After the First World War (WWI) most nation-states rejected a balance of power system as the basis for international security. Thus, countries sought to institutionalise a system of collective security through the League of Nations and later the United Nations in which aggression by one state would bring a response from all countries. Thus, the world would achieve collective security.
On the other hand, the international and regional security policy during the Cold War focused, above all, on the solid management of relations between two heavily militarised blocs that shared a common interest in avoiding confrontation, but remained deeply divided along ideological lines. The world witnessed a struggle between socialist communism and liberal democracy. The Soviet Union supported communism, while USA liberal democracy. Thus, international security was devoted mostly to the military dimensions of East-West relations. Thus, scholars defined regional conflicts by reference to the global competition for influence between the superpowers. There was a limited understanding of local dynamics and internal sources of conflict.
However, with the end of the Cold War order, which had a strong influence on the understanding of international security, there were expectations about the eventual shape of the post-Cold War global and regional security order. The post-cold war international and regional security picture has completely evolved. The concept and the nature of ‘security’ have undergone a process of transformation. The military dimension of safety has diminished its dominance. Thus, providing security has become a more complex task. It implies the ability to mobilise various assets alongside military ones, and which can no longer be assigned solely to the state. With the end of WWI and the Cold war, there are now numerous and multi-dimensional structural trends in international and regional security.
This paper analyses the evolution of international and regional security from the end of the WW I and the end of the Cold War with particular reference to how they have shaped regional and international security today.
Evolution of Regional and International Security Post WW I and Cold War
Globalisation has played a significant role in the evolution of regional and international security environment after WW1 and Cold war. Interconnectedness has increased between societies and states. Therefore, this has reduced the ability of any country to deal with global security threats and risks alone. Nature of war has changed, leading to a lessening of inter-state wars and an increase in low-intensity conflicts, insurgencies, ethnic and civil wars.
The concept of human security has re-conceptualised the understanding of security. It advocates a people-centred and non-military focus that takes due account of threats to human life such as underdevelopment, poverty and deprivation. Among others, the concept of human security has brought about a different perspective of the state and a questioning of its unsurpassable sovereignty in international security. Human security presupposes that, for many people around the globe, the state is not so much a security provider as in fact the greatest threat to the upholding of their fundamental rights.
During the post-WWI, the League of Nations and the United Nations were the two organisations under which the collective security system had been used to promote international and regional security. Collective security is a “machinery for joint action to prevent or counter any attack against an established international order.” The term implies collective measures for dealing with a threat to peace. Article 48 and 49 of the Charter of the United Nations provides the principle of collective security.
However, the League of Nations was a complete failure as an instrument for the enforcement of collective security. The primary reason why the League failed as a tool for the development and implementation of collective security was that of the United States of America’s failure to join the League from the onset and the rise of the Soviet Union outside the League. Furthermore, the open defiance of Japan, Italy and Germany against the League of Nations combined to break any hopes that the agency would be sufficient in a major international crisis.
On the other hand, the United Nations Collective Security system has weaknesses because of its overdependence on the Security Council member-governments for assistance, especially the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan. This over-dependence has made these nations act unilaterally in conflict situations without the approval of the Security Council of the United Nations. In some cases, they disobey the orders of the Security Council not to act unilaterally, for example, the Iraq crisis and the role of the coalition forces moulded by the United States and Britain. The no inclusion of any African country and the lack of geographical spread of members of the Security Council hurt the function and strength of the Council on the role of maintenance of global peace and security.
The demise of the Cold war saw the dissolution of the Soviet Union and gave way to a new, promising international system. Thus, the United States values, such as liberalism and democracy, spread around the globe. U.S. corporations were at the forefront of building a new global economy. U.S. military forces were also at the vanguard of international efforts to provide global stability. For instance, in 1991, the U.S.-led Coalition of Western powers was gearing up for military operations in the Persian Gulf region.
However, the demise of the Cold War saw the shift of violence in the international system toward the intra-state level. Among others, this has been so due to the collapse of multi-ethnic federal state structures (the USSR and Yugoslavia) and the breakdown of weak political orders in parts of Africa. The decline of the Yugoslav Federation saw wars in Bosnia (1992–1995), Croatia (1991–1995), and later Kosovo (1999). In Africa, the genocidal war fought between the Hutu and Tutsi factions in Rwanda and Burundi in the early and mid-1990s. The two wars were fought along ethnic lines within a state. Furthermore, the United Nations deployed multinational peacekeeping forces. Therefore, the 1990s witnessed a sharp increase in intrastate conflicts as opposed to inter-state conflicts.
The wars of Yugoslav succession and Republic of Congo in 1998 highlight another feature of the contemporary international and regional security scene. In these wars, it is hard to discern plainly between international and internal conflict. In both cases, the wars have had both an international and an inner dimension.
Another notable feature of post-cold war is that both Western and Third World regional organisations today may seek autonomy by undertaking a variety of peace and security roles. There have been substantial changes in the purpose and role of regional security arrangements in the post-Cold War era. Firstly, there has been an expansion of the objectives and role of “original” regional organisations, for example, the OAS and the African Union. With the end of the Cold War, their role extends beyond peaceful settlement of disputes to peacekeeping and peacebuilding, and the promotion of human rights and democracy.
Regional organisations today face the need to develop capabilities for complex tasks that combine elements of peacekeeping, peacebuilding and humanitarian assistance. The United Nations under the subsidiarity principle recognised and encouraged this role of regional security arrangements.
Secondly, entirely new regional security organisations have emerged. In 1994, Asia created its first macro-regional security grouping with the founding of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF). The ARF is to some extent unique as a regional security arrangement. It has brought together all the great powers of the contemporary international system. On the other hand, China in the 1990s was a reluctant player in multilateralism. However, today, she has taken an unprecedented level of interest in multilateral economic and security approaches at the regional scale. China’s newfound interest in regional security arrangements is a way of countering US power and influence in the region. China’s “new security concept” promotes the idea of multipolarity. Scholars should note that Asian regional organisations would be meaningless without Chinese involvement.
Third, regional organisations which in the past dealt mainly, if not solely, on economic integration, are now developing peace and security role. The European Union is one such organisation developed for financial reasons but now taking up safety issues. There is a realisation that economic integration cannot be separated for too long from political and security cooperation. Also, the Asia Pacific region, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), created to advance trade liberalisation and manage regional economic interdependence, is developing a role in security management.
International and regional security has evolved with the end of WW I and end of the Cold war. The end of WW I saw the creation of the League of Nations to foster collective security to achieve international peace and security. Unfortunately, the League did not perform to the expected standard hence, the outbreak of the WW II. The demise of the League and the end of WWII led to the establishment of the United Nations. The disappearance of the cold war saw the intensification of internal conflicts. Therefore, regional bodies were either created to foster regional security or added security to their original mandate. The main factors that have lead to the evolution of regional and international security are globalisation and the change in the understanding of the security brought about by the concept of human security. Military security has lost its dominance.
Amitav Acharya (2004) Regional Security Arrangements in a Multipolar World? The European Union in Global Perspective. Regional Security in a Multipolar World FES Briefing Paper December 2004
Amitav Acharya, “Will Asia’s Past be Its Future”, International Security, vol. 28, no.3 (Winter 2003-04).
Andreas Wenger and Doron Zimmerman (2003) International Relations: From the Cold War to the Globalised World.
Commission on Human Security (2003), Human Security Now, New York, United Nations, http://www.unocha.org/humansecurity/chs/finalreport/index.html.
Freedman, Lawrence, ed. (2002), Superterrorism. Policy Responses, Malden, Blackwell.
Joseph C. Ebegbulem (2010) The Failure of Collective Security in the Post World Wars I and II International System. Transcience (2011) Vol. 2, Issue 2 ISSN 2191-1150.
Joseph Nye, Jr., “International Conflicts After the Cold War,” in Managing Conflict in the Post-Cold War World: The Role of Intervention. Report of the Aspen Institute Conference, August 2-6, 1995, (Aspen, Colorado: Aspen Institute, 1996) pp. 63-76.
Kaldor, Mary (1999), New and Old Wars. Organised Violence in a Global Era, Stanford, Stanford University Press.
Kegley, W. C. (2007) World Politics: Trends and Transformation. California: Thompson Higher Education.
Mats Berdal (2011) Trends in post-cold war international security policy – the view of three leading institutes International Security after the Cold War: Aspects of Continuity and Change.
Miller, Benjamin (2001), “The Concept of Security: Should it be Redefined?”, The Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2(June), p. 13-42.
Mingst, K. (1999) Essentials of International Relations. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Schwarzenberger, G. (1964) Power Politics: A Study of International Society (3rd ed.) London.