Need for collective security

ByM Ali Siddiqi

writer who contributes to leading periodicals


March 5, 2023

Need for collective security

M Ali Siddiqi talks about an imperative Need for collective security

The Russian-Ukraine conflict has once again brought to fore the need for collective security & for reorienting the nuances of collective security as without it the clouds of war will keep on threatening global peace. It must be reiterated that in a collective security system, each state in the system accepts that the security of one is the concern of all and agrees to join in a collective response to threats to peace.

This crucial aspect of the international system started emerging after the Treaty of Westphalia and gained ground in the post–World War I period as international society sought to restrict the previously wide-ranging right of states to resort to war as an instrument of state policy. Specifically, after the Second World War the global powers along with other countries devised a collective security system by establishing the United Nations that categorically emphasized the prohibition of aggressive force.

However, the Cold War seriously threatened collective security objectives but its end opened new opportunities for collective security with an increasing number of enforcement resolutions adopted by the UN including expansion in the number and coercive character of UN peacekeeping operations.

The traditional conception of collective security was intended to strengthen the rights of states to independence and to reinforce an international legal order built around the concepts of sovereignty and nonintervention. Instead of maintaining a balance of power, collective security emphasized the independence of all states including all kinds of states.

The stress on reinforcing the rights of states and on maintaining the sanctity of established borders against forcible change has given rise to one of the most enduring dilemmas regarding the need to accommodate change but simultaneously prevent a collective security organization from becoming an instrument for maintaining the status quo.

Primarily Need For Collective Security

The other difficulty is the exact application of collective security as primarily the concept deals with the dangers of formal interstate violence and the problem of the aggressive use of force by states. Faced with the united opposition of the international community, states would come to accept that aggression simply could not pay.

In this context, the post–Cold War period has changed the character of the need for collective security and the changing dynamics of the global security landscape after the easing of major power rivalry. It must however be kept in view that the modern world also witnessed the emergence of a wide range of new security challenges connected with civil wars, domestic social conflicts, ethnic strife, refugee crises, humanitarian disasters, and transnational terrorist threats.

The overarching concern now is in respect of human security, rather than the security of states or of regimes. This renewed concern has contested the character of the concept of security and the concept is sometimes defined analytically as dealing with the problem of capturing a well-understood and broadly shared interest in the face of many emerging problems.

There is hardly any doubt that the security problems faced by the current world are formidable whereby states and government leaders are faced with powerful incentives to protect their immediate short-term interests. But such rationalist logic underplays the challenge of the essentially contested nature of security.

Very different historical circumstances and divergent values mean that there is rarely an easy answer to the question of whose security is to be upheld or against which threats that security is to be promoted. Together with the deeper intervention required to deal with many new security challenges.

Enforcing Order Between Independent Political Communication

There are plenty of questions raised about the inclusivity of members in a collective security system and to ensure that the power of the collectivity is sufficient to deter aggression and to enforce its decisions against all states along with reducing the danger that collective security will merely provide a framework within which power political competition and alliance politics are played out under a different guise.

In the same vein, it is pointed out that an effective collective security system requires leadership that is like-minded and possesses the power to enforce their decisions. This is the reason that regionally based collective security systems are most likely to prove effective and the post–Cold War period has seen an expansion of the role of regional security organizations.

Collective security has been seen as a means of enforcing order between independent political communities and of achieving a degree of centralization that does not radically threaten the independence and autonomy of states. The concept has viewed moves toward the collective management of armed forces as part of a broader process of reorganizing the political system and moving beyond the state system toward more centralized or federal forms of global political order.

Collective security offers the purest solution to the dilemma of preponderant power as inequality is not to be feared, opposed, or balanced but it is to be harnessed to the legitimate collective purposes of the international community. In this connection, the reality of power distribution is required to be diluted and collective security is to be applied in its place. It is more than clear that collective security involves a shared acceptance that a breach of the peace threatens the interests of all states.

Elaboration Of International Law

However, enforcement has very often been seen as critical but not always as it is fervently believed that the clear elaboration of international law would be crucial. The concept is also earnestly supported by the power of enlightened international opinion. It is noted that the emphasis on deterrence and enforcement places security analytically close to mainstream realist writing on alliances and the balance of power and also finds commonalities with the liberal thought process.

It is also pointed out that with the possible emergence of a situation in which cooperation goes beyond instrumental calculation and the use of force declines as a tool of statecraft the relevance and importance of historically constructed interests and identities, learning and ideational forces, and of normative and institutional structures within which state interests are constructed and redefined. Instead of focusing solely on material incentives.

Some however argue that, although there is no current satisfactory global collective security system as was proved by the lengthening of the Russian-Ukraine conflict, the collective element in security management has increased and even major states need multilateral security institutions both to share the material and political burdens of security management and to gain the authority and legitimacy that the possession of crude power alone can never secure.

It is undeniable that peace is not indivisible and also that states and their citizens are often unwilling to bear the costs of collective action in conflicts in which their direct interests are only weakly engaged but large parts of the global security system continue to be shaped by the unilateral pursuit of state interest. This point underscores the strength of the security principle and is bound to gain dominance in the times to come. The Weekender


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