Why is peace such a dangerous concept

United Nations

Peacekeeping and peacebuilding stand side by side and merge into one another. The Security Council decides on interventions, but on the one hand it is subject to the rules laid down in the UN Charter and on the other it often pursues its own interests.

Sculpture of a knotted pistol in Stockholm, as it is in front of the UN building in New York. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)


Looking at the United Nations Charter, it is noticeable that its strong, collective action chapters deal primarily with how to prevent or end interstate wars and violent conflicts, while central issues such as human rights or economic and social issues Development should be addressed more programmatically and its processing is referred to subsidiary organs that have yet to be created. This focus is understandable above all from the context in which the UN emerged during World War II. But it also becomes clear that the states wanted to keep the transfer of sovereignty rights to the new world organization as manageable as possible. While human rights and development were only to become the pillars of the UN in further political practice, the basic concept for a global collective security system was firmly anchored in the Charter from the outset. Its practical implementation was not true to the charter provisions, but mostly based on often creative interpretation by the states.

Core principle of collective security

The history of international relations has always been marked by the fact that states use military force and wage wars to assert their interests. For centuries, this freely available right to war (liberum ius ad bellum) has been an important sign of sovereignty for states. In view of the increasing interdependencies and interdependencies in the modern state system, attempts have been made again and again to prevent wars with the help of power conferences, treaty systems or alliances and thus to minimize damage and disruptions in the international system. Examples include the Berlin Congress on the Balkans in 1878 or the balanced treaty diplomacy of the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, but also the Anglo-French-Russian alliance, the so-called Triple Entente, before the First World War. The catastrophes of two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century, however, had shown the international community how fragile and inadequate these endeavors ultimately were. Above all, the lack of internationally accepted bans on violence and powerful institutions to monitor and enforce them allowed states to wage war again and again. This is where the approach of collective security comes into play, as it was first introduced into international politics by the League of Nations, with little success, and then taken up and further developed by the United Nations. The principle of collective security assumes that all states are ready to subordinate their individual interests and sovereign rights to an overriding common interest in peaceful international relations and to participate in the establishment of a global peacekeeping system that effectively prevents its members from violating each other War to pull over. Unlike a collective defense system such as NATO, which is directed against external opponents, a collective security system, with its obligations as well as its sanctions threats, addresses its own members. Ideally, such an institution would be designed like a world government - but since this remains utopian, a corresponding system must be based on the voluntary self-commitment of the states within the framework of an international treaty in which
  • States are permanently deprived of their right to violence and members assure each other that conflicts will be resolved peacefully;
  • an authority to monitor these peace norms is created;
  • Measures in the event of norm violations are agreed.
The functioning of this system, however, depends on certain prerequisites: the agreed standards and mechanisms must be clear and generally binding, and all member states must be able to trust that as many as possible, or at least the vast majority of states, will also adhere to these rules. Furthermore, every peaceful state must be able to rely on the system to come to its aid in the event of aggression - which in turn places high demands on the impartiality and effectiveness of the central decision-making body.

These high demands spark the fundamental criticism of the idea of ​​collective security: The representatives of the realistic school point out that intergovernmental decision-making bodies always depend on the interests of the actors represented there - they are therefore not to be viewed as completely impartial. In complex conflicts, it is also often not possible to clearly distinguish between aggressor and victim, which further limits the decision-making ability of such a system. In addition, even in relatively clear-cut cases, the problem can arise that states shy away from the risks and costs associated with collective action - which naturally turn out to be greater the more powerful the peacemaker is. From this point of view, collective security appears primarily as a mechanism that is at best promising in relation to smaller states, while larger powers must continue to rely on traditional national security precautions and alliances. These objections, which are by no means unjustified, can be exaggerated by the question of whether something absolutely impossible is being attempted with collective security.

Much of this criticism, however, is directed against a very ideal-type conception of collective security. But this loses much of its utopianism if it is viewed much more modestly as a rule-based framework for the formation of international politics that creates conditions under which a peaceful conflict becomes more likely than under the conditions of global anarchy. It offers alternative forms of conflict management with the involvement of institutions that may not be completely impartial, but in which states and powers are encouraged to balance interests and compromise through norms and procedural rules. These regulations at least reduce arbitrariness and tend to make decisions more acceptable to the world of states. A more comprehensive system of cooperative security can then be built on this, in which states, through mutual consultations, produce a wide range of organizations, institutions, treaties or looser regimes that guide their actions in the most varied of areas.