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What Is Collective Security? Its Nature, Features, and Failure

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Amara has spent some years of her life as a science teacher. She is a graduate in life sciences and has a master's in social sciences.

An analysis of the nature, features, and importance of collective security.

An analysis of the nature, features, and importance of collective security.

The Concept of Collective Security

Since World War 2, the concept of collective security has been advocated and attacked, defended and criticized persistently. It has been figured prominently in the ideological and theoretical debate concerning the management of international relations.

Although it appears to be a simple and self-explanatory term, the concept is actually a complex one. George Schwarzenberger defined it as "machinery for joint action in order to prevent or counter any attack against an established international order" (Schwarzenberger, 1951). It clearly implies collective measures for dealing with threats to peace.

According to Charles B. Marshall, collective security is a "generalized notion of all nations banding together in undertaking a vague obligation to perform unspecified actions in response to hypothetical events brought on by some unidentifiable state" (Claude, 1962).

Nature and Features of Collective Security

A collective security system, to be effective, must be strong enough to cope with aggression from any power or combination of powers, and it must be invoked when an aggression occurs:

"The principle of collective security requires that states identify their national interest so completely with the preservation of the total world order that they stand ready to join the collective action to put down any aggressive threat by any state, against any other state anywhere" (Dwivedi, 2003).

It involves a willingness to apply sanctions whenever necessary, and even to go to war.

As Stanley Baldwin, the former Prime Minister of United Kingdom, declared in April 1939: "Collective security will never work unless all the nations that take part in it are prepared simultaneously to threaten with sanctions and to fight an aggressor, if necessary."

This system should be far more than an alliance. It calls upon nations to go beyond aligning themselves with one another to combat against common national enemies, and to embrace a policy against aggression.

It should be open to all those states which are willing to accept its obligations in good faith. It must not be directed against a specific power or combination of powers. It should be emphasized that such a system involves acceptance of the view that the national interests of the participating states can in grave emergencies best be defended by collective action.

Collective Security and Regional Arrangements

It is occasionally stated that regional arrangements for collective defense and for other purposes establish a collective security system. This is seldom if ever true, not so much because such arrangements are geographically too limited as because they are not sufficiently binding in character and do not represent such an aggregation of military strength that they can deal with any other power or combination of powers.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alone among regional arrangements past or present may possibly be an aggregation of strength, but even if it possesses adequate might, it will not provide real collective security unless its members voluntarily assume more binding obligations than they were willing to accept in North Atlantic Treaty.

NATO in fact seems to be moving in other directions, largely as a result of its executive's non-cooperative policies, its entire organizational and command structure has been curtailed, and the future of the organization itself is very much in question.

Regional arrangements, however, could conceivably be an important part of a broader collective security system.This point was stressed by the Collective Measures Committee of the United Nations, established under the Assembly's Uniting for Peace Resolution of November, 1950, in its first report to the Assembly in October , 1951. The report stated, "Regional arrangements are an important aspect of the universal collective security system of the United Nations. There should be a mutually supporting relationship between the activities of such arrangements or agencies and the collective measures taken by the UN. Thus, collective self-defence and regional arrangements or agencies status, provide effective forces and facilities in their respective areas in order to carry the Purpose and Principles of the Charter in meeting aggression."

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Collective Security and Disarmament

The relationship between collective security and disarmament has received little attention. For the most part, they have regarded as separate approaches to the problem of war and peace.

But in fact, if a substantial reduction of armaments could be achieved, this might make the task of developing a collective security system a simpler and more feasible one, always assuming that the force which can be mustered for collective security purposes is greater than that available to a would-be aggressor.

If the arms race continues, and particularly if the nuclear giants add to their already great capacity to "overkill" and other nations enter the nuclear club, the hopes and prospects for effective collective security will grow increasingly less.

Collective security is a form of universal alliance to provide security to one another.

Collective security is a form of universal alliance to provide security to one another.

Collective Security and the League System

As an instrument for the development and enforcement of collective security, the League of Nations was severely handicapped and indeed virtually impotent from the start.

The failure of the United States to join, the rise of the Soviet Union outside the League system, the reluctance of the Great Britain to assume international obligations, and later the open defiance of Japan, Italy, and Germany, all these combined to destroy any hope that the League would be effective in major international crises.

From the beginning it was not sufficiently broad in membership, it never included all the great powers, and those which belonged were by no means stout champions of collective security.

France and the Soviet Union may appear to be exceptions to this judgement; but France was interested in security against Germany rather than in a genuine and universal security system.

Failure of the League

Presumably the members of the league were committed to undertake measures of collective security, if necessary, under Article 16 of the Covenant. The article, however, was never really implemented.

Many of the League members has misgivings about it from the outset, and from time to time resolutions interpreting the obligations of the members under it were adopted. Most of these resolution were of a limiting and restrictive nature.

Together with unilateral interpretations of its meaning and the general failure of League members to pay more than lip service to it, they took the heart out of the article. At no time did the League assume even the external appearance of an effective security organization.

In some of the disputes brought before it, especially in the early years, it rendered useful service, but in every major case involving open defence of the Covenant by a great power the league's security structure proved unequal to the test.

From the Manchurian crisis in 1931-32 to the series of acts of aggression by Nazi Germany which culminated in the attack on Poland, and the beginning of World War II, the absence of any effective security system was tragically revealed in one act of international banditry after another.


From the experience of the League of Nations, we may conclude that half-hearted efforts in the direction of collective security are almost certain to be unavailing.

The league never did develop a security system worthy of name- in spite of Article 16 of the Covenant, emphasis on security in the interwar period, and the extensive discussions of the principle of collective security in the 1930s.

The failure of the League in this vital respect was due to no absence of machinery but to the vacillations and myopia of what Stalin called "the non-aggressive states," particularly the major democratic nations, and to their unreadiness and unwillingness to take the risks which an effective system of collective security necessarily entailed.

The League experience might be summarized as an abortive attempt to translate the collective security idea into a working system.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Amara


Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 25, 2021:

Wonderful concept, failed miserably in the case of the League of Nations. This does not mean, however, that we should give up on the concept/theory. It is worth actualizing.

Misbah Sheikh from — This Existence Is Only an Illusion on October 25, 2021:

Amara, I enjoyed reading your hub. A very interesting and well written article. You have explained Collective Security in great detail. Take care, dear sister.

Thank you so much for sharing.

Blessings and love as always!

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