In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Collective Security

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Definition
  • Chapter VI of the UN Charter
  • Peacekeeping Operations: Chapter VI and Half
  • Chapter VII of the UN Charter
  • Regional Collective Security

International Law Collective Security
Ademola Abass
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 March 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0093


The term collective security in a general sense is given many understandings both professional and nonprofessional. The phrase is sometimes used to describe the organization of security on a “collective” basis. Often, it is used to denote the “collective organization” of security. While neither of these uses is inherently wrong, neither succinctly captures what “collective security” implies when used by international lawyers. In international law, collective security is a term connoting something more dense and intricate, and much more slippery, than the above more straightforward expressions. The notion of collective security, its premise, and objectives are deeply contested by states and scholars. It is universally acknowledged that collective security is today organized under the United Nations; however, regional organizations, which used to focus primarily on economic matters, have attained greater prominence in collective security efforts especially since the end of the Cold War. This article examines the definition of collective security, its features and objectives, the actors that have the responsibility for operating it globally and regionally, its various manifestations, its limitations and, above all, its role in future.

General Overviews

Whole libraries have been written on the subject of collective security. Most of the existing literature on the subject contests the meaning, nature, and concept of collective security. Whereas semblances of collective security date back to antiquity, those ancient forms considerably differ from the idea of collective security as it is today known. Until around the mid-20th century, writers hardly focused on collective security as a distinct academic subject. Most authors treated the theme in works on politics dealing with power relations between international organizations and nations-states. Nincic 1970 provides a historical guide on the early understanding of collective security. The book adopts an approach consistent with the author’s career as a diplomat, and therefore it is written for more than a typical academic audience. Claude 1964 provides a classic, comprehensive exposition of international organizations and their roles in the pursuit of global peace. Haas 1955 provides a comprehensive overview of the operational concepts of collective security. Down 1994 brings together an interesting collection of essays by experts in the field. The book offers a wide variety of topics on collective security. Zhu 1997 (in Chinese) provides a rare insight into the understanding on the law of armed conflict from the perspective of a major Asian power. Wang 1990 provides an important study of the Chinese practice in international law. Thakur 2006 presents an analysis of the impact of collective security on the responsibility to protect (R2P) principle. It thus affords readers an academic analysis of what is essentially a global policy consensus. Kolb 2007 represents a more recent reevaluation of the concept of collective security and considers certain fundamental assumptions about collective security. In particular the article closely examines the rationale for, and the bases of, collective security. Stromberg 1956 provides one of the fiercest critiques of collective security, bordering, so to speak, on an irreverent damnation. Koskenniemi 1996 provides a conceptual analysis of collective security written by a foremost scholar. The assumption that collective security operates on the basis of “automaticity” is fairly common among writers. Koskenniemi challenges this assumption in concluding that nothing is automatic about collective security. But by far, Orakhelashvili 2011 offers the most comprehensive contemporary overview of collective security.

  • Claude, Inis. Swords into Plowshares: The Problems and Progress of International Organization. 3d ed. New York: Random House, 1964.

    A classic work on international organizations, which provides major insights into how these organizations deal with matters of collective security, including the various concepts of collective security. It envisions the idea that collective security works best when nation-states shun “alliances” and work together in the interest of the collective good.

  • Down, George, ed. Collective Security beyond the Cold War. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

    A collection of impressive and thought provoking essays that addresses various issues in collective security especially in the post–Cold War era. The book’s unique strength lies in its collection of articles written by some of the leading academics in the field.

  • Haas, Ernst. “Types of Collective Security: An Examination of Operational Concepts.” American Political Science Review 49.1 (1955): 40–62.

    DOI: 10.2307/1951640

    Haas provides one of the most comprehensive analyses of the concept of collective security. He challenges the validity of the claim that collective security operates on the basis of a “universal moral obligation” or through a concert of great powers.

  • Kolb, Robert. “The Eternal Problem of Collective Security: From the League of Nations to the United Nations.” Refugee Survey Quarterly 26.4 (2007): 220–225.

    DOI: 10.1093/rsq/hdi0282

    Portrays a dominant view of collective security as a good project but one that is undermined by several weaknesses. Kolb posits that states in working together with others are motivated more by self-interest rather than any altruistic sense of universal goodness.

  • Koskenniemi, Martti. “The Place of Law in Collective Security.” Michigan Journal of International Law 17 (1996): 455–490.

    Offers a comprehensive review of the place of law in collective security. The author challenges the view that collective security is automatic and critiques realism as a theoretical framework on collective security. Concludes that law has a place in collective security by enhancing the accountability of governmental and international institutions.

  • Nincic, Djura. The Problem of Sovereignty in the Charter and in the Practice of the United Nations. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1970.

    Very useful in understanding the place of collective security with respect to nation-states and the UN Charter.

  • Orakhelashvili, Alexander. Collective Security. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199579846.001.0001

    Provides an in-depth, comprehensive contemporary coverage of collective security; offers a vast amount of extremely useful resources and analysis of the subject matter.

  • Stromberg, Roland. “The Idea of Collective Security.” Journal of the History of Ideas 17.2 (1956): 250–263.

    DOI: 10.2307/2707745

    A rigorous survey of the evolution and political foundations of collective security and offers a damning verdict on the philosophical and political assumptions about collective security. Irreverently pessimistic about the idea of collective security.

  • Thakur, Ramesh. The United Nations, Peace and Security: From Collective Security to Responsibility to Protect. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511755996

    Thakur offers a rare insight into the thinking behind the responsibility to protect (R2P) principle. As one of the commissioners and authors of the document so entitled, Thakur’s book offers a view of the global consensus on how collective security can work vis-à-vis the R2P principle.

  • Wang, Tieya. International Law in China: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Recueil des cours 221. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1990.

    An insightful piece of scholarship that underscores how ideological perspective shapes the understanding of collective security by the world’s most populous country. The significance of this work lies especially in revealing the interconnectedness between international legal rules and their interpretation by states, which carries a direct impact particularly for the use of force.

  • Zhu, Wen-Qi. Outline of International Humanitarian Law. Hong Kong: Peter Chan, 1997.

    The first book of its kind, in the Chinese language, to comprehensively offer a distinct Chinese understanding of not just humanitarian law, but also the law of armed conflict. Wen-Qi’s book challenges some traditional understandings of some concepts in the law of armed conflict, thereby affording its audience a rare insight into China’s approach to the subject.

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