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Why do communities or ethnic groups arm themselves? Explained using the Security Dilemma theory.

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Mandela Garang– Before getting into small details about why communities or ethnic groups arm themselves, I will first define security dilemma as a concept and relate its application in an international context.

Security dilemma is a situation that develops when actions taken by an individual state to upgrade its own security causes uproar from other states that see the former as a threat, which in back-turn leads to more insecurity and tensions thereby decreasing the past or original state security (Wivel, 2011).

Some scholars of international relations find that the security dilemma is the most important source of tension and conflict in international relations. They argue that in the international realm there is no world government and as a consequence each state must take care of its own security and survival.

For this reason, the primary goal of states is to maximize their own security. Even if countries focus solely on this goal and have no any intention of harming others, many of the actions taken by states to increase their own security such as weapons purchase and new development of military technologies will decrease the security of others.

Decreasing the security of others does not naturally placed the country in a dilemma, but because of the anarchic structure, other nations will follow suit, if one state arms. They cannot know whether the arming state will use its increased military capabilities for attack in the future.

And as such, they will either choose to increase their own military capabilities in order to re-establish the balance of power, or they will launch a preemptive attack in order to prevent the arming state from upsetting the balance in the first place.

If they choose the first option, the result may be a security spiral. A security spiral is an action-reaction process, where two nations are involved in an armaments race with each country responding to increases in weapons purchase and defence spending by the other state leading them both to arm more and more heavily. This may lead to war in the long run. If they choose the last option, military conflict will be imminent. (Wivel, 2011)

Although the theory has been used to explain the cause of international conflicts, it can also be applied to explain inter-communal conflicts between ethnic groups in volatile ethno-nationalistic countries where the state security apparatuses are failing in their primary role of providing adequate security.

How Does ethnic groups or Communities’ Armament Happen?

As state security fails, each ethnic group or community takes charge of their respective security responsibility forcing other ethnic groups to establish their own security measures as well. Consequently, each ethnic community starts to become suspicious of every move made by other communities.

This builds ethnic tension that over time develops into an ethnic confrontation as each community is preoccupied with safeguarding its own survival. This may lead to armed race among ethnic groups and in some cases, a very small incident between ethnic groups can easily escalate to a violent conflict given the high tension that existed between these groups.

For ethnic groups or Communities’ armament to stop, the government needs to reassert and take over the security of all ethnic groups, including protecting their natural and acquired resources. This way, the communities will build confidence in their government and will see no need for armament as their security is granted by the state.

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