Stability instability paradox

March 14, 2011 at 10:02 am | Posted in Blogroll, General, Systems Thinking | Leave a comment

This week I read in Times of India, Sunday edition, an interesting article by Shaun Gregory where he talked of “Stability instability paradox”. I looked up on the net for what exactly it means. I found that Wikipedia has put it succinctly as “The stability-instability paradox is an international relations theory regarding the effect of nuclear weapons and mutually assured destruction. It states that when two countries each have nuclear weapons, the probability of a direct war between them greatly decreases, but the probability of minor or indirect conflicts between them increases. This occurs because rational actors want to avoid nuclear wars, and thus they neither start major conflicts nor allow minor conflicts to escalate into major conflicts—thus making it safe to engage in minor conflicts”.

This paradox was noticed after the Second World War and was proved again & again during the days of the cold war. It still continues to be the basis for nuclear strategic planning of most countries. However, with emergence of certain new nuclear states there is a twist. Those countries which view nuclear capability as a deterrent would be averse to any possibility of major conflict. But the bar for these new states is much lower and they like to engage in managed instability to tilt the balance in their favor. This creates a big challenge for others. The author of the article has brought it out well but not offered any solution.

That aroused my curiosity and set me thinking. Is this phenomenon limited to just the nuclear domain or has a wider significance? I believe it does. We see umpteen examples of both types of situations in organizations, families, friend circles, societies and even in politics. If both the parties in a conflict have lot to lose, when there is a major escalation, they remain in balance and minor conflicts and arguments continue with not much damage to either. But when one of two sides is so structured that it is either not affected much or doesn’t really care, then the other side is in a tight spot. The most common example is of terrorism. The terrorists are so thoroughly brain-washed that they stop seeing the reality and live in their own world. An interesting version of this is of extreme patriotism.

These are glaring examples but we see plenty of cases in other walks of life. What is the way to deal with them? When the threat continues and becomes unbearable, the frustration forces the person to act violently and he would either win because now he is in the same category as the other or he may become a martyr. You may recall seeing many such cases in novels, films and TV soaps.

But this is an extreme option which is adopted more by need for survival rather than by choice. Are there better options? Can we apply systems thinking to get over this dialema. I am not aware nor can think of any at this stage but I am very keen to know if you have come across a solution either from your experience or have read somewhere. If you let me know, I will share with others, because I feel it is a major problem and each of us faces it from time to time in varying degrees.


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