Collective Security: Concept and Problems

Subject: Politics & Government
Pages: 7
Words: 1765
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: College


In the contemporary world, the challenge of providing security has been heightened by the increased rate of globalization, technological advancements, and the threat of terrorism (Cabrera 2012, p. 12). Over the years, numerous strategies have been developed as a way of providing security and ensuring peace across the world. One such strategy is the concept of collective security. According to experts, collective security refers to a coalition between two or more countries, focusing on building a strategy for addressing security challenges and threats to their peaceful coexistence (Wright 2006, p. 34). According to experts, a collective security approach entails a treaty developed between countries from the same region, with shared interests, or common security threats. Critics consider the idea of collective security as one characterized by a high degree of failure (Cabrera 2012, p. 21). They argue that factors such as conflicting national interests, cultural diversity, ideological differences, and aggressive regimes often contribute to the numerous problems associated with this approach (Wright 2006, p. 43). Although the concept of collective security is an effective strategy for ensuring peaceful coexistence in the world, it is important to address some crucial assumptions, prerequisites and illusions, which are part of its problem.


The concept of collective security was first introduced in the 18th Century, when various European countries grouped together to develop arrangements for addressing various security issues (Abass 2004, p. 100). Most people do not know the meaning and importance of collective security in promoting global security. This concept represents a security and peace promotion system that encourages countries to combine their resources towards achieving a common good (Cabrera 2012, p. 30). In a collective security agreement member countries ought to follow certain agreed norms in support of each other (Cabrera 2012, p. 40). Countries in a collective security treaty believe in the power of a collective decision-making process and action plan (Wright 2006, p. 50). This idea played a crucial role in the emergence and development of the League of Nations (Wright 2006, p. 54).

The League of Nations

The League of Nations emerged following the conclusion of the first world war in 1920 (Wright 2006, p. 61). It constituted countries that wanted to promote global peace by preventing the possibility of another war breaking out. Their strategy for achieving this feat was through disarmament, collective security, as well as management of international conflicts by using strategies such as mediation and concession (Wilson 2014, p. 108). Their guiding principle was the spirit of togetherness, where any security threat directed towards any member was considered as an assault on everyone (Abass 2004, p. 111). The league lasted for only two and a half decades, as lack of enough military power, sanctions against league members, and veto powers forced some members to terminate their membership. In addition, the emergence of the second world war clearly demonstrated the disunity in the league, as members could not work together to achieve their main objective of preventing the breakout of another war (Wilson 2014, p. 119).

The conclusion of the Second World War in 1946 marked the end of the League of Nations, which was immediately replaced by the United Nations (Wilson 2014, p. 122). Since then, the United Nations organization has always been faced with the challenge of enforcing laws on addressing international concerns such as security. According to the United Nations Security Council, terrorism is one of the major threats to global security (Abass 2004, p. 113). Through its charter, the United Nations provides guidelines for countries on the best approach for forming security coalitions. It argues that all countries need to come together in order to address such challenges regardless of the amount of input by any country. The United Nations has been a strong supporter of collective security amid the numerous problems associated with it. The biggest notable problem with this concept is the need to implement the rule of law across all member countries without having any form of interference (Abass 2004, p. 115). In achieving collective security, it is important to respect the sovereignty of every member country. It is also important to engage the services of security experts and permanent member of the United Nations Security Council because they help to offer direction and expertise on the way to deal with various challenges (Downs 2004, p. 63).

Assumptions of collective security

Studies have established that the concept of collective security uses a number of assumptions that have contributed to a number of its problems. The first assumption is that all member countries in a collective security arrangement have the capacity to identify the source of a security threat (Kelsen 2001, p. 37). This compromises the ability to achieve security because members have different military strengths. Instead, they should develop a common strategy for identifying a threat. The second assumption is that member countries in a collective security treaty should be a position to give their full commitment whenever an issue arises (Kelsen 2001, p. 39). This causes a lot of inconveniences, especially in situations when one member has immediate internal issues to address. The third assumption is that member countries have the same degree of freedom in terms of committing their resources towards fighting aggression. Experts argue that this causes a lot of problems because each member country has its own constitution that provides guidelines for involvement in issues of international relations (Cabrera 2012, p. 68). Therefore, some members can fail to provide timely input in case of an emergent threat, especially when making such a decision involves a process.

The fourth assumption is that the combined power of all member countries in a collective security treaty is always higher than that of the aggressor (Downs 2004, p. 63). Experts argue that collective security organizations often fail because member countries believe their unity is enough in dealing with all forms of threats. This assumption has been highly criticized for encouraging laxity in terms of taking time to understand an aggressor and the severity of their threats (Kelsen 2001, p. 48). Experts argue that security threats are mostly premeditated actions, which the aggressor asses the probability of success before making an attack (Abass 2004, p. 145).

Prerequisites for collective security

There are certain requirements that countries willing to be part of a collective security arrangement ought to meet before signing a treaty. Although the requirements help to build a treaty among countries with shared interests, experts argue that they cause part of the problems associated with collective security (Cabrera 2012, p. 100). The first requirement is that all countries that agree to be part of a collective security arrangement should be willing to combine provide military support to any member whenever a threat is identified. Experts interpret this requirement as an emphasis on the need for all members to lower their limitations on resource sharing. Studies have established that member countries that have aggressive regimes and democracy related challenges often give a little input in terms of committing their resources towards providing security (Wright 2006, p. 74). Therefore, collective security is likely to fail in situations where all members are not on the same level in terms of their resource capacity.

The second requirement is that all countries that wish to be part of a collective security arrangement have common interests (Downs 2004, p. 66). This requirement compromises the ability to achieve collective security because countries often have ideological differences and diplomatic tussles can easily lead to differences in a security coalition. The third requirement is that all countries interested in forming a collective security treaty should drop any independent or conflicting interests for the sake of achieving the universal goal of addressing security issues (Downs 2004, p. 73). Experts argue that it is very important for member countries in a collective security agreement to understand the terms and conditions defining such an agreement. Experts argue that the idea of collective security often compels many countries to abandon other important national issues in pursuit of organizational goals (Downs 2004, p. 74).

Illusions of the collective security approach

Experts argue that numerous naive observers have developed a number of erroneous mental representations in regard to collective security and its practicability. These illusions are part of the problems associated with this concept. The first illusion is that conflicts are not widespread (Kelsen 2001, p. 70). According to the United Nations Security Council, conflicts are experienced in numerous parts of the world, thus the need to have effective management strategies in place (Wilson 2014, p. 160). Governments have an ethical responsibility of providing security to its citizens. The second illusion is that there is no need to have collective security when all the members that constitute such a plan have their own military power (Wright 2006, p. 89). Experts argue that this illusion has compelled many countries to avoid being part of a collective security treaty because they believe they have enough power to fight any form of aggression (Downs 2004, p. 80).

Another misapprehension is that collective security often compromises the status quo in terms of having treating every member in a fair manner (Wilson 2014, p. 168). Some countries involved in collective security agreements often find it difficult to work with the border limitations and sanctions provided by some of the members. Another major problem associated with collective security is the fact that most people believe the approach fights war with war (Downs 2004, p. 93). According to experts, most countries that have been part of a collective security agreement have faced criticism from people who believe that they violate human rights in the spirit of managing conflicts. Although most proponents of collective security do not advocate for the use of violence to manage conflicts, they have been unrealistic in their attempts to reduce wars (Wilson 2014, p. 187).


The concept of collective security is one of the best approaches that countries can use in promoting peaceful coexistence in the world despite its numerous problems. The main reason for developing this approach was to achieve effective management of conflicts, promotion of peace between countries, and good international relations. It is important for any country that intends to be part of a collective security arrangement to know that it entails a lot of risky commitments and sacrifices. Experts argue that shared interests among the countries that form a collective peace treaty is crucial in ensuring that the decision-making process is inclusive and quick, especially where a response is needed urgently. Although the concept of collective security was easily applicable in the 18th Century, it is quite challenging to apply it in the contemporary world.


Abass, A 2004, Regional Organizations and the Development of Collective Security: Beyond Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, Hart Publishing, New York.

Cabrera, L 2012, Global Governance, Global Government: Institutional Visions for an Evolving World System, SUNY Press, San Francisco.

Downs, G 2004, Collective Security Beyond the Cold War, University of Michigan Press, California.

Kelsen, H 2001, Collective Security Under International Law, The Law Book Exchange, New York.

Wilson, G 2014, The United Nations and Collective Security, Routledge, New Jersey.

Wright, Q 2006, Problems of Stability and Progress in International Relations, University of California Press, California.