Collective security

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]

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. This contrasts with self-help strategies of engaging in war for purely immediate national interest. While collective security is possible, several prerequisites have to be met for it to work.

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

Sovereign nations eager to maintain the status quo, willingly cooperate, accepting a degree of vulnerability and in some cases of minor nations, also accede to the interests of the chief contributing nations organising the collective security. Collective Security is achieved by setting up an international cooperative organisation, under the auspices of international law and this gives rise to a form of international collective governance, albeit limited in scope and effectiveness. The collective security organisation then becomes an arena for diplomacy, balance of power and exercise of soft power. The use of hard power by states, unless legitimised by the Collective Security organisation, is considered illegitimate, reprehensible and needing 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 the need of joining the camp of the nations balancing their neighbours.

The concept of "collective security" forwarded by men such as Michael Joseph Savage, Martin Wight, Immanuel Kant, and Woodrow Wilson, are 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 the League of Nations before that. By employing a system of collective security, the UN hopes to dissuade any member state from acting in a manner likely to threaten peace, thereby avoiding any conflict.

Collective security selectively incorporates the concept of both balance of power and global government. However, the term "Collective Security" is not the same as Balance of power, mentioned in Realism theory. According to Adreatta, balance of power focuses on state's unilateral interests stopping aggression. Since states look at the world as having security dilemma due to the fear of relative gain, state does not want any state to become predominant causing a mutually restraining equilibrium. In other word, Balance of power between states opts for decentralization of power. States are separate actors who do not subordinate their autonomy or sovereignty to a central. "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 expectation of order and peace comes from the belief that competing powers will somehow balance and thereby cancel each other out 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 Balance of Power theories. Balance of power fails to maintain stability led to break down of war as in the case of Napoleonic Wars and 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. This concept strips states of their "standing as centers of power and policy, where issues of war and peace are concerned,"[19] and superimposing 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 some different characteristics of balance of power theory, collective Collective security selectively incorporates both of the concepts, centralization and decentralization, which can broil down to a 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]

  • In an armed conflict, member nation-states will be able to agree on which nation is the aggressor.
  • All member nation-states are equally committed to contain and constrain the aggression, irrespective of its source or origin.
  • All member nation-states have identical freedom of action and ability to join in proceedings against the aggressor.
  • The cumulative power of the cooperating members of the alliance for collective security will be adequate and sufficient to overpower the might of the aggressor.
  • In the light of the threat posed by the collective might of the nations of a collective security coalition, the aggressor nation will modify its policies, or if unwilling to do so, will be defeated.


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

  • The collective security system must be able to assemble military force in strength greatly in excess to that assembled by the aggressor(s) thereby deterring the aggressor(s) from attempting to change the world order defended by the collective security system.
  • Those nations, whose combined strength would be used for deterrence as mentioned in the first prerequisite, should have identical beliefs about the security of the world order that the collective is defending.
  • Nations must be willing to subordinate their conflicting interests to the common good defined in terms of the common defense of all member-states.

In the League of Nations

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 decision-making and for collective action. According to Palmer and Perking, they pointed failure of United States in joining League of Nations and the rise of the Soviet Union outside the League as one of major reasons why it was failed under enforcement of collective security.[22] Moreover, an example of the failure of the League of Nations' collective security is the Manchurian Crisis, when Japan occupied part of China (which was a League member). After the invasion, members of the League passed a resolution calling for Japan to withdraw or face severe penalties. Given that every nation on the League of Nations council had 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 Italy invaded Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). In a smilar 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 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. Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie continued to support collective security, as he assessed that impotence lay not in the principle but in its covenantors' commitment to honor its tenets.

One active and articulate exponent of collective security during the immediate prewar years was the Soviet foreign minister, Maxim Litvinov. However, there are grounds for doubt about the depth of commitment to the principle for the Soviets oand 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, signed by Litvinov's successor, Vyacheslav Molotov, on August 23 of that year. The war in Europe broke out a week later, when the invasion of Poland started on September 1, 1939. Thus, collective security does 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 1945 United Nations Charter contains ronger provisions for decision-making and collective military action than those of the League of Nations Covenant, but it does not represent 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. That has 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, lack of geographical spread of members in 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 remainder have either 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 will involve more powerful peacekeeping forces or a larger role for the UN diplomatically will likely be judged on a case-by-case basis.

Collective defense

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


  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. 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. 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. 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.


  • Beer, Francis A., ed. (1970). Alliances: Latent War Communities in the Contemporary World. New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Bourquin, Maurice (1936). Collective Security, A record of the Seventh and Eighth International Studies Conference. Paris: International Institute.
  • Claude Jr., Inis L. (2006). Collective Security as an Approach to Peace in: Classic Readings and Contemporary Debates in International Relations ed. Donald M. Goldstein, Phil Williams, & Jay M. Shafritz. Belmont CA: Thomson Wadsworth. pp. 289–302.
  • Ghosh, Peu (2009). International Relations (Eastern Economy ed.). New Delhi: PHI Learning Private Ltd. p. 389. ISBN 978-81-203-3875-3. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  • Lowe, Vaughan, Adam Roberts, Jennifer Welsh and Dominik Zaum, The United Nations Security Council and War: The Evolution of Thought and Practice since 1945 Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, paperback, 794 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-958330-0.
  • Organski, A.F.K. (1958). World Politics. Borzoi books on International Politics (1 ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 461. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
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