Collective Security in Europe after the Cold War

By Goodby, James E. | Journal of International Affairs, Winter 1993 | Go to article overview

Collective Security in Europe after the Cold War


Goodby, James E., Journal of International Affairs


We shall see how the counsels of prudence and restraint may become the prime agents of mortal danger; how the middle course adopted from desires for safety and a quiet life may be found to lead direct to the bull's eye of disaster. We shall see how absolute is the need of a broad path of international action pursued by many states in common across the years, irrespective of the ebb and flow of national politics. Winston Churchill, 1947(2)

Collective security suffers a tarnished reputation. The monumental failure of die principle of collective security as reflected by the League of Nations is the main image left to us from the 1930s. The endless bickering and futile posturing of the United Nations during the Cold War period further discredited the idea of collective security.

What did seem to work in the past was collective defense - alliances like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization pledging to defend each member-state from external aggression. Behind these shields of collective defense was the sword of nuclear deterrence, constantly on the alert, constantly honed and strengthened by the addition of new and improved weapons systems. But suddenly, with the disappearance of the so-called Evil Empire that the American-led alliances were designed to contain, a long-buried question is being posed once again: Can the international community join in sufficient numbers, strength and will to deter, and if necessary, to roll back aggression and settle internal conflicts, and leave in their place international peace and security?

Nowhere is the need for order more apparent than in Eurasia. The former Yugoslavia is ablaze; Moldova and the Caucasus have seen armed conflict and more may be in store; Central Asia has already demonstrated serious instabilities; and the Baltic states are suffering from economic dislocations and disputes with Moscow over Russian troop withdrawals and the rights of ethnic Russians. Russia's government, conversely, is under heavy pressure from conservative and nationalistic elements. The Central and East European countries have not yet succeeded in completing their economic transition, and the current influx of refugees and asylum-seekers is threatening to destabilize governments in most of Western Europe, including the recently unified Germany. Contributing to, and potentially exacerbating, the instability is U.S. uncertainty about its commitment to European security, and the increasingly apparent bankruptcy of European and multilateral institutions in coping with the war in the Balkans.

Recent events in international affairs have highlighted a need for an intellectual and political framework to help the international community understand its stake in the crises and conflicts that are erupting from Central Europe to Central Asia. The war in the former Yugoslavia has shown that neither the collective defense system of NATO nor the economic integration of the European Community has been truly relevant to this crisis. In this new era of the international system, voices are being raised against the notion of collective security, reiterating once again its flawed theories and policy deficiencies.(3) The discredited idea of collective security, however, deserves new consideration under the unforeseen circumstances of the post-cold War world.

In this essay, a contemporary and realizable definition of collective security will be offered, beginning with the assertion that collective security is a strategy and a process that is not now, and possibly may never be, a condition. Cost-benefit analyses require that collective security operations be considered on a case-by-case basis, pursued in some situations but not in others. Collective security is suggested here as one conflict-solving strategy available to governments that is, in principle, more responsive to post-Cold War security problems than other strategies, such as balance-of-power.

A new challenge for peace and security is the question of intrastate conflict, where it appears that the international community is moving toward the establishment of norms that justify intervention in a state's internal affairs. …

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