The Theory Of Collective Security In The Un International Law Essay

After it had been established in 1945, when World War II came to an end, the United Nation (UN) adopted the notion of collective security as a “security arrangement”. This arrangement was to ensure that all of the states under the shadow of the United Nations Organization would “cooperate collectively” to provide security for one another.

However, to a great extent, the structure and practice of the UN sometimes sways from the theory of collective security. In this regard, this essay will first provide a definition of collective security. Subsequently, a thorough analysis will be given of the extent that the UN has been adopting the theory of collective security.

According to Graham Evans and Jeffrey Newnham, The Dictionary of World Politics (Hemel Hempstead, 1990), the theory of collective security is a “theory in international relations”. According to them “nations achieve security from attack by collective military agreements of all nations with each other to join forces against any aggressor”. They believe that it is “an alternative to balance of power” [] . What is meant by balance of power here is that parity of power between nations is contributing to peace, since it hold backs any one nation from being involved in war with another. As a result, weak nations may be supporting common stability by arming, but the strong nations possibly destabilize balance by going on arming. Furthermore, in its research titled Conflict Research Consortium, the University of Colorado, USA defines collective security as a ” type of coalition building strategy” where each country agrees not to attack other countries and to defend them against any other possible attacks. The principal line of reasoning is that “an attack against one, is an attack against all.” [] Â . Collective security theory is different from “collective defense” which means a coalition of nations which have contracts to protect its own group from outside attacks.  Examples of collective defense are NATO and the Warsaw Pact. On the other hand the UN is an” attempt at collective security”.  Advocators of collective security believe that it is more effective way to “security than individual countries trying to act alone, as weaker countries cannot possibly defend themselves” [] . Although collective security arrangements are designed to aid international cooperation, security is not provided by the United Nations Organization for all its members. When United Nations laws are breached, powerful countries are not always judged the same way as weaker countries.

On the other hand, some other scholars and diplomats believe that the security concept is “misguided”. In other words, it is bewildered because it is sometimes misused and even confused with other concepts such as mutual security agreements among the members of alliance such as NATO countries. Thus, practices are not subjected to the United Nations regulations. Not only this, sometimes cooperative security is applied by invading other countries, occupying lands, destroying economy and property and killing people. Thus, it becomes military alliance which leads to military confrontations and accordingly endangers peace and transfers the meaning of collective security to be an aggressive coalition.

The role of the UN is activated by the Security Council which responds to the requirements of the members of the United Nations in voting and making decisions. The United Nations Security Council consists of 15 members: five permanent ones and ten temporary ones with two-years terms. The permanent countries are the USA, the UK, France, Russia and China. In theory, the task of these countries includes applying the theory of collective security when there are emerging issues. For example, under Chapter Six of the UN Charter, “Pacific Settlement of Disputes [] “, the Security Council is entitled to investigate disputes and all other situations which may lead to such disputes. Thus, the Security Council may vote for appropriate procedures in order to keep peace and settlement using all possible ways such as collective security procedures. These decisions can only be made by the consent of at least 9 out of the 15 members of the Security Council members and none of the five permanent members should object or vote against such decisions.

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Furthermore, it is supposed that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a principal organ of the UN should be charged with the maintenance of international peace and security. Thus, it should use its powers, according to the United Nations Charter, to establish peacekeeping operations and might be obliged to also establish international sanctions in addition to the authorization of military action. However, such powers should only be exercised through United Nations Security Council Resolutions. For example, under Chapter Seven, the Council has enough authorities to decide what procedures should be taken in case there are some situations where there are threats to peace, breaching peace or some acts of aggression against peace, people or countries. In this case, the Security Council has the power to use armed force in order to keep or restore peace and collective security. Examples of these measures were when there was an armed action by the UN in Korea in 1959 during the Korean War and the use of coalition forces in Iraq and Kuwait in the year 1991 when Kuwait was liberated from Iraqi Forces.

Moreover, the UN’s role in international collective security is illustrated by the UN Charter. According to this charter, the Security Council is given the power to consider any situation which threatens international peace. The Security Council can also advise some procedures for peaceful resolution of any dispute. In addition, the Security Council can ask other member nations to totally or partially break off economic relations, sea, air, postal, and radio communications, and even diplomatic relations with any country against whom a decision is taken by the Security Council. Additionally, The Security Council can also use military force if it is deemed as necessary. However, it is sometimes possible to manage and avoid conflicts, by keeping the focus on cooperation [] .

Despite what has been mentioned above in regard to the adaptation of the Security Council resolutions and the theory of collective security, member states of the UN and also members of the Security Council have from time to time breached laws and regulations, hence undermining the theory of collective security.

Although the United States of America is the sponsor and host of the United Nations Organization, it is the first deviator from its laws including the breach of collective security. According to the UN charter Article 24, “in discharging these duties the Security Council shall act in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations. The specific powers granted to the Security Council for the discharge of these duties are laid down in Chapters VI, VII, VIII, and XII” [] . Yet, despite the absence of UN approval, U.S. military forces began invading Iraq from the Kuwaiti borders on the 20th of March, 2003. There was no unified support by the UN to attack Iraq and the Security Council was divided on the decision; however, undermining the theory of collective security, the USA alongside with the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland invaded Iraq and brought down the regime of Saddam Hussein in 21 days of major combat operations. With hindsight it became evident that the justifications used for the war were invalid and were only used to try and legalize the war. The Bush administration, backed by the support of Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister announced the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Bush administration’s general justification for the invasion of Iraq was presented by the US Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations Security Council on the 5th of February, 2003, when he said “We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction; he’s determined to make more. Given Saddam Hussein’s history of aggression… given what we know of his terrorist associations and given his determination to exact revenge on those who oppose him, should we take the risk that he will not some day use these weapons at a time and the place and in the manner of his choosing at a time when the world is in a much weaker position to respond? The United States will not and cannot run that risk to the American people. Leaving Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction for a few more months or years is not an option, not in a post-September 11 world” [] . According to Blair, the cause was Iraq’s failure to take a “final opportunity” to disarm itself of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that USA and UK asked its government and president to do immediately in order to keep peace and not threaten world peace [] . Two major forces in the world misused power and the notion of collective security and as a result the country was disastrously shattered, resources exploited with a high price of large losses of civilian lives. It became evident that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction


There are many other examples of breaching the collective security theory applications and objectives by wrong policies and practices of the United Nations members. For example, the USA invaded Panama in December 1989. Some justifications were given for such invasion like safeguarding the lives of the U.S. citizens in Panama, defending democracy and human rights in Panama, combating drug trafficking and protecting the integrity of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties [] . However with hindsight it became clear that the justifications were not enough to support the invasion and it was a clear breaching of collective security theory. Other examples of the limitations of collective security also comprises the Falklands War, when Argentina invaded the islands although they were considered British. However, there were many UN members who stayed out of the issue, as such an issue did not directly concern them [] .

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 has 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 internal conflicts. Whether this will involve more powerful peacekeeping forces or a larger role for the UN diplomatically, it will likely be judged from a case to case basis.

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Since the establishment of the UN in 1945, the Middle East has seen the negative consequences of breaching the agreements and arrangements set by the UN. Supported by the USA and some other Western Regimes, Israel has been breaching such laws. Since the voting of the existence of Israel in 1948 by some members of the United Nations, Israel has been continuously undermining recommendations and resolutions of the UN. For example, in 1967 it occupied territories from Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, killing civilians, creating unrest and destroying properties. In this regard, the worst misuse of the UN Security Council Rights has been utilized by USA. When it comes to condemning the illegal actions of Israel, the U.S. uses the right of veto against any resolution which may condemn Israeli actions.

Moreover, one of the latest collective security resolutions made by the UN Security Council adopted a sanctions resolution on Iran although there were two votes against and there was one abstention. According to the voters the ban was on Iranian certain nuclear and missile investment abroad [] .

To sum up, the theory of collective security implies a security arrangement among which all members of the United Nations share to provide security shadowed by the UN resolutions to keep world peace using all possible approved ways including sanctions and force.

Four basic principles of collective security should be adopted by the UN members. First one is that every state should have all relevant arrangements for which it should be committed. Second, when it comes to collective security, the power of using the veto to block any relevant decision should be very limited. Third, sanctions should not harm the people of the country on which they applied and should not harm other countries which apply them especially economically. Fourth, collective security should safeguard the world peace and the security of every country. However, deviations from such principle have been made by many members of the United Nations, mainly the USA. When it comes to condemn the illegitimate actions of one of its allies because such actions threaten the world peace and justice, the USA uses the veto to block any sanction or penalty. Finally, economic sanctions which are supposed to serve collective security often negatively affect the lives of the people of the country on which such sanctions are applied and not the governments which have enough to fulfill their needs. Collective security is abused by some representatives of nations which call for peace, justice, prosperity and happiness. Although it looks very ideal and great in essence, it is evident that member states of the UN have departed from the theory of collective security to a great extent, especially when their national interests are at stake; thus undermining not only the theory of collective security but also the UN organization itself.

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