United Nations forces went into the Congo in some strength in 1961 under conditions of chaos and strife in that recently liberated former Belgian colony, as leaders spoke of "putting out a brush fire" before it became a major conflagration. The UN force in the Congo suffered from divided counsel, reflecting the divergent aims of the various interests involved: East, West, and Third World. The action was hardly a success and resulted in fresh disillusionment with use of the United Nations as a military force. From this time on, "crisis management" took the form of direct negotiations between the powers concerned, or special conferences, with the United Nations usually playing a peripheral role as supplier of truce-observing teams.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization paved the way for thinking of regional resistance to communist expansion as "collective security." Created in 1949 as an alliance between states of noncommunist Europe with Canada and the United States, it was a reaction to the Soviet threat to Europe (real or imagined). American ideologists justified it as something more than an oldfashioned military alliance based as of yore on the realities of power in a world of hostile blocs. During the 1950s, it became a means of persuading the American people that they might, against all their ancestral instincts, take part in the tangled and violent affairs of the world without sullying their innocence; they would have many allies and act jointly against the forces of evil. The Cold War converted the term into a commitment to check, "contain," if not suppress the USSR and communism. Called "collective security," it was somewhat uneasily squared with the United Nations Charter by an appeal to Articles 51 and 52, which referred to the validity of "collective self-defense" via "regional arrangements." It was argued that the paralysis of the United Nations, resulting from Soviet noncooperation, forced recourse to such arrangements. In the wake of NATO's apparent success in "containing" Soviet expansion in Europe, American policy sought, with little success, to create other regional security groupings, including the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) in the Middle East.
The most traumatic international conflict of the 1960s, the Vietnam War, also had an anti–collective security fallout. The motives for American entry into Indochina initially included a feeling, derived from the collective security complex of ideas, that aggression was being checked in the spirit, if not exactly the letter, of the United Nations Charter. Behind the designs of North Vietnam to unite a war-divided country under its leadership, many saw the expansion of a monolithic Asiatic communism centered in China, and they invoked the lesson of the Hitler years: Draw the line and fight rather than allow "appeasement" to erode your position. Collective security as a factor in the crucial decisions of the Cold War is often understressed if not overlooked. It is forgotten that in Korea, then in Vietnam, the fighting was not just to check communism but to defend world order by punishing "aggression." Leaders like Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson might not have taken their agonizingly close decisions to send U.S. troops to far places without the reassuring motive of war prevention; the naked idea of simple American self-interest was not enough.
The initially small U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, joined by some forces from other SEATO members, swelled into the nightmare of major war as the conflict steadily escalated, creating a formidable backlash of public opinion against the war in the United States and elsewhere. Some of the key themes of collective security suffered severe damage in the revolution of opinion resulting from the Vietnam War (1957–1975). The so-called Nixon Doctrine announced an American withdrawal from unlimited commitments to serve as policeman in remote places. It may be added that during the Vietnam War, the United Nations was almost altogether excluded from important negotiations. At various times each side brought complaints of "aggression" before the Security Council—Laos in 1959 against Hanoi, Cambodia in 1964 against the United States and South Vietnam, the United States later the same year against Hanoi—but these resulted in no action and were employed chiefly for propaganda purposes. Both the Geneva Accords of 1954 and the Paris Conference peace settlement of 1973 completely ignored the United Nations. This was unquestionably a blow to the prestige of the United Nations, although optimists might point out that the admission of Communist China to the United Nations in 1971 made it a more ecumenical body. Exclusion of mainland China from the United Nations had prevented use of that organization in matters involving Chinese interests.
The assumption of the classical collective security doctrine that "aggressors" were always wicked, rogue nations that ought to be resisted and punished, was contradicted in the notable case of Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. However justified on grounds of ancient possession, redress of recent injustices elsewhere, or superior civilization, Jewish incursions into Palestine from the 1948 takeover surely constituted an aggression rarely equaled in modern history. But in the Arab-Israeli conflict the United States and most of its European allies supported the latter, making the Jewish nation virtually an ally and the recipient of lavish support, from motives of sentiment and interest. In 1956, President Eisenhower (to the amazement of the Soviet leaders) was indeed so shocked by the case of planned aggression against Egypt of France and Britain along with Israel that a rift in the NATO alliance temporarily appeared. But thereafter the United States reverted to almost uncritical support of Israel, often voting in the United Nations with a tiny minority against any condemnation of the Jewish state.
"Collective security" is still frequently used to describe the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In this usage it merely means military cooperation between allied states or having allies for defense against a common enemy. Needless to say, "security" and "cooperation for security" are common terms. But, in its original sense, of a new plan for world peace based on a "universal alliance" and pledges to suppress war by joint action of all its members against aggression, collective security seems to have become a casualty of history. "The growing tendency for States to revert to a reliance on force as a means of resolving their international differences," as former UN Secretary General U Thant said in 1970, might be blamed on the United Nations itself or more often on the "selfishness" of powers that do not give it necessary support.
Revision of the UN charter as a means to improvement no longer arouses much enthusiasm; the roots of the problem are recognized as going deeper. Changes in the charter included enlarging the Security Council, but the five permanent members and the veto power remain the same. Paralyzed by the vetoes of the superpowers, the Security Council diminished in importance during the Cold War. Its concept of a dictatorship of a few big powers became outmoded in view of the flood of new, smaller states that has more than doubled United Nations membership since 1960. In the 1950s the General Assembly asserted its own right to recommend action in support of peace and security (the Uniting for Peace Resolution), but it can only recommend.
"Peacekeeping" is increasingly distinguished and dissociated from collective security, the stress being placed not on a large UN army capable of crushing an aggressor, but on small, noncombat units, serving only with permission of the host country and acting as observers of truces or as buffers along sensitive frontiers. Disputes and financial problems plagued even these forces, though they served useful functions in Cyprus and New Guinea, and on the Israeli-Egyptian border (intermittently). At the beginning of the twenty-first century, more than 40,000 UN peace-keepers were stationed around the world, at rather randomly chosen trouble spots such as East Timor and Sierra Leone, but—ill trained and forbidden anything but "neutral" actions—they were often pathetic. In November 2000, Indian and Moroccan soldiers of the UN force in Sierra Leone were withdrawn because they were not safe; assaulted and kidnapped, they had to be rescued by British troops (who did not plan to stay). Vows to improve this performance periodically came from UN headquarters but had little effect. Some private organizations like Oxfam, Green-peace, and Amnesty International provided as much help. The outmoded UN membership structure allowed no place as permanent member of the Security Council for such important countries as Japan, India, and Brazil. Its own claims to internationalism were thus rather dubious.