad to attain either its own economic, political and security requirements has always been voluntarily accessible to the US resulting into alliances and strategic partnership between them.

The security dilemma is evidently at play when one observes the case of Indian membership of the Nuclear Export Control Regimes. It is a fact that India got membership in Australia Group(AG), Wassenar Arrangement (WA) and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), while the only one left is itsNuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership from which it already got waiver through the Indo-US nuclear deal. Following suit, Pakistan applied for the NSG membership, which if it had not and if India had acquired the membership, Pakistan would have left outside the cartel, losing access to the civil nuclear trade as India would have definitely vetoed it. It is relevant to mention here that NSG decisions are based on consensus. An element of fear and alliance formation (diplomatic efforts for getting the NSG membership) is very clear from this example too. Summing it all up, it is very clear that how security dilemma of a state creates fear which ultimately leads to a never ending arms race and alliance formation.

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Beenish Altaf

Beenish Altaf works as Research Associate for Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad and can be reached at

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