The twentieth century was marked by the proliferation of security regimes, and collective security in particular. Under a collective security arrangement, all states at either a regional or global level agree to resolve their disputes peacefully, collectively oppose acts of aggression, and actively defend those who are victims of such aggression. It is based on the premise that security is indivisible, that is, each state’s security is intricately tied to the security of others, and no nation can be completely secure so long as the territory, independence, and populations of other states are seriously threatened. However, over the past several decades, ethnic conflicts, civil wars, guerrilla insurgencies, and other forms of internal violence have dramatically increased, even as large-scale interstate wars have declined. In addition to these sources of instability and conflict, political repression and extreme human rights abuses by governments against their populations (particularly genocide and ethnic cleansing) often generate massive refugee flows, illegal arms trafficking, and the rise of paramilitary guerrilla armies, all of which could disrupt neighboring states and regional stability. Thus, the concept of security adopted by international and regional regimes over the past few decades has expanded from the threat and use of force for deterrence and enforcement to include nation- and state-building, peacekeeping, and peace-making.
Martin S. Edwards and Jonathan M. DiCicco
International organizations (IOs) such as the United Nations play an important role in war prevention. In theory, IOs reduce the risk of war between belligerents by improving communication, facilitating cooperation, and building confidence and trust. In practice, however, IOs’ war-preventing capacities have sparked skepticism and criticism. Recent advances in the scholarly study of the causes of war have given rise to new and promising directions in research on IOs and war prevention. These studies highlight the problems of interstate and intrastate wars, global and regional organizations, preventive diplomacy and peacekeeping, and the relationship between IOs and domestic institutions. They also offer novel insights that both complement and challenge studies of traditional concepts such as collective security. An interesting work is that of J. D. Fearon, who frames war as a bargaining process between rational states. Fearon articulates a central puzzle of international relations: since war is costly, the question that arises is why rational leaders of competing states choose to fight instead of pursuing less costly, nonviolent dispute settlements. Three general mechanisms account for rational, unitary states’ inability to identify an alternative outcome that both would prefer to war: bluffing about private information, commitment problems, and indivisibility of stakes. Despite the obvious progress in research on IOs and war prevention, there remain methodological and theoretical issues that deserve consideration for further investigation, two of which are: the interaction of domestic and international organizations, and the implications of variations in IO design.