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Collective Security is a system for aspiring for peace in which participants agree that any "breach of the peace is to be declared to be of concern to all the participating states," and will result in a collective response.
The lines between what is considered "collective defense " and "collective security" have been blurred. The concept of "collective security" forwarded by visionaries such as Martin Wight , Immanuel Kant, and Woodrow Wilson, are deemed to apply interests in security in a broad manner, to "avoid grouping powers into opposing camps, and refusing to draw dividing lines that would leave anyone out."2 Although this aspiration has never successfully worked, tenets of collective security continue to be behind many famous current and historical military alliances, most notably NATO-- really more a collective defense organization. The term "collective security" has also been cited as a principle of the United Nations, and the League of Nations before that. By employing a system of collective security the UN hopes to dissuade any member state from acting in a manner likely to threaten peace, thereby avoiding any conflict.
The theory is considered by politicians to be more successful when applied to military alliances than in attempts to use it as a universal principle as with the League of Nations and UN.
Cited examples of the limitations of the latter form of collective security include the Falklands War. When Argentina invaded the islands, which are overseas territories of the United Kingdom, many UN members stayed out of the issue, as it did not directly concern them.
An example given of the failure of the League of Nations to adhere to collective security is the Manchurian Crisis, when Japan occupied part of China (who was a League member). After two years of deliberation, the League passed a resolution condemning the invasion without committing the League's members to any action against it. The Japanese replied by quitting the League of Nations. This inaction by the League subjected it to criticisms that it was weak and concerned more with European issues (most leading members were European), and is considered by many to have encouraged, or at least to have not deterred, the aggression shown by the Axis powers leading to World War Two.
However, many politicians who view the system as having faults also believe it remains a useful tool for keeping international peace.
Henry Kissinger, in "Diplomacy", argued that collective security is fundamentally flawed, since the cost of enforcing security can be (or be perceived to be) exceedingly high while the benefit of doing so can be (or be perceived to be) exceedingly low, which strongly discourages action, while at the same time, there are no formal military alliance in place (which would enforce action), since the adaptation of such treaties by countries engaged in collective security would already imply that collective security was not trusted or expected to work.
For example, prior to WW2, there was absolutely no chance France would intervene to save Czechoslovakia, since this would involve war with Germany, an enourmously costly and dangerous act which was also massively unpopular. Any French politician of the time attempting to follow this course would have been removed from office by popular protest.
This in fact relates to one of the weaknesses of democracy; that it tends to lead to decisions being made depending on their popularity, rather than their correctness.
Martin Wight, "Systems of States" ed. Hedley Bull (London: Leicester University Press, 1977), 149.
Note 2: David S. Yost, "NATO Transformed: The Alliance's New Roles in International Security," (Washington: United States Institute of Peace, 1998), pp. 9-26
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