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November 16, 2003 

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Collective security system of UN at a glance 

Hassan Faruk Al Imran

The definition of Collective Security is " the proposition that aggressive and unlawful use of force by one nation against another will be met by the combined strength of all other nations. All will co-operate in controlling a disturber of the peace. They will act as one for all and all for one. Their combined strength will serve as a guarantee for the security of each".

The concept of Collective Security is indicated from the
very beginning of the UN Charter. Article 1 provides that the purpose of the UN is to maintain international peace and security and "to take effective collective measure for the prevention of threats to the peace".

The League of Nation's experience was not good, the covenant of it's gave more emphasis on economic sanctions, which failed to prevent the 2nd World War. As a result the drafters of the UN Charter aimed to create a more advanced system of Collective Security for the restoration of international peace and security (especially Chapter VII of UN Charter). Moreover, Article 2(4) UN Charter prohibits 'using of force' or 'threat to use of force' against any states. The provision of Article 2(4) is regarded as principle of customary international law; even it is binding on the few States that are not member of UN nations (Nicaragua v USA, ICJ, Rep 1985).

However, the provision of Article 2(4) is not an absolute theory. There are three exceptions under UN Charter to 'use of force'. Firstly, under Articles 12 and 24 Security Council is 'primarily responsible' to maintain international peace and security; as a result under Article 39 Security Council can use collective force after determination the 'threat of peace'. Secondly, under Article 51 individual or collective right of self-defence may be taken only 'until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to restore international peace and security'. Thirdly, Article 53(1) allows regional use of force without the authorisation of Security Council if there is a breach of peace.

Interestingly, the practice of Article 2(4) is different from its theoretical exceptions. Practice has been developed that use of force may be lawful if there is any civil war for national liberation, protection of national and property abroad, humanitarian grounds (Indian's intervention in East Pakistan in 1971, NATO's action against Serbia).

Whether the Collective Security (or 'use of force') is the only way to restore international peace and security? In a simple word the answer is 'no'. Article 2(3) provides "all members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered". Chapter VI of UN gives details guidelines on peaceful settlement (Articles 33-38) that includes mediation, negotiation, arbitration, and judicial settlement.

When Collective Security or use of force is inevitable? Article 39 is the first article of Chapter VII, which provides "the Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or resort to international peace and security".

Therefore, firstly, it is important to consider what is 'thereat to the peace', 'breach of the peace', or 'act of aggression', that is the preconditions to the exercise of Security Council's power. Surprisingly, the Charter does not try to define the terms 'aggression'; as a result in 1974 General Assembly (Resolution 3314) adopted the
definition of aggression.

The definition of aggression provides "aggression is the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State or any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations, as set out in this definition".

Enforcement action of Collective Security under UN Charter can take two forms: Article 41 provides for 'non-military' enforcement action (such as trade boycott, an arms embargo) and Article 42 provides for 'military' action. In practice, 'non-military' sanctions may well be an effective remedy in some cases but the UN Charter recognised that some 'acts of aggression' may be 'so serious' that the collective 'use of force' is needed. As a result under Article 42 the Security Council may take military action, which "may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security".

Interestingly, Article 42 must be read in conjunction with Article 43, which provides for "special agreement or arrangements" is needed for arm forces. Moreover, Article 47 provides "there shall be established a Military Staff Committee to advise and assist the Security Council on all questions relating to the Security Council's military requirements for the maintenance of international peace and security." But the reality is due to disagreements between the five permanent members (US, UK, France, Soviet Union, China) of Security Council special agreement under Article 43 had never been made. Questions arise: who is the Commander in Chief of that force? How it will be operated?

In practice, by using different powers, and by following different procedure, Security Council has been able to authorise 'use of force' against a State as a means of restoring international peace and security, e.g. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait (Resolution 678, (1990)), where military force was operated under United State's command on behalf of Security Council.

Chapter VII of UN Charter also gives authority to regional organisations to 'use of force'. But in practice it creates problem. It was criticised that the mechanisms of the relationship between Security Council and regional body are not explicitly defined in UN charter. The greatest area of ambiguity is that of hierarchy. Article 53(1) provides "no enforcement action shall be under taken by regional arrangements or regional agencies without the authorisation of the Security Council". But in practice the powerful regional body may ignore the approval of Security Council authorisation, which is the supreme body to maintain global peace and security; example, NATO's action in Kosovo.

At present, it is clear that after the end of the Cold War the Security Council is more effective. Security Council can use of its power under Chapter VII not only against an 'aggression' or for 'breach of peace' (Article 39) but also for various different purposes i.e., humanitarian reasons, internal conflict (Somalia, Rwanda) peacekeeping and determination of border (Iraq - Kuwait war). However, reality is- still the theory and concept of UN Charter has never been followed. Still there is 'no' 'special arrangements or agreement' under Article 43. Moreover, 'no' 'permanent military' force has been formed as a result Security Council enforcing alternatively way by giving authority to use of force on
behalf of Security Council (Gulf War 1990 91).

Most recently, US and UK have used military force against Iraq because of 'aggression' without Security Council's authorisation by ignoring international law. This raises a hoard of questions about the UN Collective Security system. Whether the superpower is more powerful than Security Council? Who gave them authority to 'use of force' against Iraq? Why United States is taking initiative for 'use of force'- only for its political or economic interest? What would be if United States continue more frequently this practice in future? Then, what would be the situation of UN Collective Security. Therefore, we have to wait for future for full evaluation of this type of 'use of force'.

Hassan Faruk Al Imran is a Barrister at Law.

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