Ontological Security in World Politics: State Identity and the Security Dilemma

  • Citation: Mitzen, Jennifer. "Ontological security in world politics: State identity and the security dilemma." European Journal of International Relations 12.3 (2006): 341-370.
    • Topics:
    • IR Theories
    • Keywords:
    • attachment
    • intractable conflict
    • ontological security
    • routines
    • security dilemma
    • uncertainty

This article proposes that in addition to physical security, states also seek ontological security, or security of the self. Ontological security is achieved by routinizing relationships with significant others, and actors therefore become attached to those relationships. Like its physical counterpart, the ontological security motive is a constant. But states may adhere to routines rigidly or reflexively, and variation in attachment style has implications for security-seeking. This article conceptualizes the individual-level need for ontological security, scales it up to states, and applies the ontological security-seeking assumption to the security dilemma. Realists argue that states want to escape security dilemmas but uncertainty prevents them. Ontological security-seeking suggests that states may not want to escape dilemmatic conflict. Because even dangerous routines provide ontological security, rational security-seekers could become attached to conflict. Ontological security-seeking sheds new light on seemingly irrational conflict, and suggests lines of research into the stability of other outcomes in world politics.

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