Dr. Ray Raymond is a former British diplomat who held a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Yale University in American History. He is Associate Professor of Government and History at SUNY Ulster and also teaches government and politics at the United States Military Academy, West Point. In addition, Dr. Raymond is a regular visiting lecturer at the US Air Force Academy and Fellow of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy. He is currently working on a new biography of John Jay as well as a collective biography of five recipients of West Point’s Ninninger Medal, the Academy’s equivalent of the Medal of Honor. Dr. Raymond has been honored by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and by the Chief of Staff of the United States Army for his contribution to the development of the academic program at West Point.
Security is always in the eye of the beholder. If we are to understand our own security environment, we need to be able to see that same environment through the cultural and political lens of those with whom we are dealing.
History is full of examples in which actions taken by one party to enhance one’s security only serve to fuel the insecurity of others, engendering a destabilizing spiral that simply contributes to everyone’s insecurity. No doubt there are times when such actions are justified, but, more often than not, the resulting spiral is an unintended and unanticipated consequence that is enormously difficult to control or manage, much less reverse.
Consider, for example, how we manage relations with Russia, China and North Korea—all nuclear weapons states claiming that the U.S. and its allies are threatening “their space,” which they view as important to their security. Whether in Eastern Europe, in the East and South China Seas, or on the Korean Peninsula it is critical that principles such as the inviolability of borders, the right of states to choose their own security relationships, and freedom of the seas be upheld, and that challenges to those principles be effectively met. Yet, the desire for a muscular response to those challenges should be tempered with the realization that, for Russia, China or North Korea, a different set of vital interests is at stake. In these environments, coercive solutions may not have a high probability of success. While we must deter adventurism as well as aggression, and reassure our allies who, unlike us, live in their respective neighborhoods, we also should avoid actions that exacerbate a crisis, harden confrontation, or make the eventual diplomatic and political solution more elusive.