Textbook dilemma traps US, China in a war spiral

In international politics, two mutually suspicious states are often trapped in what theorists call the “security dilemma.”

Each of the two states thinks itself supportive of the status quo, but thinks the other state is aggressive. Accordingly, each state sees its own actions as defensive and the other’s as threatening. The bilateral relationship descends in a negative spiral as each state’s action does not increase its own security but, rather, pushes the situation closer to war.   

This dynamic applies to China-US tensions over Taiwan. Both Beijing and Washington frame the other side as an aggressor trying to change the status quo in its own favor. Each attempts dissuasion through military means. Each reacts to the other side’s military moves with alarm and believes it must respond with a show of resolve. The result: worsening tensions.

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