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 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 mainly devoted to the military dimensions of East-West relations. Thus, scholars defined regional conflicts as 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 strongly influenced 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 transformation process. 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, 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 WWI and the end of the Cold War, particularly concerning how they have shaped regional and global 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 environments after WWI and the 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. The nature of war has changed, leading to lessening inter-state wars and an increase in low-intensity conflicts, insurgencies, and 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 considers 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 questioned 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 the greatest threat to upholding 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 “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 the League failed as a tool for developing and implementing collective security was 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 over-dependence 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, in the Iraq crisis and the role of the coalition forces moulded by the United States and Britain. 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 in maintaining 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. US corporations were at the forefront of building a new global economy. US 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. This has been 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 was 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 instead of inter-state disputes.
The wars of Yugoslav succession and the Republic of Congo in 1998 highlight another feature of the contemporary international and regional security scene. In these wars, it is hard to discern between international and internal conflict. In both cases, the wars have had both global and inner dimensions.
Another notable feature of post-cold war is that Western and Third World regional organisations may seek autonomy by undertaking various peace and security roles today. There have been substantial changes in the purpose and functions of regional security arrangements in the post-Cold War era. Firstly, the objectives and part of the “original” regional organisation have expanded, for example, the OAS and the African Union. With the end of the Cold War, their role extends beyond the peaceful settlement of disputes to peacekeeping, peacebuilding, and the promotion of human rights and democracy.
Regional organisations must develop capabilities for complex tasks that combine 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, to some extent, is 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 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, with economic integration, are now developing peace and security roles. The European Union is one such organisation that settled 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 since WWI and 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 WW II outbreak. 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 created to foster regional security or added security to their original mandate. The main factors that have led to the evolution of regional and international security are globalisation and the change in the understanding of security brought about by human security. Military security has lost its dominance.
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