Shared Secrets: Intelligence and Collective Security

Lowy Institute Paper No. 10

115 Pages Posted: 10 May 2007

See all articles by Simon Chesterman

Simon Chesterman

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Faculty of Law

Date Written: 2006


Is collective security possible when the evaluation of and response to threats depend on access to intelligence that cannot be shared openly? This Lowy Paper examines the role national intelligence does and could play in addressing threats to international peace and security, with particular reference to the contemporary threats of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The issue is important to those who believe that multilateral responses to emerging threats are inherently more legitimate than and therefore preferable to unilateral action. But it is also relevant to those who are wary of entrusting a nation's security to an international organisation: debates over whether the United States should share intelligence with and through the United Nations, for example, have arisen in many administrations and been won on every occasion by those who showed that it was in the US interest to do so. The question is no longer whether intelligence should be shared, but rather how and to what effect.

Improving the ability of collective security institutions to handle intelligence will enhance international cooperation to combat terrorism and strengthen verification regimes to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. It may also increase the ability of such institutions to prevent conflict and ameliorate natural and man-made disasters. It will not guarantee good policy. More effective use of information should, however, make it harder to ignore emerging crises or adopt unworkable policies. It may also facilitate cooperation between states to address threats that no one state can address alone.

Keywords: Intelligence, United Nations, Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Sanctions, International Criminal Law

Suggested Citation

Chesterman, Simon, Shared Secrets: Intelligence and Collective Security (2006). Lowy Institute Paper No. 10, Available at SSRN: or

Simon Chesterman (Contact Author)

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Faculty of Law ( email )

469G Bukit Timah Road
Eu Tong Sen Building
Singapore, 259776


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