Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 14 x 1 hour lectures
Seminars / Tutorials 5 x 2 hour seminar


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 1 x 3000 word essay  50%
Semester Exam 2 Hours   50%

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module, students should be able to.
1. Evaluate competing arguments between fatalist, mitigator and transcender viewpoints.
2. Analyse the importance of the other minds problem and ambiguous symbolism as barriers to cooperation.
3. Critically assess different theoretical perspectives on whether it is possible for states to signal peaceful intentions in an anarchic realm.
4. Demonstrate an understanding of the debates over the potential for security regimes to mitigate the security dilemma.
5. Analyse the contribution that common security can make to the mitigation of the security dilemma.
6. Evaluate the concept of security communities.
7. Demonstrate an ability to apply fatalist, mitigator and transcender viewpoints to empirical cases.
8. Evaluate the significance of the security dilemma in understanding the security challenges of the 21st century.

Brief description

This module aims to provide students with an understanding of contemporary debates around the security dilemma. It will explore the 'other minds problem', the complex dilemmas of interpretation and response which confront policy-makers when faced with uncertainty about the motives and intentions of others; the problem of distinguishing between offensive and defensive weaponry; the possibilities of developing cooperation between enemies through the construction of security regimes and practices of common security; and the potential for establishing long-term relations of trust through the development of security communities. Students will develop an appreciation of how fatalist, mitigator and transcender viewpoints lead to very different understandings of the possibilities of mitigating and escaping the security dilemma, and the implications of this for policymaking in world politics. The module will draw on a variety of empirical illustrations from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, and cases will be explored in depth through role playing exercises in seminars.


1. Introduction
Block 1: Fatalist Voices
2. The pioneering theorists of the security dilemma
3. John Mearsheimer's offensive realism
4. Weapons as ambiguous symbols.
Block 2: Security Dilemma Dynamics
5. The offence-defence balance.
6. Robert Jervis's spiral and deterrence models
7. Security dilemma sensibility
Block 3: Mitigator voices
8. Security regimes
9. Common security and non-provocative defence
10. Mitigator practices in action: the end of the Cold War?
Block 4: Transcender voices
11 Security communities
12 Western Europe as a mature security community?
13 The problem of trust
14 Conclusion: the security dilemma in the 21st century

1. The fatalist approach (role playing exercise on US-China security relations)
2. Spiral and deterrence models (role playing exercise on the security dilemma in North East Asia)
3. Security regimes (role playing exercise on the nuclear Non-Proliferation regime).
4. Common security (role playing exercise on Indo-Pakistani and NATO-Russia security cooperation.
5. Trust building between adversaries (role playing exercise on US-Iran relations).


This module adds to Departmental provision in the areas of Strategic Studies and Security Studies. It explores the concept of the security dilemma which is one of the key concepts in the field of International Relations, yet rarely studied in depth. The concept is frequently misunderstood in the literature, and it is often only addressed from the traditional realist perspective. This module is original in that it will provide students with an understanding of the security dilemma from the vantage point of three competing logics labeled respectively fatalist, mitigator and transcender. The module is based on the premise that the security dilemma is a critically important idea in understanding key challenges to global security in the 21st century.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number n/a
Communication Students will learn how to present their ideas both verbally and in writing and how to present their arguments most effectively. They will understand the importance of information and clear communication and how to exploit these. They will know how to use the many sources of information available and how to use the most appropriate form of communication to the best advantage. They will learn to be clear in their writing and speaking and to be direct about aims and objectives. They will learn to consider only that which is relevant to the topic, focus and objectives of their argument or discussion. Each seminar will begin with a short discussion of the key themes of the seminar, leading into a role playing exercise. All seminars will employ group work where oral discussion and presentations will form the main medium of teaching and the emphasis throughout the module will be on student participation and communication.
Improving own Learning and Performance The module aims to promote self-management but within a context in which support and assistance is available from both the convenor and fellow students alike. Students will be expected to improve their own learning and performance by undertaking their own research and to exercise their own initiative, including searching for sources, compiling reading lists, and deciding (under guidance) the direction of their coursework and presentation topics. The need to conduct role playing exercises (fortnightly) and to meet coursework deadlines will focus students' attention on the need to manage their time and opportunity resources well.
Information Technology Students will be expected to submit their work in word-processed format. Also, students will be encouraged to search for sources of information on the web, as well as seeking sources through electronic information sources (such as Web of Science and OCLC). Students will also be expected to make use of the resources that will be available on the Blackboard VLE. They will also be expected to use Powerpoint to present their ideas and work in seminars.
Personal Development and Career planning Seminar presentations, small group work, role playing exercises, and dissemination of the ideas discussed in the groups to fellow students will help to develop students' verbal and presentation skills. Organizing the planning of coursework, role playing exercises, presentations, framing the parameters of projects so they meet the aims and objectives of the exercise, and seeing them through to completion will all contribute towards students' portfolios of transferable skills.
Problem solving Developing student skills in problem solving will be one of the central goals of the module. This will be achieved by the following: the submission of coursework which requires students to develop independent research skills as well as problem solving skills, and the need to research and prepare seminar presentations both individually and in groups (as part of the role playing exercises). The ability of students to solve problems will be developed and assessed by asking them to: adopt different points of view, especially with regard to simulation exercises where they will take on the role of different policy makers; organize data to support their positions; apply the focused comparison method to different cases; and look for patterns across cases and examples. A final examination will ensure that an assessment of students' ability to work alone in solving problems can be undertaken.
Research skills The submission of coursework will reflect the independent research skills of students. The need to locate appropriate research resources and write up the results will also facilitate research skills. Research preparation for seminar presentations and for group work will also enable students to develop research skills. A final examination will ensure that an assessment of students' ability to undertake independent research can be undertaken.
Subject Specific Skills Students have the opportunity to develop, practice and test a wide range of subject specific skills that help them to understand, conceptualise and evaluate examples and ideas on the module. These subject specific skills include: - Ability to evaluate competing approaches to the security dilemma. - Knowledge of the conceptual vocabulary employed in the literature on the security dilemma. - Collect and understand a wide range of empirical data relating to the module. - Apply a range of methodologies in understanding how decision makers resolve dilemmas of interpretation and response when evaluating the threat posed by others.
Team work Seminars will always involve some element of small-group discussion where students will be obliged to discuss as a group the core issues related to seminar topics. Students will also be encouraged to work in groups outside of the seminar as part of the role playing exercises. Team work is a vital component of the module.


This module is at CQFW Level 6