Collective Security

Collective Security 4104
Photo by: Maxim Malevich

Roland N. Stromberg

Collective security may be defined as a plan for maintaining peace through an organization of sovereign states, whose members pledge themselves to defend each other against attack. The idea emerged in 1914, was extensively discussed during World War I, and took shape rather imperfectly in the 1919 Covenant of the League of Nations and again in the Charter of the United Nations after World War II. The term has subsequently been applied to less idealistic and narrower arrangements for joint defense such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The shorthand term "collective security," not used until the 1930s, is more accurately "security for individual nations by collective means," that is, by membership in an international organization made up of all or most of the states of the world pledged to defend each other from attack. "Collective security" is a handier term, and it entered deeply into the international vocabulary when—from about 1931 to 1939—many hoped, in vain, that the League of Nations through its machinery for collective action might avert war by checking the "aggression" of the revisionist powers—Germany, Italy, and Japan.


Bassett, Reginald. Democracy and Foreign Policy: A Case History, the Sino-Japanese Dispute, 1931–1933. London and New York, 1968.

Bloomfield, Lincoln Palmer. The United Nations and U.S. Foreign Policy. Boston, 1960.

——. The U.N. and Vietnam. New York, 1968.

Bowie, Robert R., and Richard H. Immerman. Waging Peace: How Eisenhower Shaped an Enduring Cold War Strategy. New York, 1998.

Claude, Inis L. The United Nations and the Use of Force. New York, 1961.

Current, Richard N. "The United States and 'Collective Security': Notes on the History of an Idea." In Alexander DeConde, ed. Isolation and Security: Ideas and Interests in Twentieth-Century American Foreign Policy. Durham, N.C., 1957. Semantically helpful.

Finkelstein, Marina S., and Lawrence S. Finkel-stein, comps. and eds. Collective Security. San Francisco, 1966. A handy collection of readings.

Gaddis, John Lewis. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy. New York and Oxford, 1982.

Goldstein, Avery. Deterrence and Security in the Twenty-first Century: China, Britain, France, and the Enduring Legacy of the Nuclear Revolution. Stanford, Calif., 2000.

Haas, Ernst B. Collective Security and the Future International System. Denver, Colo., 1968.

Hatton, Ragnhild, and J. S. Bromley, eds. William III and Louis XIV: Essays 1680–1720, by and for Mark A. Thomson. Toronto and Liverpool, 1968. A useful case study.

Hemleben, Sylvester John. Plans for World Peace through Six Centuries. Chicago, 1943. Early history of the idea of collective security.

Howard, Michael Eliot. The Invention of Peace: Reflections on War and International Order. New Haven, Conn., 2001.

James, Alan. The Politics of Peace-keeping. London and New York, 1969.

Kaplan, Lawrence S. The United States and NATO: The Formative Years. Lexington, Ky., 1984.

Kuehl, Warren F. Seeking World Order: The United States and International Organization to 1920. Nashville, Tenn., 1969. A history of the American approach to international organizations to 1920.

Lefever, Ernest W. Uncertain Mandate: Politics of the U.N. Congo Operation. Baltimore, 1967.

McNamara, Robert S., et al. Argument without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy. New York, 1999.

Rappard, William E. Collective Security in Swiss Experience, 1291–1948. London, 1948. A case study of interest.

Stromberg, Roland N. Collective Security and American Foreign Policy: From the League of Nations to NATO. New York, 1963.

——. "Uncertainties and Obscurities about the League of Nations." Journal of the History of Ideas. 23 (January–March 1972): 139–154. Mixes analysis with history.

Williams, Bruce Stockton. State Security and the League of Nations. Baltimore, 1927.

See also Alliances, Coalitions, and Ententes ; Arbitration, Mediation, and Conciliation ; Globalization ; Internationalism ; International Organization ; Intervention and Nonintervention ; Peace Movements .

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