In the international system, the main goal of a state is to survive. To make itself from any outside aggressor, it maximizes its security militarily. Since there’s anarchic world order, one state’s security is insecurity to the other, as Hobbes described the international as in the state of nature because there is no central authority to regulate or supervise states.
There is also a huge asymmetry in the international community. Some states are so big and powerful that they have bigger economies, abundant resources and advanced military technology and capability. While there are small and weak states under the influence. The big states are great powers consist of the US, Russia, China, France, UK and potential Germany. They pursue their national interests according to their needs. When they pursue interests, they increase their power, aiming to achieve international primacy to secure their interests, ensure security and influence other governments or actors without recourse of war, as Huntington puts it.
However, if one state’s influence increases, it poses a certain kind of challenge the stability of the other power, which assumes that it would confront my state in the future and challenge security and survival with increasing power. To eliminate this risk, great powers interfere, thwarting each other’s efforts so that they can not create any kind of problem to the interests. Great powers also work together to pursue mutual interest and shared goals in different fields. Still, it is unnecessary that they completely trust each other’s actions and not see the suspicions. They do distrust lies, especially among great powers. One does not trust others’ ambitions amid itself since every state in international politics struggles to maximize its own security and minimize potential or long-term threats at others’ expense. The cooperation is often limited to a point where there comes a national security matter.
The explosion of the nuclear bomb by the US in 1945 has completely changed the world’s security and strategic environment. It has shifted from conventional to nuclear deterrent force. In the post-war USSR, the chief US rival perceived a threat and developed a nuclear deterrent against the US. From then on, they always time to time, tried to maximize their own security by relying on nuclear forces and conventional militaries and balanced the threat. Stability was just lip service. The psychological insecurity was always there and suspicion was still present between them.
The arms race was waged from both sides to achieve stability, but the more security one acquired, the more insecure the other became. Both struggled to get second or third strike capability to eliminate the rival completely. However, the nuclear deterrence was the cornerstone that prevented any direct military confrontation from both sides because both rivals knew it would be mutually assured destruction if nuclear war is fought.
The arms race was underway for the sake of gaining leverage on the other side, strategically. When both sides balanced each other, the world praised them for achieving stability amid modernization of their arsenals, but where mutual distrust lies into the leadership of the great powers against each other, stability, in its actual form cannot be achieved, however, if the slowing down arms race was stability than it is a cliché. The historical lenses perfectly see this kind of act of balancing the threat but not for that long. Conflict erupts and competition always starts as did after détente 1970s. Historically, every great power, whether it is 19th century Britain or Kaiser’s Germany, they all pursued territorial gains, aggressively as every great power does, thwarting the status quo of that time, increased their power and posed the security challenge to the great power at that time, the wars were eventually fought because of clear perception of possible victory with cost and benefit assessment, ruling out the enemy. However, nuclear weapons have made wars less likely because of the MAD idea and great power competition and testing bordered into the limited wars. From the Korean war of 1950 to the Soviet-Afghan invasion of 1979, great powers have avoided confronting each other directly, instead, launching proxies that achieved very little. Still, they were a security threat to each other. This dilemma has not helped them achieve genuine stability but the tension’s calm for a little while.
From the day when nuclear weapons were invented, they posed a new kind of strategic threat because of the capability of Ballistic and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles Warheads carrying nuclear weapons to thousands of kilometers, targeting the enemy. US and Russia possessed hundreds of nuclear warheads, making 90% or the world stockpile of nuclear weapons. They continued many treaties that were signed at the time of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. After the collapse, those treaties were continued with Russia, but the stability remained a far cry for the world. Treaties were withdrawn, signatories were pulled out gradually as they saw feasible, paving the way for intensifying strategic instability and a new arms race. The more the weapons, the more unstable the world becomes. China recently joined the arms race area ranging from Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, Hypersonic cruise missiles to powerful nuclear submarines, targeting thousands of kilometers distances, assisted by Russia in strategically competing with the US.
Global military expenditures see the most massive increase in a decade, reaching $1917 Billion in 2019. The US was the first with $732 billion, China, second with $261 billion and Russia, fourth, $65.1 billion, says SIPRI report. These increased were caused by perceived threats among great powers from each other, which led them to satisfy their national security needs amid massive modernization of large military arsenals and nuclear stockpiles. In space, as well, adversaries are competing and threatening each other to destroy the satellite systems in space.
New technologies and modernization of military power of one side compel others to follow the suite and neutralize the threat. Recently Russia has developed an indefinite ranged hypersonic cruise missile dodging the missile defense hitting the target in response to the US deployment of anti-missile defense on the Russian border. Russia has also developed a Zircon hypersonic missile to target aircraft carriers. This development created a dilemma for the US to balance the threat by developing its own hypersonic weapons. To balance the US militarily, China also developed its hypersonic weapons. This dilemma is inherent based on the Hobbesian principle, which cannot be eliminated.
We can not solely blame the international structure for creating the great power security parity dilemma. Still, let’s give a closer look. We see the domestic policymakers influenced by private military and defense companies and contractors who make billions of dollars by building military technology. Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon are the three biggest contractors making billions of fortunes last year. These lobbyists must be checked. What they do is clearly a corruption, as Elizabeth Warren puts it.
The more the weapons are built, the more they pose a threat to human survival. It is because they are very much lethal and are prone to human or technical errors. There have been a lot of technical errors and computer glitches. The most notable occurred when Zibignew Berzenski was the National Security Advisor and received a call about a launched attack. After 2 minutes, another call came and said it was a false alarm. Nuclear weapons have no matter helped to restrain aggressive behaviors but also posed new challenges to human survival.
Historically speaking, competing great powers see each other as chief rivals, especially in military technology. To ease the strategic environment, they must sit on the negotiating table, explore possible options and think the unthinkable to build mutual confidence. The arms race and the dilemma must not thoroughly be seen but should be looked closely at. The complexities must be addressed and eliminated. If not, then minimized and lobbyists must be controlled as well. When these problems are discussed sincerely, there would be a greater chance to mitigate the arms race and, to some extent, reduce the dilemma posed by the myth of strategic stability.