Un Security Council And The Deficit Of Collective Security International Law Essay

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Political thought and philosophy holds relevance in contemporary world politics precisely due to its capacity to strengthen international law and morality. International law, if duly codified and extended to regulate the political relations of states, could become through its own inner force, if not a substitute for, at least a restraining influence upon, the struggle for power on the international scene. Since the end of the First World War, all politically active nations of the world have been, at one time or another, legally committed to collective security for the prevention of any future wars.

Schwarzenegger says, collective security is the machinery for joint action in order to prevent or counter any attack against the established international order. Collective security, therefore, is based on the principle of 'one for all and all for one'. The UN Charter makes elaborate provisions for collective security to maintain international peace. Article 39 gives power to the Security Council to determine existence of any threat to peace or act of aggression. However, the Security Council was ineffective in maintaining world peace especially in light of the Korean, Congo and Gulf crisis.

The system of collective security as it exists suffers from serious deficits viz. firstly, it tends to increase the global use of violence by legitimizing local aggression in name of peace, secondly, it is based on equal participation of the States though in reality it operates only with the help of powerful states as witnessed during the Second Gulf War in the name of 'the coalition of the willing', thirdly, it has remained ineffective due to the absence of the unanimity within the permanent members of the Security Council, and fourthly, the critics have pointed that collective security is not only imprudent and unworkable but also an unwise and dangerous proposition mainly because by using it no war can be localized and every war would lead to a World War.

The Korean and Gulf crisis raised some grappling issues since by demonstrating that it is extremely difficult to draw a line of distinction between the collective purposes of national interest of those participating in it. The collective security operations could not maintain a truly collective character since many States rendered little material support to the UN and moreover, the scenario was monopolized by the United States. The UN shirked its responsibility of exercising independent judgment in making vital decisions and strategies of the operation. The use of force under the aegis of collective security runs grave risk of triggering ever-widening violence and stopping an enforcement action is a more complex problem than starting one.


One of the most significant outcomes of the San Francisco meeting of the Allied powers in 1945 was the system of collective responsibility. The drafters of the UN Charter agreed that the five great powers of the world would take parallel steps to maintain international peace and security, with the hope that aggressor states would nevermore be left unbridled and allowed to open belligerent wars of invasion that could lead to global inferno. If such was the intention behind instituting the system of collective security, then why did it fail? One reason is that the UN did not develop as a true collective security organization, but remained stranded in the doctrine of collective self-defense by states that would voluntarily regulate the new international order themselves. [1] For one thing, the UN was by no means assigned with its own military force in accordance with the "special agreements" foreseen in Article 43 of the Charter. And as the two superpowers ingrained themselves in the geopolitical opposition of the Cold War, they seemed ever dodgier to reach agreement on common terms for turning over national military contingents to UN command. The effects of the strategic competition between the United States and Soviet Union thus manifest themselves in the politics of the Security Council, proving to be a basic holdup to the effectual realization of UN collective security action. [2] 

Collective Security refers to an interstate arrangement by which all states are committed to help any country threatened with armed aggression by any other state. The idea is to deter aggression with the power of collective force. There are no predetermined allies or foes among states in a collective security system. [3] 

Collective security is the commitment by nations to resolve disputes, regardless of nationalistic concerns. When diplomacy has failed, nations committed to collective security can lend their armed forces to help settle a dispute. In the most prolific example of a collective security arrangement, nations send their forces to defend or liberate an invaded nation, in situations where they normally would have acted in their own national interest by either: (1) remaining neutral and not sending forces, or (2) sending forces to aid the aggressor.

The UN war prevention role as envisaged under the Charter is termed as "collective security". After World War I, collective security emerged as a conscious substitute for the system of alliances and balance of power policies. It is dependent on only one assumption that wars are probable and can be prevented by the deterrent effect of the overwhelming power of many against any one state contemplating the use of force.

Article 1 of the UN Charter emphasizes that the purpose of UN is to "maintain international peace and security and to that end to take effective collective measures for the preservation and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression of other breaches of the peace." Elaborate provisions regarding collective security are made in Chapter VII i.e. Articles 39 to 51 of the UN Charter.


Indonesian Independence Struggle

The Indonesian independence movement emerged after the Second World War as Allied troops prepared to vacate from the Indonesian archipelago. [4] Throughout two years of failed negotiations flowing Indonesia's declaration of independence for the Netherlands in August 1945, sporadic fighting between Dutch and Indonesian nationalist forces continued to escalate despite a dead-letter truce concluded in October 1946 and the failed Linggadjati Agreement reached a month later. Given the violent escalation of the conflict in the next two years, American and British officials surmised that a Soviet, India, or other third-country appeal to the UN Security Council to address the situation could be imminent, and that action should perhaps be taken to preempt that contingency.

Ultimately, Australia and India were the ones that brought the matter before the UN as a "breach of the peace under Article 39," the first invocation of Chapter VII of the Charter. But the United States tactfully allowed the matter to be dealt under Article 33 of the Charter. On August 1, 1947, the Security Council passed its 27th Resolution calling for a cease-fire between what it described as "the armed forces of Netherlands and the Republic of Indonesia." However, despite its willingness to see the Republic of Indonesia represented in the dispute settlement process, the United States refrained from taking a position on whether Indonesia constituted a state.

The Indonesia independence struggle thus turned out to be an early conflict that the UN failed to curb by the use of collective military force. By advocating negotiations through the Good Offices Committee at the invitation of the Netherlands, the United States led effort sidestepped the issue of a peace enforcement operation that would invoke Chapter VII, although the threat to the peace was very real. [5] 

Arab-Israeli Conflict in Palestine

After the Second World War when the British vacated Palestine, the government assigned the task of determining the territorial dispute between the Palestinian Arabs and the Jews in the region to the newly formed UN. On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly voted to separate Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish, in accordance with the majority recommendations of the UN Commission on Palestine, which had been instituted to probe into the matter. The Arab states out rightly rejected the UN proposal, refuting the right to subsistence of a Jewish state in Palestine, and maintained that sales of Arab lands there to Jewish settlers dating back to the repercussions of the First World War and the British government's Balfour Declaration of 1917 favouring the establishment of a national Jewish homeland were null and void. [6] The stage was thus set for conflict when, one day after the expiry of the British mandate for Palestine on May 14, 1948, a coalition of Arab states declared war on the newly proclaimed state of Israel. Like the Indonesian independence struggle, the Arab-Israeli conflict, whose root causes remain unresolved today, proved one of the seminal early challenges for UN collective security. However, the Security Council did not initially invoke Chapter VII of the Charter and authorize the use of armed force to restore peace at the start of the war. [7] Given the gravity and intensity of the cross-border violence, and the palpable breach of the peace that it constituted, one might wonder why UN mechanisms to preserve the peace failed in this instance.

Kashmir Issue

When the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir declared its accession to India in 1947, the transfer of power propelled a cycle of events leading to an ostensibly perpetual variance between India and Pakistan. The signing of the instrument of accession on October 26 augmented the grit of Muslim tribal Pashtun fighters supported by Pakistan to prevent India from obtaining administrative control over the state. [8] In January 1948, partly at the behest of the United Kingdom, India brought the matter before the UN Security Council, charging that Pakistan had committed belligerence in Kashmir - a charge that would probably have been difficult for the international community to rebut from the outset had the de facto presence of Pakistani military forces in Kashmir been known at the time. The conflict was yet another perfect test case for the new practice of UN peace enforcement. But the question remained whether the Security Council could act when matters came to a head, by collating ample political will and the military means to intrude in the dispute.

Robert Wirsing argued that the triviality of the Indian subcontinent as a battle ground of the global Cold War accounted for the indifference of the United States towards pushing for a full settlement in Kashmir. [9] Yet other concerns, aside from direct geopolitical antagonism with the Soviet Union over South Asia, came to inform United States' policy on the deployment of international troops in Kashmir. British officials had proposed to their American counterparts the "[u]se of [an] international police force if possible" on January 14, 1948, shortly after the matter of Kashmir was brought before the Security Council. However, Secretary of State Marshall had expressed reservations about the "obvious complications" arising from the use of such troops. When pressed by the British representatives to propose an alternative for maintaining law and order in Kashmir, none of the United States officials seem to have mentioned the possible use of foreign troops, suggesting instead that "local militia could be set up in these areas on a provisional basis."

On January 20, 1948, the Security Council passed Resolution 39 creating a three-member UN Commission on India and Pakistan, and statements by the United States at the UN made subsequently substantiated on the rationale behind its approach of seeking mediation based on the consent of the parties, as opposed to an at-best-tenuous peace enforced by foreign militaries.

Congo Crisis

The Congo crisis of 1960 is a case in point where the collective security mechanism was successfully applied by the UN Security Council. The civil strife and guerilla war in Congo had assumed serious ramifications due to the involvement of two big powers viz. United States and the Soviet Union. The Security Council passed a resolution urging Belgium to withdraw its troops from Congo. The Council authorized a coalition of peace forces of 29 nations which stayed in Congo for about four years and succeeded in demolishing the civil strife in Congo. [10] 

Korean War

On June 25, 1950, North Korea attacked South Korea with the support of communist China. The Security Council passed a resolution providing collective security to South Korea and called for an immediate ending of hostilities and withdrawal of North Korean forces from South Korea. The aggression was met with armed forces of 16 nations under the aegis of international authority. As North Korea failed to comply with the directives of the Security Council, a police action was sanctioned by the Security Council.

The UN action did help to preserve the independence of Korea in 1953. But the Korean War highlighted the basic defects of UN as an organization for launching collective security. Only the absence of the Soviet delegate allowed the initial Security Council action to be realized in Korea. This case further revealed the disadvantages of depending on voluntary commitment of forces in times of crises. It was only the United States which contributed more than half the armed forces with only about 10% coming from other contributors. A collective response so heavily dependent on a single state questions primarily the basic existence of a collective security mechanism. [11] 

Gulf Crisis

Iraq annexed Kuwait in 1990 and refused to withdraw its troops from Kuwait despite several resolutions of the UN urging her to withdraw. The Security Council imposed mandatory economic sanctions on Iraq following which the United States ordered deployment of American troops in Iraq. Later the Security Council passed a resolution authorizing all necessary means to drive the invading Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. The vote in the 15 member Security Council was 12-2 in favour of eliminating troops from Kuwait. The US led coalition of 34 countries liberated Kuwait from the clutches of the Iraqi forces.

It may be noted that while in Korea the troops of various countries fought under the UN banner, in the Gulf operation each individual country acted on its own. In Korea the collective security action was possible due to the abstention of the Soviet delegate on the day of voting. On the other hand, in the Gulf crisis United States led coalition was possible due to the changed climate of co-operation between the Soviet Union and United States. This case also demonstrated that operations could not maintain a truly collective character because it was virtually monopolized by the United States and other states contributed little support to the UN. [12] 


The essential elements of an effective collective security system are prohibition of the use of force under all circumstances by all states, collective guarantees of security by all for all states, collective force as deterrence to end aggression anywhere, automatism of collective action in case of aggression anywhere, use of the system without any partiality towards the aggressor or victim by any state, quick assign ability of guilt to an aggressor, and permanence and generality of the system. [13] 

This demands the examination of the deficit of the collective security mechanism of the UN. The deficit is dealt hereunder:

Prohibition against force

The UN Charter prohibits arbitrary use of force by states without realizing that it leads to serious contradiction and misinterpretation of the provisions. Article 106 permits the Big Five to take any kind of joint action for maintaining world peace and security. But Article 51 gives the right of self-defense thereby undermining the UN prohibition on the use of force. Acts of aggression during the cold war have been committed by military alliances in the name of national self- defense and therefore this right to self-defense is antithetical to the principle of national security.

The notion of collective responsibility has to be reconciled with the right of self-defense. But this right of collective self-defense under Article 51 is circumscribed by many restrictions viz. if an armed attack takes place against a member of the UN, the right to self-defense cannot be exercised until such time as the Security Council acts to maintain peace and security. If a state takes any action in self-defense pending fulfillment of the above two conditions it has to report the measures taken to the Security Council. As collective security measure can be undertaken only if the Security Council approves the same by at least 7 votes including the votes of the permanent members, such actions are rendered impossible without the consensus amongst the permanent members.

Collective guarantees of security

Though the Charter underlines the concept of collective security, the veto power available with the permanent members of the Security Council can be used to stall any decision. This accentuates block antagonism and undermines the basic concept of collective security.

It is due to the difficulty raised by the veto power that collective security action could be unanimously taken only twice during the long history of UN. However, after the passage of the Uniting for Peace Resolution of 1950, the General Assembly was authorized to take action for the preservation of peace and security in the world, in case the Security Council was not able to take a decision due to the casting of the veto.

Collective force as deterrence to end aggression

The collective security system is far from possessing the power of collective deterrence both in theory and practice because deterrence can only be achieved when the collective power of the UN cannot be challenged by any other power. Therefore, the UN force cannot be expected to possess overwhelming power and the possibility of organizing preponderant power against the super powers seems remote. In short, collective deterrence is not a very feasible option for the UN Security Council.

Automatism of collective action in case of aggression

The Security Council cannot automatically respond or act quickly for resorting to war against any aggression because it has to determine the crisis and then start with provisional measures [14] which may be escalated to economic and diplomatic sanctions [15] and then may ultimately reach the stage of military sanctions. [16] Therefore, an automatic response which is a pre-requisite feature of collective security is not a built-in feature of the UN security scheme. In short, the Security Council is unable to provide genuine collective security as its processes may get delayed or may lead to biased and partial decisions of imposing economic and other sanctions like arms embargo, severing of diplomatic relations etc. against any country that defies the resolutions of the world body and hence of the international community. The UN sanctions were imposed in recent times against South Africa, Rhodesia, former Yugoslavia, Angola, Haiti, Somalia, Iraq and Libya. In these cases, the countries suffered heavily without the basic purpose of the sanction getting fully achieved because no direct hit country was brought to its knees and made to abandon the stand that it had taken in defiance of the Security Council directives. The experience of recent events in Angola, Haiti and Somalia have clearly shown that the purpose of UN sanctions has been defeated because of counter-threats by a strong and popular tribal war leader M.F. Hasan Aidid, and by drug mafias who went against Security Council in Haiti, and by a guerrilla group in Angola.

Anonymity of aggressor and victim

The veto power of the permanent members of the Security Council does not let the UN take any action against the Big Five. The permanent members can and do use their veto in support of their military allies or support the position of a non-aligned state. Thus this element of working without any collective security is undermined due to the veto power exercised by the permanent members of the Security Council.

How to assign guilt

Another major defect in the UN security system is the absence of a definition of "aggression" or "armed attack" for which the Security Council first has to determine the nature of the crisis. [17] This issue of determining a crisis often becomes a matter of political controversy.

Permanence and generality of collective security system

The reason why the provision in the UN Charter did not facilitate to transform action of the UN security system into a full-fledged collective security system is that it is difficult to implement and is not politically feasible. Neither the Charter drafters nor the world leaders had a clear concept of the establishment of a genuine system of collective security. Also, the world is not ready for a system of collective security which means that the pre-requisites for a fully workable system of collective security are not yet present in the world.

No room for neutrals

Under this system of collective security, no war could be localized and every war would become a world war because the UN Charter says that a state can either be supporter of peaceful order or a member of a collective enforcement body and so there is no room for any state to act as a neutral entity.

Equal say for collective decisions

It is pointed out that one of the basic principles of collective security is that all the states should have equal say in arriving at collective decisions and in fact small states should have a greater say in collective security because they are more dependent on it than the larger states. But the fact remains that the collective security efforts are largely dependent on support of the powerful states that are reluctant to act unless their own national interest is affected.

All aggressions cannot be opposed by means of collective security

In the contemporary international scene, consistent conflicts of interest are naturally assumed and no nation or combination of nations, however strong and devoted to international law, can afford to oppose collective security against all aggressions at all times. The United States made the UN come to the aid of South Korea when it was attacked in 1950 because they had the strength and interest to do so. But would it champion collective security if tomorrow South Korea turns the table and commits an act of aggression against North Korea or China? What would the United States and the UN do if two aggressors start marching at the same time? Would they oppose these two aggressors at random and refuse to violate the principles of collective security or would they take on to only one aggressor who is either more dangerous or easier to handle. [18] 


In light of the above discussion, it is concluded that the collective security mechanism can be implemented in the contemporary world only if individual nations forego their national policies and egotisms and have a spirit of mutual assistance and self-sacrifice for global benefits. The states should be willing to subordinate their conflicting political interests and collective security measures against an aggressor without discrimination.


Rumki Basu, The United Nations, Structure and Functions of an International Organisations, Ed. 2004

Chander, Prakash, and Arora, Prem. Comparitive Politics And International Relations. 28th ed. Cosmos Bookhive Pvt. Ltd., 2005. Print.

Morgenthau, Hans J. Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. 6th ed. Ludhiana: Kalyani Publishers, 2007. Print.