The Myth of U.N. Collective Security

36 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2018

See all articles by Mohamed Helal

Mohamed Helal

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

Date Written: April 23, 2018


It is widely assumed that the U.N. Security Council is a collective security mechanism. This Essay challenges this assumption. It claims that the U.N. Security Council was designed and continues to operate as a Great Power Concert, akin to the Concert of Europe of nineteenth century Europe. Moreover, this Essay argues that the principal purpose of the Security Council is not the enforcement of international law or the prevention of aggression. Rather, its primary aim was, and remains, the prevention of war between the Great Powers and providing an institutional forum for these states to cooperate and coordinate their policies.

The Essay defines collective security and identifies is principal characteristics. Collective security is a mechanism that guarantees collective protection and assistance against aggression. This is because in a collective security mechanism, states agree to consider an attack against one as an attack against all. Nothing, however, in the U.N. Charter extends such a guarantee of collective protection against aggression to the U.N. Member States. Instead, as the negotiating history of the Charter demonstrates, the U.N. Security Council enjoys unfettered discretion regarding whether and how to intervene to prevent or repel acts of aggression or threats to or breaches of the peace. Moreover, because the Security Council was intended to function as a Great Power Concert, the five Permanent Members of the Security Council were granted an unrestricted right to veto any Security Council decision that they considered detrimental to their national interests.

The institutional design of the Security Council reflects the belief of the founders of the United Nations that the surest guarantee of world order and international peace and security is the maintenance of the balance of power between the most powerful states in the international system. This Essay argues that this assumption underlying the structure of the Security Council remains valid and relevant today. As American unipolar moment passes and as the global balance of power shifts, preserving the balance of power and preventing a confrontation between the Great Powers are essential to international peace and security and to the effective functioning of international law.

Suggested Citation

Helal, Mohamed, The Myth of U.N. Collective Security (April 23, 2018). Emory International Law Review, Vol. 32, 2018, Ohio State Public Law Working Paper No. 445, Available at SSRN: or

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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