Catalyzing conflict: The internal dimension of the security dilemma

Andrej Krickovic*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Realists are accustomed to thinking about security competition between states in terms of the security dilemma: each state's efforts to improve its security can be taken as a threat by others, sparking competition that destabilizes the system and increases the likelihood of conflict. By focusing almost exclusively on external threat dynamics, however, common thinking about the security dilemma misses how domestic vulnerabilities can also be a catalyst for security competition. This is particularly the case in "weak"states that lack internal legitimacy. Weak developing states see intervention (whether perceived or real) targeted at their domestic vulnerabilities as an existential threat to political survival. When the targeted state responds to minimize or negate the threat, its response may be perceived as a threat, warranting a counter response. Particularly, when a targeted state possesses significant national power - as in the cases of China and Russia - a security competition is born. This article develops the logic behind this modified version of the security dilemma focused on internal vulnerabilities. Managing these internal fears will be of critical importance if we are to avoid the reemergence of security competition between great powers in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-126
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Global Security Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • China
  • Developing states
  • Russia
  • Security dilemma


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