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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. According to Inis Claude's article "Collective Security as an Approach to Peace" collective security is seen as a compromise between the concept of world government and a nation-state based balance of power system, where the latter is seen as destructive or not a good enough safeguard for peace, and the first is deemed unaccomplishable at the present time. And while collective security is possible, several prerequisites have to be met for it to work.


Early mentions

Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892), the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, prescribed collective security as a means to establish world peace in his writings during the 19th century:
The time must come when the imperative necessity for the holding of a vast, an all-embracing assemblage of men will be universally realized. The rulers and kings of the earth must needs attend it, and, participating in its deliberations, must consider such ways and means as will lay the foundations of the world's Great Peace amongst men. Such a peace demandeth that the Great Powers should resolve, for the sake of the tranquillity of the peoples of the earth, to be fully reconciled among themselves. Should any king take up arms against another, all should unitedly arise and prevent him. If this be done, the nations of the world will no longer require any armaments, except for the purpose of preserving the security of their realms and of maintaining internal order within their territories. This will ensure the peace and composure of every people, government and nation.

Basic principles of Collective Security

  • First: almost every state, especially all major states, have to be in the collective security arrangement and committed to it for it to work. The League of Nations faced major problems with this given that the United States, a leading international power, did not join nor give its support to the organization. Similarly, when Italy invaded Abyssinia, Britain's and France's governments were more committed to blocking the rise of Germany, and hence did not seriously chide Mussolini, who they saw as a potential ally against Adolf Hitler in 1935.

  • Second: no one state can block the decision making process. This was a major issue with the League of Nations, as it gave every state veto power, as well as with the UN, which gives it to 5 powerful nations. Should vetoes be allowed, the collective security arrangement will be greatly weakened as one country can subvert a democratic decision.

  • Third: for sanctions to work, the international economy has to be sufficiently interdependent such that sanctions harm the intended country enough, but do not harm the countries doing the sanctioning. And for sanctions to work, universality of their application is especially important for them to have an effect.

  • Which leads to the fourth prerequisite; that for countries to trust collective security, they have to know it works well enough to safeguard their security. But at the same time, unless countries trust it, it's less likely to work. And while it is possible for collective security to start off with a small number of states and gradually have more adopt the idea, the first three issues need to be addressed in the first place, especially the second with regards to the UN's allocation of veto power and permanent seats.

Collective Security in the League of Nations

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. Another example of the failure of the League of Nation's collective security is the Manchurian Crisis, when Japanmarker occupied part of Chinamarker (who 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 LN's ability to respond. After two years of deliberation, the League passed a resolution condemning the invasion without committing the League's members to any action against it. The Japanese replied by quitting the League of Nations.

A similar process occurred in 1935, when Italy invaded Ethiopia. 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, given that Mussolini was not in what would become the Axis alliance of WWII. Thus, neither enforced any serious sanctions against the Italian government. Additionally, in this case and with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the absence of the USA from the League of Nations deprived the LN 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 (most leading members were European), and did not deter Hitler from his plans to dominate Europe. The Ethiopian monarch Emperor Haile Selassie I continued to support collective security though, having assessed that impotence lay not in the principle but in its covenantors commitment to honor its tenets.

The most active and articulate exponent of collective security during the immediate pre-war years was the Soviet foreign minister Maxim Litvinov, but after the Munich Agreement in September 1938 and Western passivity in the face of German occupation of the remainder of Czechoslovakiamarker in March 1939 it was shown that the Western Powers were not prepared to engage in collective security against aggression by the Axis Powers together with the Soviet Union, Soviet foreign policy was revised and Litvinov was replaced as foreign minister in early May 1939, in order 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, with the German invasion of Poland on September 1.

Recent events

Cited examples of the limitations of collective security include the Falklands War. When Argentinamarker invaded the islands, which are overseas territories of the United Kingdommarker, many UN members stayed out of the issue, as it did not directly concern them. There was also a controversy about the United Statesmarker role in that conflict due their obligations as a Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (the "Rio Pact") member. However, many politicians who view the system as having faults also believe it remains a useful tool for keeping international peace.

The role of the UN and collective security in general is also evolving given the rise of internal state conflicts since the end of WWII, there have been 111 military conflicts world wide, but only 9 of which have involved two or more states going to war with one another. The remainder have either been internal civil wars or civil wars where other nations intervened in some manner. This 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 this will involve more powerful peacekeeping forces or a larger role for the UN diplomatically will likely be judged from a case to case basis.

Collective defense

Current Military Alliances

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." Tenets of collective security continue to be behind many famous current and historical military alliances, most notably NATOmarker. 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 defense (also collective defence) 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. NATOmarker is the best known collective defense organization. Its now famous Article V calls on (but does not fully commit) member states to assist another member under attack. This article was invoked after the September 11 attacks on the United Statesmarker, after which other NATO members provided assistance to the US War on Terror in Afghanistanmarker.

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 non-military 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 in which neither the direct victim nor the aggressor benefit. In the First World War, countries in the collective defense arrangement known as the Triple Entente (France, Britainmarker, Russiamarker) were pulled into war quickly when Russia started full mobilization against Austria-Hungary, whose ally Germanymarker subsequently declared war on Russia.

See also


  1. pgs. 289-302
  2. p. 248
  3. p. 149


  • pgs. 289-302
  • p. 149

External links

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