Understanding The Politics of National Security

For many, the end of the Cold War marked a new era in International relations, not only in practice but also in Theory. The Post-Cold War era of International Relations marked a change in the mainstream tradition of the field. It marked the end of the pessimistic-realist outlook on state interaction that was heavily centered around the doctrines of mutual destruction and the arms race, hence having a bipolar understanding of international relations, with the United States of America in one end, and the Soviet Union on the other. And marked the beginning of an era based on a multi power international system which is seen prevalent to this day. However when assessing the international system and the defence expenditure the transition becomes very unclear as to why we still see a continued growth in defense expenditure by USA and China at rates very similar to the Cold-war period.

The rise in defence spending

According to the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, since 1990 there has been a gradual increase in global military expenditure.

According to the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, since 1990 there has been a gradual increase in global military expenditure.

The continued growth of defence expenditure brings us to a very important question, what exactly makes people think that military might is the best way to ensure national security? questions of that sort tend to provide us with a framework to better understand how ideas can affect the way institutions and other agents act and respond in such ways that shapes the way a state interacts in the international system. Such frameworks can be understood as memes; a certain unit of culture (idea, belief or batter of behaviour) which is developed in the mind of a certain individual or a group of individuals, and which are able to reproduce and jump from mind to mind till that unit of culture becomes a ‘norm’. A constructivist analysis will identify agents as creators of norms which may in turn govern the international system, to become a universal norm of sorts. If we are to interpret the security dilemma through this lense then we can identify the main cause of such still prevailing perspective on military might as security to the individual norms of people of great influence (Head of State).

A great example of the impact of memes and the constructivist perspective at work would be through India’s former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh and his push for a new norm in regards to Nuclear weapons ,the ‘no-first use norm’. His aim is to lead the world into an era of where a ‘multilateral framework’ is agreed upon in which the security doctrines focused on the limiting of the salience of nuclear weapons, to guarantee a global system without the burden of a nuclear threat. Former Prime Minister Singh had hoped the steps taken in accepting the ‘no-first use norm’ would result in a slow but gradual disarmament process for all the states with nuclear warheads. The ambitious goals the former Prime Minister act as a very relevant example as to how the socially constructed ideas and norms of one person can influence and shape the actions of a state, and also shape the global norms of the international state system.

China & US defense spending

China & US defense spending

Prominent constructivist theorist Wendt suggests a similar solution to what is understood as the security dilemma. Wendt argues just as socially constructed norms can become the universal norms for the international system, states like their agents can ‘learn’ to trust their opponents ,and state sovereignty may be respected by all other in the international system if pursuit of cooperation becomes the norm of international relations. This in itself can be seen through the recent Iran Nuclear Deal. Barack Obama unlike his predecessors or even his contemporaries in the Republican party ,is self identifying with diplomacy and coming to a cooperative solution as his norm, even though more than half the Senate was against such a deal. Obama unlike his predecessors sought not conflict but rather it was through interaction over time that the sovereignty of Iran became a norm. 

The Iran Nuclear deal marks a new era and furthermore an important move away from the problematic diplomacy of the Cold-War era, which saw the world polarized in its decision making and the international relations system. David Hannay rightly argued that both people or agents and the institutions are a vital piece in unpuzzling the right direction to a nuclear free world. Constructivists argue that the norms of certain people can become the norms of the global system, and it is for this reason, that the human being as an individual plays a significant role in shaping the international system. The constructivist approach can be be exemplified by the signing of the Iran Nuclear deal, because where it down to a Republican President ,such a deal would likely be next to impossible to occur within this time period.


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