Am I My Brother's Keeper? The Reality, Tragedy, and Future of Collective Security

Harvard National Security Journal, Volume 6, Issue II, 2015

91 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2015

See all articles by Mohamed Helal

Mohamed Helal

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law

Date Written: June 6, 2015


This paper is an inquiry into the nature, purposes, and future of the UN collective security regime. For some writers, the Security Council is a collective security regime that guarantees protection against aggression. For others, globalization and the rise of human rights are engendering a process of humanizing international law, which is placing the rights and dignity of individuals ahead of the interests of states. Consequently, the purposes of the Security Council are argued to be evolving towards prioritizing human security over state sovereignty. As part of this narrative, the Responsibility to Protect is portrayed as a stride towards establishing the protection of human security as the primary purpose of the Security Council.

This paper challenges these claims about the Security Council. It examines the drafting history of the UN Charter and finds that the Security Council was designed as a great power concert, not as a collective security regime. The primary purpose of this concert was to promote great power peace, and not to protect states against aggression. This paper also argues that, despite the heralding of an “age of human rights,” the Security Council remains committed to maintaining peace between the great powers, and to not preventing mass atrocities. The Responsibility to Protect, while signifying acceptance of the legitimacy of UN intervention to prevent atrocities, does not indicate the transformation of the nature or purposes of the Security Council. Finally, as global power shifts from an American-led order towards an international system in which non-western powers will exercise considerable influence, this paper predicts that, given the adherence of these rising powers to a state-centric legal order, it is unlikely that the principal purpose of the Security Council will evolve into the protection of human security.

More broadly, this paper offers a reflection on the values underlying international law in the field of international security. Many scholars of international law perceive the field as being driven by a cosmopolitan ethos that advances universal humanitarian values in an effort to promote the emergence of a global community of humankind. This paper, however, paints an image of a system driven by contradictory impulses that seek to manage political pluralism in a society of states, while simultaneously, aspiring to promote universal humanitarian values. This paper suggests that managing political pluralism and maintaining minimum order, as opposed to upholding justice and universal values, is the dominant ethic of the legal and institutional architecture of the existing UN security regime.

Keywords: International law, collective security, United Nations, Security Council, human rights, humanitarian intervention

Suggested Citation

Helal, Mohamed, Am I My Brother's Keeper? The Reality, Tragedy, and Future of Collective Security (June 6, 2015). Harvard National Security Journal, Volume 6, Issue II, 2015, Available at SSRN:

Mohamed Helal (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

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