The struggle for power and interest maximization inheres in the nation state form of political organization. This indelible feature of the state makes it prone to a security competition that can besides the typical balance of power politics, interest and power maximization defined in narrow terms, also lead to what is called the “security dilemma” which kicks in when one states’ attempts to secure itself creates insecurities in another given state(usually in a dyadic pair). What the security dilemma leads to is arms racing and other insalubrious forms of security competition which , ultimately decreases security for all, a condition that could be the defining feature of contemporary world politics and international relations.
The security dilemma and the nasty interstate relations that informed interstate relations was mitigated to an extent by virtue of freer trade which, in international relations theorizing came to be known as “complex interdependence”. Many nations and states that tapped into this paradigm became enmeshed in trade and capital flows where exit, or upsetting the apple cart, so to speak would have entailed peril for these states’ economies. Globalization catalyzed complex interdependence meant a more open economy paradigm that also meant crisscrossing capital and people flows, in the process, impinging upon the tight model and version of sovereignty of nation states. While the benefits of this did not percolate to all and there was a degree of unevenness about globalization, many nation states, as a whole, benefited from it. War which would mean throwing these gains into a tizzy was effectively ruled out by many on account of complex interdependence. But, largely on account of uneven spread and distribution of gains and benefits, complemented by issues of a cultural nature, a reaction emerged against the political economy paradigm of complex interdependence and globalization.
Best encapsulated in identity politics and populism in much of the developed, Western world, the reaction and its political response led to a retreat from openness and freer trade and a political economy paradigm that approximates nationalism and a crude version of protectionism and mercantilism. In this schemata, the states that are at the frontline of the attendant trade wars are China and the United States. Trade, Complex interdependence and globalization had hitherto bound these nations together in relationship where security competition was somewhat ameliorated. But, with identity politics informed by jingoistic nationalism passing into the forefront, these gains from trade in terms of peaceful interstate politics stand threatened.
By way of a general observation to illustrate a point, it amounts to stating the obvious that even in quotidian life, trade and commerce are solvents of pride, prejudice and other human foibles that are conflict variables or that, in the “normal” course of life, create and lead to conflict. Consider an example. Person A who might be a Christian and Person B who might be Muslim might have much to be antagonistic about with respect to their religious beliefs but, if for one reason or the other, they have to enter into a trading or commercial relationship, their dourness or conflict has to, if not dissipate but put into the background, for obvious reasons. This might be only skin deep but still carries merit. A similar dynamic informs nation states of a different character and nature. Here again China and the United States illustrate this broad point. This particular relationship, now threatened by the politics of protectionist mercantilism, is morphing into a veritable conflictual and antagonistic one which some posit is in the nature of a new cold war.
There appears to be little going back to the era of complex interdependence and if there are (as is likely), spillovers to other countries, the world and its politics will revert to zero sum competition wherein the security dilemma will be the key, operative dynamic of international relations. The world will then be divided into blocs where some nations will bandwagon with their perceived protectors and others will balance against these. Arms racing, and other insalubrious features of international politics will predominate. The world will then be a more meaner and nastier place with assorted negative dynamics and developments crowding out the “good” ones. The hope is that the elevation of the security dilemma and its resurrection will not lead to war, a condition and state of affairs that will not only consume the lives of millions, but also make life untenable on planet earth. Let then prudence be elevated over pride and prejudice!
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