United Nations for Collective Security

United Nations for Collective Security

United Nations for Collective Security

The end of World War I saw the formation of League of Nations founded on the points laid out Woodrow Wilson, the President of US. The core idea was to avoid wars that destroyed lives and nations. Unfortunately this league could not stop the Second World War which was more widespread and destructive than the First World War. The word ‘United Nations’ was coined by Franklin.D.Roosevelt and first used on January 1, 1942 but that was to reinforce the decision to stay together to fight against the Axis Powers.

Conception of United Nations

In 1945 representatives of 50 nations assembled in San Francisco to form the United Nations Charter. Prior to this, representatives from USSR, United Kingdom, China and USA had met at Dumbarton Oaks in 1944 to make some proposals. Based on the proposals the Charter was drawn and signed in 26th June 1945. Poland was the state that was included taking the number of member states to 51. Once the Charter was ratified the majority of member states, it officially came to existence on October 24th, 1945. The Preamble of the Charter states that it was intended to purge the world of wars and it was modelled after the League of Nations which in turn was rooted in Wilsonian idealism. It represented

  • Liberal approach to world politics
  • Another model to realism
  • Avoidance of wars which brought about indescribable miseries to mankind.

The core of both the League of Nations and United Nations was ‘collective security’. The way forward was to stop acts of aggression and even punish if there was interstate aggression. However the collective security concept did not happen with the formation of the League of Nations. France wanted to use the League to seek revenge on Germany. Though Woodrow Wilson gave out the basic thoughts for the League, USA did not join it. USA by then had become a power to reckon and it not being in the league was the failure of the league. All this was rectified in the United Nations Charter and 51 countries became members.

The United Nations was designed to handle interstate conflicts and not intrastate uprisings or internal wars. Article 2(7) forbids the United Nations from interfering in matters that are within the domestic jurisdiction of a nation. However this article had to be rewritten as the international community believed that they had to protect the rights of the people when the governments ruling the country become silent spectators to the unrest within a country. In Kosovo the ethnic Albanians fought against the government of Yugoslavia and the Serbs from 1998. It caught the attention of the world community and in 1999 the issue was resolved by the intervention of NATO which had its foundation rooted in the UN. Around the same time East Timorese wanted independence from Indonesia and the anti-independence activists attacked civilians killing almost 1400 people. A UN-authorized force (INTERFET) was deputed to restore peace in Timor. Though the article has rewritten, there are developing countries which do not want interference from others deputed by UN to solve the domestic issues.

The Core Beliefs of Collective Security

Collective security is understood as a security arrangement where the security of one and all is the basic concern. There is a collective response when the security is breached. Security also refers to the political, regional and global security.  Collective security has its base on various assumptions.

  • It is based on the organized power and will of the
  • In a conflict the member nations will and should be able to come to a consensus as to who is the aggressor.
  • All nations, irrespective of where the aggression has originated, must participate and be committed to contain the issue.
  • All the member nations were considered at par to join the action against the aggressor.
  • The total power of the member states will be more than the aggressor, in order to overpower the aggressor.
  • The aggressor is generally told the might of the collective security and if the aggressor is unwilling to come to term, it will be defeated.
  • If the aggressor is attacked it is collectively legitimized.
  • For successful operations the military force assembled must be greater than the aggressor’s strength.
  • The member nations should have identical beliefs about world security for which UN stands for.
  • Member nations must sink their differences for the common good.


The basic assumptions of collective security has many times not considered as in the case of UN police action in Korea. Police action was a euphemism for war, as soon after World War II, nations were reluctant to use the word ‘war’. North Korea and South Korea was the by product of the Cold War. North was supported by USSR and China while South was supported by USA. North Korea attacked South Korea in June 1950 and the supporting sides took sides. This was against the common principles which were set by the UN. USA, China and USSR were member states but they took sides. They were enforcing the 377 resolution which allowed the General Assembly to bypass the Security Council as a common agreement was not reached upon. In the case of Gulf War of 1990-1991 too, the basic principles of the UN were bypassed.

.Effectiveness of Collective Security

 By the rule book of the UN, there were enough provisions to prevent aggression of one country on another. However it mostly remained on paper. Time and again the UN has failed to stop small scale aggressions. Yes, it has been effective in containing these wars within the nations and not spread to become another world war. It was wrongly believed that a potential aggressor would calculate the losses fighting against the world body and this would become a deterrent to war. But unfortunately this did not happen. Numerous studies conducted by political scientists show that wars happen when the aggressor underestimates or even overestimates the capacity and intention of the opponents. To add to this we have a weak international community. There is a lack of will to deal with aggression with an impartial mind and not all take active interest in all the decisions. At the heart of it all, no nation is willing to sabotage its relationship with a friendly nation. Also if the stakes or interest is high in the nation the member nations refuse to accept the decision of the UN. When there were problems in Yugoslavia in 1991, US was not concerned as it was a far away nation and US had no particular interest in that country. On the other hand US attacked Iraq 1991. US national interests were at stake, so they decided to attack much against the principles of the UN.

Theory of Neo-Liberal Institutionalism

Neo-liberal institutionalism believed that collective security must function within the framework of international organisations like the UN. Only when it works within the framework the potential law-breakers can be contained. Sending UN forces to curb the aggression is not the first step. There are other ways by which the aggressor nation is warned. There are a series of sanctions which are found in the article 41, chapter VII of the UN Charter. The sanctions range from economic restrictions to diplomatic actions. The use of force is only the last option. Neo-liberal institutionalists believe that when all nations are the part of UN, disputes will be discussed in this common forum and there will be an amicable solution. They strongly believe that wars will not break out as disputes are sorted over the table. They also believe that the domestic situation influences the foreign policy of a country. There is an assumption that liberal democracies are less prone to war than non-democracies. The democratic peace theorists opine that in liberal democracies there is political division of power, there are balance systems and checks are made at many points. The culture and the framework of the nation are against waging wars. However the critics of liberal democracies state that even democratic countries are war-prone nations. According to Helmuth von Moltke “Perpetual Peace is a dream . . . and war is an integral part of God’s ordering of the universe.”

League of Nations and Military Action

War was the last resort to any peacekeeping mission. Only when restrictions on sanctions and diplomatic talks failed the UN forces were deployed. The League of Nations did not have a permanent military force. In peace keeping operations of Vilna, in Lithuania, in Upper Silesia, Leticia, Saar, an ad hoc force was created for peace keeping. Also diplomatic arbitrations were very slow in the League. The process was cumbersome too. So the League could not effectively resolve conflicts resulting in war. The Covenant of the League legitimized war when the diplomatic talks, within the League framework, failed. By 1930s the idea of collective security was given a backseat and power politics came to the forefront. So the world saw a series of failure by the League in the Spanish Civil war, Italian invasion of Ethiopia, Sudentenland crisis. Remilitarization of Rhineland by Germany and the breach of Versailles Peace Treaty by Germany and Austria eventually led to the Second World War.

Wrongs Rectified in the UN Charter ?

Learning from the mistakes of the League of Nations, the UN would have a strong military force of its own to upkeep collective security. Not having a permanent peace keeping force was the biggest drawback in the articles formed in the League of Nations. From the very beginning there was an understanding that military action would not be taken on the permanent members of the Security Council as that would lead to another world wide war. United Nations was formed in 1945 in San Francisco. After the failure of the League of Nations, this was yet another attempt to form a world body to maintain stability and to ensure that more horrendous wars were not fought. During WWII, US and USSR were on one side and President Roosevelt hoped this powerful alliance would continue after the war as well. It was hoped that the ‘Big Two’ would police the world. Towards the end of WWII, the relationship between US and USSR became strained. A model, which was successful during the war, was decided upon. The permanent members of the Security Council would supply their contingents to be a part of the military force maintained by the UN. They would be sent according to the agreements negotiated based on the Article 43 of the UN Charter. The Security Council had a Military Staff Committee under its control which had military representatives from the permanent members of the Security Council. This committee was responsible for making the blueprint for a permanent army. The Cold War between US and USSR thwarted these plans and there was no permanent military force for the UN. The agreements were not negotiated too.

Even though United Nations wanted to rectify the drawbacks of the League, but was not really successful especially in the most important aspect, to keep a permanent military force.  Collective security was based on a realistic conception. States had their sovereignty and this is the fundamental principle of UN’s international relations. The Security Council of UN has permanent 5 members. They are China, France, Russia, USA and United Kingdom. They are known as Big Five, Permanent Five or P5. Each of the P5 has a special voting right known as the ‘veto’. This was given to safeguard its national interest. This veto power ensured that United Nations could really work towards collective security. The failure in the structure and the rights of the permanent nations meant that a lot of improvisations had to be done to deal with wars. The word ‘peacekeeping’ is not mentioned in the UN Charter but five and half decades after the formation of the UN, it has been involved in over fifty peace keeping operations. Enforcement operations were also carried and each operation required a different approach.

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