Collective security

Last updated

Major security alliances
Council of South American Defense
Council of Peace and Security of the African Union Military Alliances.svg
Major security alliances
  Council of Peace and Security of the African Union

Collective security can be understood as a security arrangement, political, regional, or global, in which each state in the system accepts that the security of one is the concern of all, and therefore commits to a collective response to threats to, and breaches to peace. Collective security is more ambitious than systems of alliance security or collective defense in that it seeks to encompass the totality of states within a region or indeed globally, and to address a wide range of possible threats. While collective security is an idea with a long history, its implementation in practice has proved problematic. Several prerequisites have to be met for it to have a chance of working. It is the theory or practice of states pledging to defend one another in order to deter aggression or to exterminate transgressor if international order has been breached. [1]



Early mentions

Collective security is one of the most promising approaches for peace and a valuable device for power management on an international scale. Cardinal Richelieu proposed a scheme for collective security in 1629, which was partially reflected in the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. In the eighteenth century many proposals were made for collective security arrangements, especially in Europe.

The concept of a peaceful community of nations was outlined in 1795 in Immanuel Kant's Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch . [2] Kant outlined the idea of a league of nations that would control conflict and promote peace between states. [3] However, he argues for the establishment of a peaceful world community not in a sense that there be a global government but in the hope that each state would declare itself as a free state that respects its citizens and welcomes foreign visitors as fellow rational beings. His key argument is that a union of free states would promote peaceful society worldwide: therefore, in his view, there can be a perpetual peace shaped by the international community rather than by a world government. [4]

International co-operation to promote collective security originated in the Concert of Europe that developed after the Napoleonic Wars in the nineteenth century in an attempt to maintain the status quo between European states and so avoid war. [5] [6] This period also saw the development of international law with the first Geneva Conventions establishing laws about humanitarian relief during war and the international Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 governing rules of war and the peaceful settlement of international disputes. [7] [8]

European diplomatic alignments shortly before the World War I. Germany and the Ottoman Empire allied after the outbreak of war. WWIchartX.svg
European diplomatic alignments shortly before the World War I. Germany and the Ottoman Empire allied after the outbreak of war.

The forerunner of the League of Nations, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), was formed by peace activists William Randal Cremer and Frédéric Passy in 1889. The organization was international in scope with a third of the members of parliament, in the 24 countries with parliaments, serving as members of the IPU by 1914. Its aims were to encourage governments to solve international disputes by peaceful means and arbitration and annual conferences were held to help governments refine the process of international arbitration. The IPU's structure consisted of a Council headed by a President which would later be reflected in the structure of the League. [9]

At the start of the twentieth century two power blocs emerged through alliances between the European Great Powers. It was these alliances that came into effect at the start of the First World War in 1914, drawing all the major European powers into the war. This was the first major war in Europe between industrialized countries and the first time in Western Europe the results of industrialization (for example mass production) had been dedicated to war. The result of this industrial warfare was an unprecedented casualty level with eight and a half million members of armed services dead, an estimated 21 million wounded, and approximately 10 million civilian deaths. [10] [11]

By the time the fighting ended in November 1918, the war had had a profound impact, affecting the social, political and economic systems of Europe and inflicting psychological and physical damage on the continent. [12] Anti-war sentiment rose across the world; the First World War was described as "the war to end all wars", [13] [14] and its possible causes were vigorously investigated. The causes identified included arms races, alliances, secret diplomacy, and the freedom of sovereign states to enter into war for their own benefit. The perceived remedies to these were seen as the creation of an international organization whose aim was to prevent future war through disarmament, open diplomacy, international co-operation, restrictions on the right to wage wars, and penalties that made war unattractive to nations. [15]


Collective security can be understood as a security arrangement in which all states cooperate collectively to provide security for all by the actions of all against any states within the groups which might challenge the existing order by using force. That contrasts with self-help strategies of engaging in war for purely-immediate national interest. While collective security is possible, several prerequisites must be met for it to work.

Collective security also contrasts with alliances by different ways. In a Ph.D dissertation by Andreatta, collective security is based on the perspective of all together in a group against any of them, rather than on unilateral idea of some against specific others. [16] Alliances have the form of two groups against each other, such as states A+B+C against states Y+Z; however, collective security takes the form of conducting one agreement between A+B+C+Y+Z against any of them. Moreover, it is also different from an alliance since collective security is made to focus on internal regulation required universal membership, but alliance is made to deter or reduce an outside threat as an exclusive institution. In an alliance, a state would see its allies as an absolute gain and its enemies as a relative gains without legal obligation. In contrast, collective security follows the case of neutrality, as the whole group is required to punish the aggressor in the hope for it not to violate general norms, which are beyond the states' control, rather than by their self-interest. The opposite of short-term interest in which allies fight against a common threat, collective security tends to use universal interests for global peace. [16]

Sovereign nations eager to maintain the status quo willingly co-operate and accept a degree of vulnerability and, in some cases for minor nations, also accede to the interests of the chief contributing nations organising the collective security. It is achieved by setting up an international co-operative organisation under the auspices of international law, which gives rise to a form of international collective governance, despite being limited in scope and effectiveness. The collective security organisation then becomes an arena for diplomacy, the balance of power, and the exercise of soft power. The use of hard power by states, unless legitimised by the collective security organisation, is considered illegitimate, reprehensible, and necessating remediation of some kind. The collective security organisation not only gives cheaper security but also may be the only practicable means of security for smaller nations against more powerful threatening neighbours without needing to join the camp of the nations that balance their neighbours.

The concept of "collective security" was pioneered by Michael Joseph Savage, Martin Wight, Immanuel Kant, and Woodrow Wilson and was deemed to apply interests in security in a broad manner to "avoid grouping powers into opposing camps, and refusing to draw dividing lines that would leave anyone out." [17] The term "collective security" has also been cited as a principle of the United Nations and earlier the League of Nations. By employing a system of collective security, the United Nations hopes to dissuade any member state from acting in a manner likely to threaten peace and thus avoid a conflict.

Collective security selectively incorporates the concept of both balance of power and global government. However, collective security is not the same as the balance of power, which is important in realism. According to Adreatta, the balance of power focuses on a state's unilateral interests in stopping aggression. Since states look at the world as having a security dilemma because of the fear of relative gain, a state does not want any state to become predominant and so causes a mutually-restraining equilibrium. In other words, the balance of power between states supports the decentralization of power. States are separate actors and do not subordinate their autonomy or sovereignty to a central government. "Singly or in combinations reflecting the coincidence of interests, States seek to influence the pattern of power distribution and to determine their own places within that pattern." [18] The expectations of order and peace come from the belief that competing powers will somehow balance and thereby neutalize one another to produce "deterrence through equilibration." [19] In contrast, under collective security, states share the long term goal of global peace, reversing relationship between individual and community goals mentioned in the balance of power theory, which fails to maintain stability. For example, it led to break down of war during the case of Napoleonic Wars and the World Wars, when states unilaterally decided to be unwilling or unable to fight.

At the same time, the concept of global government is about centralization. Global government is a centralized institutional system that possesses the power use of force like a well-established sovereign nation-state. The concept strips states of their "standing as centers of power and policy, where issues of war and peace are concerned" [19] and superimposes on them "an institution possessed of the authority and capability to maintain, by unchallengeable force so far as may be necessary, the order and stability of a global community." [19] Despite different characteristics of balance of power theory, collective security selectively incorporates both concepts, centralization and decentralization, which can broil down to the phrase "order without government." [20] Thus, collective security seems to be more reliable alternative since it gathers power as a team to punish the aggressor, and it is an attempt to improve international relations and to provide solid rules under anarchy.

Basic assumptions

Organski (1960) lists five basic assumptions underlying the theory of collective security: [21]


Morgenthau (1948) states that three prerequisites must be met for collective security to successfully prevent war:

League of Nations

In 1938, France betrayed Czechoslovakia and signed Munich Agreement, with Nazi Germany effectively dishonoring the French-Czechoslovak alliance. Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R69173, Munchener Abkommen, Staatschefs.jpg
In 1938, France betrayed Czechoslovakia and signed Munich Agreement, with Nazi Germany effectively dishonoring the French-Czechoslovak alliance.

After World War I, the first large-scale attempt to provide collective security in modern times was the establishment of the League of Nations in 1919 and 1920. The provisions of the League of Nations Covenant represented a weak system for decisionmaking and collective action. According to Palmer and Perking, they pointed failure of the United States to join the League of Nations and the rise of the Soviet Union outside the League as one of major reasons for its failure to enforce collective security. [22] Moreover, an example of the failure of the League of Nations' collective security was the Manchurian Crisis, when Japan occupied part of China, both of which were League members. After the invasion, members of the League passed a resolution that called for Japan to withdraw or face severe penalties. Since every nation had a veto power, Japan promptly vetoed the resolution, severely limiting the League's ability to respond. After one year of deliberation, the League passed a resolution condemning the invasion without committing its members to any action against it. The Japanese replied by quitting the League.

The Abyssinia Crisis occurred in 1935, when Fascist Italy invaded the Abyssinian Empire, now Ethiopia. In a similar process, sanctions were passed, but Italy would have vetoed any stronger resolution. Additionally, Britain and France sought to court Italy's government as a potential deterrent to Hitler since Mussolini had not yet joined the Axis powers of World War II. Thus, neither Britain nor France put any serious sanctions against the Italian government.

In both cases, the absence of the United States deprived it of another major power that could have used economic leverage against either of the aggressor states. Inaction by the League subjected it to criticisms that it was weak and concerned more with European issues since most leading of its members were European, and it did not deter Hitler from his plans to dominate Europe. Abyssinian Emperor Haile Selassie continued to support collective security, as he assessed that impotence lay not in the principle but its covenantors' commitment to honor its tenets.

One active and articulate exponent of collective security during the immediate prewar years was Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov. [23] However, there are grounds for doubt about the depth of commitment to the principle for the Soviets to the Western powers.

After the Munich Agreement in September 1938 and the passivity of outside powers in the face of German occupation of the remainder of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Western powers were shown not to be prepared to engage in collective security with the Soviet Union against aggression by Germany.

Soviet foreign policy was revised, and Litvinov was replaced as foreign minister in early May 1939 to facilitate the negotiations that led to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Germany, which was signed by Litvinov's successor, Vyacheslav Molotov, on August 23. The war in Europe broke out a week later with the invasion of Poland, which started on September 1. Thus, collective security may not always work because of the lack of commitment and the unwillingness of states or the international community to act in concert (Mingst 1999).

United Nations

The leaders of some of the SEATO nations in Manila, hosted by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos on 24 October 1966 CongressBuilding SEATO.jpg
The leaders of some of the SEATO nations in Manila, hosted by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos on 24 October 1966

The 1945 United Nations Charter contains stronger provisions for decision-making and collective military action than those of the League of Nations Covenant, but it represents not a complete system of collective security but a balance between collective action and the continued operation of the states system, including the continued special roles of great powers. States in the UN collective security system are selective to support or oppose UN action in certain conflicts, based on their self-interests. The UN can be somehow seen as the platform for self-interest purposes for members in Security Council because of the permanent members' veto power and the excessive assistance or aid, which have made those states to act unilaterally and to ignore the approval of or to violate resolutions of the Security Council. The Iraq Crisis is a clearer example: "Rather than seek the global interest of peace and security through stability in Iraq and the Middle East region, the domination oriented members amassed their vast economic, diplomatic and military resources, captured and brazenly subjugated Iraq to an unprecedented condominial regime serving their economic interest under Iraq Reconstruction Programme" (Eke 2007). [22] In addition, the lack of geographical spread of members in the Security Council causes an imbalance in the role of maintenance global peace and security. The voices of small countries can be heard, but policies are not adopted in response to them unless they serves the great powers' interests.

However, collective security in the UN has not completely failed. The role of the UN and collective security in general is evolving with the rise of civil wars. Since the end of World War II, there have been 111 military conflicts worldwide, but only 9 of them have involved two or more states going to war with one another. The others have been civil wars in which other states have intervened in some manner. That means that collective security may have to evolve towards providing a means to ensure stability and a fair international resolution to those internal conflicts. Whether that involves more powerful peacekeeping forces or a larger role for the UN diplomatically is likely to be judged on a case-by-case basis.

Collective defense

Member states of NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization (orthographic projection).svg
Member states of NATO

Collective defense is an arrangement, usually formalized by a treaty and an organization, among participant states that commit support in defense of a member state if it is attacked by another state outside the organization. NATO is the best-known collective defense organization; its famous Article 5 calls on (but does not fully commit) member states to assist another member under attack. This article was invoked only after the September 11 attacks on the United States, after which other NATO members provided assistance to the US War on Terror by participating in the War in Afghanistan.

Collective defense has its roots in multiparty alliances and entails benefits as well as risks. On the one hand, by combining and pooling resources, it can reduce any single state's cost of providing fully for its security. Smaller members of NATO, for example, have leeway to invest a greater proportion of their budget on nonmilitary priorities, such as education or health, since they can count on other members to come to their defense, if needed.

On the other hand, collective defense also involves risky commitments. Member states can become embroiled in costly wars benefiting neither the direct victim nor the aggressor. In World War I, countries in the collective defense arrangement known as the Triple Entente (France, Britain, Russia) were pulled into war quickly when Russia started full mobilization against Austria-Hungary, whose ally, Germany, later declared war on Russia.

See also

Related Research Articles

League of Nations 20th-century intergovernmental organisation, predecessor to the United Nations

The League of Nations, abbreviated as LON, was the first worldwide intergovernmental organisation whose principal mission was to maintain world peace. It was founded on 10 January 1920 following the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War; in 1919 U.S. president Woodrow Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role as the leading architect of the League.

Peace State of harmony characterized by lack of violent conflict and freedom from fear of violence

Peace is a concept of societal friendship and harmony in the absence of hostility and violence. In a social sense, peace is commonly used to mean a lack of conflict and freedom from fear of violence between individuals or groups. Throughout history leaders have used peacemaking and diplomacy to establish a certain type of behavioral restraint that has resulted in the establishment of regional peace or economic growth through various forms of agreements or peace treaties. Such behavioral restraint has often resulted in the reduction of conflicts, greater economic interactivity, and consequently substantial prosperity.

Pax Americana is a term applied to the concept of relative peace in the Western Hemisphere and later the world beginning around the middle of the 20th century, thought to be caused by the preponderance of power enjoyed by the United States. Although the term finds its primary utility in the latter half of the 20th century, it has been used with different meanings and eras, such as the post-Civil War era in North America, and regionally in the Americas at the start of the 20th century. Pax Americana is primarily used in its modern connotations to refer to the peace among great powers established after the end of World War II in 1945, also called the Long Peace. In this modern sense, it has come to indicate the military and economic position of the United States in relation to other nations. For example, the Marshall Plan, which spent $13 billion to rebuild the economy of Western Europe, has been seen as "the launching of the pax americana".

Grand Alliance (League of Augsburg) European coalition

The Grand Alliance is the anti-French coalition formed on 20 December 1689 between England, the Dutch Republic and the Archduchy of Austria. It was signed by the two leading opponents of France; William III, King of England and Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, and Emperor Leopold, on behalf of the Archduchy of Austria.

Military alliance alliance between different states with the purpose to cooperate militarily

A military alliance is an international agreement concerning national security in which the contracting parties agree to mutual protection and support in case of a crisis that has not been identified in advance. Military alliances differ from coalitions, which formed for a crisis that already exists.

Little Entente alliance formed in 1920 and 1921 by Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia

The Little Entente was an alliance formed in 1920 and 1921 by Czechoslovakia, Romania and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes with the purpose of common defense against Hungarian revanchism and the prospect of a Habsburg restoration. France supported the alliance by signing treaties with each member country. The rapid growth of German power caused its collapse in 1938, and it never went into wartime operation.

Great power Nation that has great political, social, and economic influence

A great power is a sovereign state that is recognized as having the ability and expertise to exert its influence on a global scale. Great powers characteristically possess military and economic strength, as well as diplomatic and soft power influence, which may cause middle or small powers to consider the great powers' opinions before taking actions of their own. International relations theorists have posited that great power status can be characterized into power capabilities, spatial aspects, and status dimensions.

In international relations, multilateralism refers to an alliance of multiple countries pursuing a common goal.

Prince Paul of Yugoslavia Regent of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia

Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, also known as Paul Karađorđević, was Prince Regent of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia during the minority of King Peter II. Paul was a first cousin of Peter's father Alexander I.

Grand strategy or high strategy is the long-term strategy pursued at the highest levels by a nation to further its interests. Issues of grand strategy typically include the choice of primary versus secondary theaters in war, distribution of resources among the various services, the general types of armaments manufacturing to favor, and which international alliances best suit national goals. With considerable overlap with foreign policy, grand strategy focuses primarily on the military implications of policy. A country's political leadership typically directs grand strategy with input from the most senior military officials. Development of a nation's grand strategy may extend across many years or even multiple generations.

Splendid Isolation is a term used to describe the 19th-century British diplomatic practice of avoiding permanent alliances, particularly under the governments of Lord Salisbury between 1885 and 1902.

Peace of Prague (1635) Saxony makes peace with Emperor Ferdinand and exits the Thirty Years War

The Peace of Prague, Pražský mír (Czech), Prager Frieden (German), signed on 30 May 1635, ended Saxony's participation in the Thirty Years War. The terms would later form the basis of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia.

International security set of measures taken by states and international organizations to ensure mutual survival and safety

International security, also called global security, is a term which refers to the measures taken by states and international organizations, such as the United Nations, European Union, and others, to ensure mutual survival and safety. These measures include military action and diplomatic agreements such as treaties and conventions. International and national security are invariably linked. International security is national security or state security in the global arena.

Polarity in international relations is any of the various ways in which power is distributed within the international system. It describes the nature of the international system at any given period of time. One generally distinguishes three types of systems: unipolarity, bipolarity, and multipolarity for three or more centers of power. The type of system is completely dependent on the distribution of power and influence of states in a region or globally.

Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter sets out the UN Security Council's powers to maintain peace. It allows the Council to "determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" and to take military and nonmilitary action to "restore international peace and security".

Balance of power (international relations) idea that national security is enhanced when military capabilities are distributed so no state is strong enough to dominate

The balance of power theory in international relations suggests that states may secure their survival by preventing any one state from gaining enough military power to dominate all others. If one state becomes much stronger, the theory predicts it will take advantage of its weaker neighbors, thereby driving them to unite in a defensive coalition. Some realists maintain that a balance-of-power system is more stable than one with a dominant state, as aggression is unprofitable when there is equilibrium of power between rival coalitions.

Four Policemen Proposed international order policed by the US, UK, USSR and ROC

The term "Four Policemen" refers to a post-war council consisting of the Big Four that U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed as a guarantor of world peace. The members of the Big Four, called the Four Powers during World War II, were the four major Allies of World War II: the United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet Union and China. The United Nations envisioned by Roosevelt consisted of three branches: an executive branch comprising the Big Four, an enforcement branch composed of the same four great powers acting as the Four Policemen or Four Sheriffs, and an international assembly representing the member nations of the UN.

The European balance of power is the tenet in international relations that no single power should be allowed to achieve hegemony over a substantial part of Europe. During much of the Modern Age, the balance was achieved by having a small number of ever-changing alliances contending for power, which culminated in the World Wars of the early 20th century. After the World Wars, European global dominance faded and the doctrine of European balance was replaced with a worldwide balance of power involving the United States, Soviet Union and, in a later period, China as the modern superpowers.

The Racial Equality Proposal was an amendment to the Treaty of Versailles that was considered at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Proposed by Japan, it was never intended to have any universal implications, but one was attached to it anyway, which caused its controversy. Japanese Foreign Minister Uchida Kōsai stated in June 1919 that the proposal was intended not to demand the racial equality of all coloured peoples but only that of members of the League of Nations.

The foreign policy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration was the foreign policy of the United States from 1933 to 1945, under the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, first and second terms, and the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, third and fourth terms. Roosevelt kept personal control of foreign-policy in the White House, and for that he depended heavily on Henry Morgenthau, Sumner Welles, and Harry Hopkins. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Cordell Hull handled routine matters; the president ignored Hull on most major issues. Roosevelt was an internationalist, and Congress favored more isolationist solutions, so there was considerable tension before Pearl Harbor in December 1941. During the war years, treaties were few, and diplomacy played a secondary role in high-level negotiations with the Allies, especially Britain's Winston Churchill and the Soviet Union's Joseph Stalin.


  1. Macmillan., Palgrave (2015). Global politics. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN   9781137349262. OCLC   979008143.
  2. Kant, Immanuel. "Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch". Mount Holyoke College. Retrieved 2008-05-16.
  3. Skirbekk, Gunnar; Gilje, Nils (2001). A History of Western Thought:from Ancient Greece to the Twentieth Century (illustrated ed.). Routledge. p. 288. ISBN   978-0-415-22073-6 . Retrieved 17 October 2010.
  5. Reichard 2006, p. 9.
  6. Rapoport 1995, pp. 498–500.
  7. Bouchet-Saulnier, Brav & Olivier 2007, pp. 14–134.
  8. Northedge 1986, p. 10.
  9. "Before the League of Nations". The United Nations Office at Geneva. Retrieved 2008-06-14.
  10. Bell 2007, pp. 15–17.
  11. Northedge 1986, pp. 1–2.
  12. Bell 2007, p. 16.
  13. Archer 2001, p. 14.
  14. Northedge 1986, p. 1.
  15. Bell 2007, p. 8.
  16. 1 2 Andreatta, Filippo (Summer 1996). "Collective security: Theory and practice of an institution for peace in the XX century". Collective Security.
  17. Yost, David S. (1977). NATO Transformed: The Alliance's New Roles in International Security. London: Leicester University Press. p. 149.
  18. I.L. Claude, Jr., "The Management of Power in the Changing United Nations", International Organization, Vol. 15 (Spring 1961), pp. 219–221
  19. 1 2 3 Claude, p. 222
  20. I. L. Claude, Jr. "An Autopsy of Collective Security", Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 90 (Winter 1975–76), p. 715
  21. As quoted in Ghosh (1960), pg 89. Paraphrased.
  22. 1 2 Ebegbulem, Joseph C (2011). "The Failure of Collective Security in the Post World Wars I and II International System" (PDF). Journal of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. 2.
  23. "Maksim Litvinov". Encyclopaedia Britannica.