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Negotiating, or defending, our way through the ‘security dilemma’

Vietnam's Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and President Biden met with CEOs at the Government Office in Hanoi on Sept. 11. The United States and Vietnam warned against the "threat or use of force" in the disputed South China Sea, days after the latest clash involving Chinese vessels.MINH HOANG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Clashing nations need diplomacy predicated on common security

In his Sept. 10 Ideas piece, “Too often, military defense comes off as offense,” Stephen Kinzer warns that the United States and China are locked in an increasingly dangerous and confrontational arms race, creating a “security dilemma.” Political scientist Graham Allison warned of what he called a “Thucydides Trap,” the inevitable tensions between rising and declining powers that frequently have led to catastrophic conflicts, such as World Wars I and II. Kevin Rudd, former Australian prime minister, now ambassador to the United States, warns that we are sleepwalking into an “avoidable” war.

There is an offramp: diplomacy based on the notion of common security.


More than 40 years ago, at the height of the spiraling US-Soviet arms race, the Swedish prime minister, Olof Palme, convened the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues. It brought together senior figures from the United States, the Soviet Union, and Europe, including former secretary of state Cyrus Vance and Mikhail Gorbachev’s top security adviser, Georgy Arbatov. In its 1983 report, the commission concluded that no nation can feel safe when its actions lead its rivals to feel threatened.

To prevent a catastrophic war, the commission recognized the need to engage in diplomacy that both identified the security fears that drove countries’ preparations for nuclear war and addressed them with win-win solutions. Its report and its members’ insight served as a foundation for negotiation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, which functionally ended the Cold War two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Common security negotiations today between the United States and China, focused on Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, and the South China Sea, can resolve the security dilemma and prevent “avoidable” and catastrophic war.

Joseph Gerson


The writer is president of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament, and Common Security.


Strong defense from the US and its allies is needed as a deterrent

Re “Too often, military defense comes off as offense”: Stephen Kinzer consistently criticizes a strong military and our support of other nations against aggression. In his latest Ideas piece, he focuses on China but ignores China’s aggression against weak neighboring countries and their rights to the South China Sea. He also omits Russia’s military taking territory of a sovereign nation as well as its expansion in the Arctic and Iran’s interference of shipping in the Persian Gulf. Who but the United States and its allies can stand against these assaults? A strong military is needed as a deterrent — a defense — to these offenses.

Ivan R. Samuels