Marshall Center Papers 3 Graphic

Defining cooperative security and showing how states are engaging in it

Cooperative Security: From Theory to Practice

April 2001, Number 003


No single trend, over the past decade, deserves more careful analysis than the remarkable growth of cooperation among the countries of Eurasia and North America. Many new international organizations have been born, and a few of the old ones have been successfully transformed. NATO Secretary General Robertson remarked on September 28, 2000, in Tbilisi, that NATO has changed fundamentally — indeed, “beyond recognition” — as shown by its cooperation with non–member countries. So much has happened so quickly that we need new theories to explain the recent past, let alone to shape the opportunities, challenges, and threats of the era that lies ahead.

It is for that reason that the Marshall Center takes such pride in publishing this edition of the Marshall Center Papers. Here we present two different approaches to the topic of Cooperative Security. Both are controversial. They take exception to traditional thinking, in many respects, and they do not entirely agree with each other.

Richard Cohen presents a compelling and highly original model of Cooperative Security — a term that once was applied almost exclusively to the Organization for Security and Co–operation in Europe (OSCE). Cohen advocates concrete steps for translating this idealistic but vague concept into reality, contending that NATO has become the world’s best example of a Cooperative Security organization. He argues that NATO remains a Collective Defense system, to the extent that it focuses on external threats, but only in part. In addition, NATO has acted as a Collective Security organization — restoring international stability first in Bosnia–Herzegovina and then in Kosovo — on behalf of the United Nations, when possible, but without United Nations approval, when necessary. Cohen explores all of these diverse functions, presenting his own, normative vision of how NATO should develop in the future, as a Cooperative Security institution, and urging closer contact between NATO, the European Union, and Russia. Cohen notes, however, that “the breadth of . . . Cooperative Security is probably limited” by a lack of “core values and . . . common geo-strategic interests.”

Michael Mihalka both broadens the analysis of Cooperative Security and deepens its theoretical underpinnings. He traces the history of Cooperative Security organizations, arguing that they date from the early 19th century and extending the concept beyond the Northern Hemisphere to include the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Mihalka points out that many members of OSCE and ASEAN are quasi–authoritarian or transitional democracies, and not consolidated liberal democracies. Even states that do not share common values can still cooperate, but only if their ruling elites have confidence in their common future and believe that working together is better than proceeding alone. However, Mihalka warns that non-democratic countries are limited in their ability to pursue cooperation. They may succeed in averting war with each other — as in the case of ASEAN — but they are unlikely to develop a common position on regional threats to stability. Thus Mihalka argues that the future success of Cooperative Security depends not only on spreading liberal democracy, but also on intensifying economic ties with the non- democratic countries and fostering their sense of a “security community” that serves the interests of all its members. Mihalka, in contrast to Cohen, concludes that “Even among states that lack common values, cooperative security is possible.”

These two, contrasting essays raise many questions about the future of the newly independent countries and the new democracies. Are they entering a new era, in which one state’s gain is not necessarily another state’s loss? What is the connection between their rhetorical support for Cooperative Security abroad and their actual progress toward liberal democracy at home? How much importance should they assign to projecting stability beyond their borders? Can they pursue cooperation as opposed to confrontation, reassurance instead of deterrence, and mutual benefit in place of unilateral advantage? What concrete steps should they take to benefit from the experience of previous centuries and other regions?

Richard Cohen and Michael Mihalka have performed a major service by presenting their views in this single volume. Their disagreements testify to the complexity and the importance of the issues that they raise.

Robert Kennedy, PhD
George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies

Traditional security concepts do not provide adequate solutions to the current challenges of intrastate conflict and regional instability


Traditional concepts of security do not provide adequate solutions to the current challenges of intrastate conflict and regional instability. The major schools of thought in international relations — realism and liberalism — reflect an era when war was considered to be a legitimate instrument of policy. Today, many states, especially in Western Europe, are less concerned about deterring or defending against aggression than about preserving the overall stability of their region. Such countries have much to gain by working together to decrease the likelihood of conflict. Their goal has often been called “cooperative security.”

Unfortunately, many states claim to engage in cooperative security when, in fact, they mean simple cooperation. But, their rhetoric does reflect this shift in the primary security perception of states: a shift away from defending against a major threat and toward promoting stability. Historically, many groupings of states have tried to promote stability. Their experiences foreshadowed current cooperative security efforts. Today, three groupings of states view themselves as engaged in cooperative security the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organization for Security and Co–operation in Europe (OSCE), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The first part of this paper defines cooperative security and relies heavily on the concepts of the security dilemma and the prisoner’s dilemma. The second part explains how states and groupings of states have engaged in cooperative security according to this definition. The final section addresses the future of cooperative security.

Defining Security

After the cold war, West Europeans turned from concern for the survival of the state — “hard security” — to an interest in economic well–being — “soft security”

Since the end of the cold war, there have been so many definitions to the term security that some scholars have called it an “essentially contested concept” — i.e., a concept so value–laden that no amount of argument or evidence could lead to agreement on its meaning.1 The confusion lies more with the values and social units that need protecting, than with the concept itself. Hence, security can be defined as the freedom to exercise certain values, or, as Arnold Wolfers has put it, security can be measured as “the absence of threat to acquired values.”2 The conceptual problem then becomes one of defining which social units (e.g., individuals, states, international institutions, and state systems) and values (e.g., physical safety, political independence, and economic well–being) apply.3 Answers to These questions tend to vary with respect, among other things, to when the question is asked and to which approach is taken to understand international relations. Thus, after the cold war, West Europeans turned from concern about the continued survival of the state (so–called “hard” security) to an interest in economic well–being (“soft” security). This shift reflects the real decline in the perceived threat posed by the Soviet Union and its successor state, Russia.

In this paper, we will focus on the state as the major unit of analysis and on freedom from coercion as the major value to be protected. It is common for the literature to deal with specific states, or groups of states, posing a threat to an individual state’s security. Concerns about transnational or environmental threats change that focus and require new thinking about security. Much of what is written about cooperative security attempts to address that void. Thus, this paper’s definition of cooperative security deals with issues other than traditional threats:

Cooperative security is activity among states to lessen the likelihood of war, or its consequences should it occur, that is not directed at any specific state or group of states.

This definition separates two very distinct spheres of international relations activity: 1) activity directed at specific states, or groups of states, perceived to pose a threat to the peace; and, 2) activity directed to improve the environment within which states operate. Cooperative security attempts to deal with the second definition, improving the broader security environment.

Cooperative security can occur between two states, or among many. The simplest, and traditionally the most common, case is one consistent with the neo–realist model of international relations. Few assumptions need be made about state behavior. The state is the unit of analysis and tries to improve its security, often at the expense of others. Under these circumstances, cooperation is difficult.

The Security Dilemma and the Prisoner's Dilemma. As theorists have de–emphasized the struggle for power in favor of the pursuit of security as the major motivating factor for states, they have recognized the “security dilemma.”4 The security dilemma, in which a state’s actions, meant to increase the security of its citizens, result in responsive actions on the part of an adversary — countervailing actions that may ultimately diminish the security of all. Military preparations by one country, regardless of its intentions, are perceived to pose a threat to others. Robert Jervis has said that “the security dilemma can not only create conflicts and tensions but also provide the dynamics triggering war.”5 The concept of the security dilemma is crucial for understanding the trend toward cooperative and common security in the early 1990s. The major state–level cause for conflict along the East–West axis was ideologically defused with Gorbachev’s arrival in the Soviet Union. The security dilemma, however, remains; although it may be circumvented through arms control agreements.

The prisoner’s dilemma further illustrates the problems that arise when a state unilaterally improves its own security, and another state responds in kind, resulting in both states being less secure than before. As an example, two countries face the same choice: to arm or not to arm. If one side arms, and the other does not, then one side gains a unilateral advantage. It is, therefore, rational for both sides to arm. This logic, however, leads to resources being diverted from civilian to military purposes and a general escalation of arms.

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The Prisoner's Dilemma

The prisoner’s dilemma is a recurring international problem. If it is rational for both sides to arm, what would it take for them to cooperate instead? The answer lies in the fact that the prisoner’s dilemma is iterative. Once both sides recognize the spiraling effect, they have an incentive to cooperate.6 By negotiating, they can avoid increased military expenditures.

It is a sense of a common future that leads to cooperation

It is a sense of a common future that leads them to cooperate. A prime example of this form of cooperative security is the nuclear arms negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union — once likened to two scorpions in a bottle — during the cold war. The iterative prisoner’s dilemma provides sufficient conceptual underpinnings to explain cooperative security between pairs of states. We need to look further to account for cooperative security among several states.

The Security Community. The notion of a security community, developed originally by Karl Deutsch, goes a long way toward accounting for cooperative security among several states. Deutsch and his colleagues sought to explain the international community that developed in Western Europe immediately following World War II (WW II).7 Here, he identified the evolution of a “pluralistic security community,” in which states had a shared “expectation of peaceful change.” States in a pluralistic security community expect other states in the community not to use or threaten to use military force as a means of resolving disputes. Such a community develops through extensive transaction and communication that aid and abet the consolidation of shared norms and values. This continued interaction is reinforced by cooperation, which further develops shared norms, which then creates more interaction, in a positive feedback loop.

Cooperative security is a consequence of a security community

Cooperative security is thus one consequence of a security community. States within a security community work together to address security threats in their immediate environment. Some of this action is cooperation in the traditional sense, such as the formation of the NATO alliance. But, much of this action, such as the deepening and widening of the European Community (EC), is not directed at any specific state threat and thus falls within the domain of cooperative security.

The interaction inherent to a security community leads to shared norms. Sustaining the security community also leads to the development of a common identity. Shared norms and a common identity increase trust among participating states and make cooperative security a further norm regulating their behavior.

Practical Examples of Cooperative Security

Cooperation between adversaries and potential adversaries has often occurred. Agreements and conventions not to use chemical weapons and to limit the use of violence against civilians have long existed.

However, conventions have sometimes been rudely ignored. For example, a series of agreements prohibited the use of chemical weapons. An agreement in Brussels in 1874, followed by one at the Hague in 1899, outlawed the use of projectiles filled with poison gases. Nevertheless, the use of chemical weapons in World War I (WW I) resulted in over 1,300,000 casualties and approximately 100,000 fatalities.8

Given the experience of WW I, chemical weapons were subsequently used largely against the defenseless — the Italians against the Abyssinians (mustard gas, 1936), or more recently the Iraqis against the Kurds (hydrogen cyanide and mustard gas, 1987–88). However, there was a tacit agreement not to use chemical weapons in WW II — no major WW II combatants used them. And, the Iraqis did not use chemical agents against the United Nations (UN) coalition in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, although they had previously used such weapons against Iran. In both WW II and the Gulf War, the combatants had a clear sense of a common future that kept them from employing chemical weapons. Any temporary advantage conveyed by an initial use would be wiped out by subsequent retaliation.

Arms control generally provides fruitful ground for cooperative security

Arms control generally provides fruitful ground for cooperative security, especially if both sides can be made to see that the security dilemma they face puts them into an iterative prisoner’s dilemma. Ashton Carter, William Perry, and John Steinbrunner had the following to say about cooperative security in a 1993 publication:

The central purpose of cooperative security arrangements is to prevent war and to do so primarily by preventing the means for successful aggression from being assembled, thus also obviating the need for states so threatened to make their own counterpreparations. . . . Cooperative security differs from the traditional idea of collective security as preventive medicine differs from acute care. Focused on restraining the organized preparations of established militaries, cooperative security does not address itself directly to sub–state violence.9  [emphasis added]

Carter, et al., clearly address the security dilemma when they argue that military forces must be configured so as not to pose a threat to their neighbors, thus provoking a response. The Brookings team thought that although no post–cold war state was pursuing world domination, the security dilemma could lead states into competition, when they might prefer cooperation.

Indeed, virtually every arms control regime can be viewed as an example of cooperative security. The successive efforts between the United States and the Soviet Union (and its successor state — Russia) to manage their common security space through strategic arms control provides an important bilateral example. The Nonproliferation Treaty, the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, etc., illustrate multilateral efforts. However, such unique, one–off arrangements are limited and do not necessarily enhance security in other areas. Therefore, we need to look at institutionalized efforts at cooperative security.

Institutionalizing Cooperation

Cooperative security arrangements have repeatedly evolved throughout the last two hundred years, whenever states have become convinced that they need to improve the conditions leading to security within their environment. These efforts range from the Concert of Europe — set up after the end of the Napoleonic Wars — to the Organization for Security and Co–operation in Europe.

Cooperative security has evolved over the last 200 years

The Concert of Europe Early Cooperative Security. What came to be called the Concert of Europe emerged from the Vienna treaties ending the wars against Napoleonic France in 1815. The quadruple alliance of the four victorious powers Austria, Russia, Prussia, and Great Britain — agreed to meet on a regular basis to discuss matters concerning European security. France joined in 1818. The Concert of Europe is most often referred to as the mechanism whereby the balance of power was adjudicated in the 19th century.

In the decades immediately following the Napoleonic settlement, the primary concern was countering the liberal threat fomented by the French revolution. Revolution was seen as the source of instability in Europe. Revolution infected France and led to the Napoleonic wars. In the immediate aftermath of those wars, revolution, and not any one state, posed the major threat to order and was perceived as a future threat to dynastic survival. Austrian Chancellor Metternich believed that intervention and repression were necessary to eliminate revolution and revolutionary ideas. The Concert served as the main vehicle for intervention.

However, the British found the continental enthusiasm for dynastic intervention unacceptable. British diplomat Castlereagh argued in the House of Commons that he “could not recognize the principle that one state was entitle[d] to interfere with another, because changes might be effected in its government which the former state disapproved.”10 Only an immediate threat to vital interests justified state intervention.

Disagreement over the Concert’s prevailing conservative political objectives, as evidenced by the continental powers’ intervention in Spain in 1823, led Britain to withdraw from the Concert. Britain did not share the conservative, indeed reactionary, values of its erstwhile Continental allies, and could not accept anti–liberal interventions as legitimate.

The Concert of Europe was the first real effort at cooperative security

Even so, some British authorities had kind words for the Concert of Europe at the end of the 19th century. During the Armenian and Cretan crises of 1897, Britain’s Lord Salisbury recognized the Concert of Europe as the “inchoate federation of Europe” — a federation with the capability of becoming an international organization.11 It was, in effect, the first real effort at cooperative security.

The League of Nations — Failure to Achieve Collective Security. The League of Nations is best remembered for failing to prevent World War II, but deserves better press for its actual accomplishments, especially its efforts to manage conflicts among its members. The League accomplished important innovations. Premier among them was the agreement to consider an act of war against one member state to be an act of war against all. The term “collective security” derived from this form of security agreement. Members consulted on military matters, but were required to immediately engage in financial and economic sanctions. Second among the League’s important innovations was the institutionalization of agreements. They were accomplished in an Assembly, consisting of the member states; a Council, comprising the victorious powers at the Versailles Conference; and four additional states, drawn from the Assembly. Third, the League assumed responsibility for adjudicating disputes among its members. Fourth, the League assumed responsibility for overseeing the political development of certain territories and colonies of the defeated countries.

The League’s ineffective handling of Germany in the 1930s followed failures to act against Japan over its invasion of Manchuria and against Italy over its invasion of Ethiopia. Agreement was not possible. Failure to act effectively against Italy merely confirmed the League’s inability to deal with disputes raised by major powers.

The League failed in part because it lacked sufficient legitimacy among the major powers. After World War I, only two of the six major powers — Britain and France — supported League principles and practices, among them the post–war territorial status quo. The United States Senate prevented the United States from joining. Bolshevik Russia and Germany were specifically excluded at first. Italy was severely disaffected, not having gained the territories it deemed it deserved due to its switch of allegiances during the war. Italy continued to undermine League principles, first by its intervention in Corfu in 1923, and then later by its invasion of Ethiopia. Germany finally joined in 1926, but quickly exited when the National Socialists came to power in 1933. Russia joined in 1934.

Clearly betraying his liberal instincts, Wilson rejected membership of autocratic governments. Non–democratic countries had to adopt democratic forms of government to gain membership. Restricting membership ran counter to the idea that the more universal a collective security system was, the more effective it would be. Yet, if liberal theorists are right, Wilson’s instincts were correct. Only liberal states would live up to their obligations.

The League’s collective security system failed when it did not develop a global security community

In the final analysis, the League of Nations failed because it was unable to develop a security community. Its members did not share values. There was no agreement on how European countries should organize themselves politically. France and Britain wanted to retain their parliamentary democracies. Italy quickly opted for fascism, and Russia for Bolshevism. Germany failed at parliamentary democracy before finally following Italy into fascism in the 1930s. Japan became a military corporatist state. Territorially, France and Britain wanted to maintain the status quo. Italy, Germany, the Soviet Union, and Japan did not. The League’s collective security system presumed a global security community — a group of states with a clear common identity. The League failed because it could not develop that identity.

The United Nations — Collective Security and Cooperative Security. The United Nations, like the League before it, is a collective security system, but was designed to correct the perceived major shortcomings of its predecessors. The United Nations, unlike the League, has universal membership. The UN requires a consensus among the five major powers that are permanent members of the Security Council, with only majority consent from the entire council. The League required unanimity. United Nations enforcement actions are guaranteed if the permanent members agree. Not surprisingly, UN collective security operations have only occurred twice.

The United Nations has predictably, given the conflicting values of member countries, been largely ineffective as a collective security system. Agreement is rare when the interests of Security Council permanent members’ conflict. The two collective security operations that have been “successful” illustrate the need for common interests and values.

The United Nations effectively acted against North Korea in 1950, but only because the Soviet Union boycotted the Council sessions. At that time the permanent members included the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Nationalist China, and the Soviet Union. The end of the cold war made possible the second successful UN cooperative security operation, against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. At this time, the Soviet Union, soon to be Russia, expressed a desire to join the Western community of nations and did not block action against Iraq, its former client.

There was no UN enforcement action against Serbia over Kosovo in 1999. The inevitable vetoes of both Russia and China kept the issue from even coming to a Security Council vote. NATO proceeded, arguing the requirement for urgent humanitarian intervention. Some felt that the UN Security Council lacked the legitimacy to authorize humanitarian intervention because it was not a coalition of liberal democratic states. Russia and China opposed the action, in part because an intervention in Serbian internal affairs would establish a difficult precedent for their own domestic situations — Chechnya in the case of Russia, Tibet for China.

The United Nations has engaged in a number of peacekeeping operations that many would consider cooperative security efforts

Nevertheless, the United Nations has engaged in a number of peacekeeping operations that many would consider cooperative security efforts. The UN authorized the peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo (operations not funded by the United Nations, and, therefore, not strictly UN operations) and Russia participates in both. Moreover, many countries that take part in these “UN peacekeeping operations” do so for reasons other than a simple commitment to the furthering of peace — they participate for economic reasons, as they profit from renting their troops to the UN.

The League of Nations and the Concert of Europe suggest that security communities and, hence, cooperative security are indeed possible among states that are not liberal democracies, but that such security communities may be unstable. The Concert of Europe did achieve routinized cooperation and a form of cooperative security. Its members shared the common ideology and purpose of the suppression of liberalism. As some of the states participating in the Concert saw the major problems in international relations differently, the Concert broke down.

The failure of the League of Nations revealed the need for liberal democratic states as the basis for a security community. It would appear that Wilson’s instinct that League members should be liberal democratic states was essentially correct. The League’s problems were with its non–democratic members. The League was able to accommodate a fascist Italy, but not a fascist Germany. Once Germany turned fascist and left the League, the League was no longer viable.

The United Nations provides a different cooperative security lesson. Much of what the United Nations does is cooperative security, although the term is rarely used. The United Nations does not comprise a security communityseveral wars have occurred between its members. Nevertheless, many member countries have participated in UN multilateral peacekeeping operations. Most importantly, major collective security enforcement actions have only occurred when the non–democratic members of the UN Security Council were either absent or willing to defer to their liberal democratic counterparts.

Western EuropeThe Prototypical Security Community. The integration of Western Europe after World War II focused on the creation of security communities, particularly on the development of the European Community, now called the European Union (EU). Karl Deutsch has pointed out that in stark contrast to the interwar period, West European states no longer planned for war against each other and, thus, had begun to form a security community.12 Indeed, the founders of the European Community made a conscious effort to build a security community in Western Europe by furthering a collective identity. Jean Monnet, one of the EC’s architects, wrote in 1944:

There will be no peace in Europe if states re–establish themselves on the basis of national sovereignty, with all that this implies by way of prestige policies and economic protectionism. If the countries once more protect themselves against each other, it will once more be necessary to build up vast armies . . . Europe will be reborn yet again under the shadow of fear.13

The EC’s precursor, the European Coal and Steel Commission (ECSC), was proposed by Robert Schuman in May 1950. British Member of Parliament, and sometime Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan said:

To the great majority of Europeans, by far the most significant aspect of M. Schuman’s initiative is the political. It is not, in its essentials, a purely economic or industrial conception; it is a grand design for a new Europe; it is not just a piece of convenient machinery; it is a revolutionary, almost mystical, conception.14

The Schuman Declaration setting up the European Coal and Steel Community is worth quoting at length:

The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible. The setting up of this powerful productive unit, open to all countries willing to take part and bound ultimately to provide all the member countries with the basic elements of industrial production on the same terms, will lay a true foundation for their economic unification.

This production will be offered to the world as a whole without distinction or exception, with the aim of contributing to raising living standards and to promoting peaceful achievements. In this way, there will be realized simply and speedily that fusion of interest which is indispensable to the establishment of a common economic system; it may be the leaven from which may grow a wider and deeper community between countries long opposed to one another by sanguinary divisions.

By pooling basic production and by instituting a new High Authority, whose decisions will bind France, Germany and other member countries, this proposal will lead to the realization of the first concrete foundation of a European federation indispensable to the preservation of peace.15

In a speech given in 1999, Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek quoted Schuman: “Europe has to shape its own soul. Europe again has to become a direction for mankind. Europe is not against anything or anyone. United Europe is a symbol of all–embracing solidarity for the future.”16 The ECSC provided the material basis — cooperation in coal and steel — for a security community to develop in Europe and thus increasingly for more cooperative security among members of the EC and later the European Union.

The end of the cold war proved to be one of the larger tests for the European Union. Some feared that the United States would withdraw from Europe and that West Europeans would “renationalize” their security policies. Some Germans feared that their now reunited country would set off again on its Sonderweg, i.e., its special path. Some of Germany’s neighbors, in turn, were slow to endorse reunification. Yet, Germany remained on the European path.

In the waning years of the Bush presidency, the United States did in fact lose interest in Europe and conceded to the West Europeans the leading role in the 1991 Yugoslav conflict. Flush with enthusiasm after embarking on the Maastricht treaty negotiations, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jacques Poos proclaimed the “hour of Europe.” Wishful thinking led the EU to believe that the Yugoslav conflict could not be resolved through military means. They were wrong.

The European Union’s intention is to remain a liberal democratic security community. Applicants must meet the EU’s three major membership criteria: progress toward becoming a liberal democracy; progress toward engaging a market economy; and progress toward adopting the EU’s common law, the acquis communitaire. Thus, a country needs to be a relatively mature liberal democracy before it can join.

A “re–nationalization” of security policy has not occurred and the European Union has made slow, but halting, progress toward coordinating respective national security policies. Several members of the European Union have participated in the Eurocorps, which now has assumed responsibility for the overall Kosovo mission. The European Union displays almost all of the characteristics of a mature security community with cooperative security as the norm.

NATO From Collective Defense to Cooperative Security. Many of the same analysts who thought that the European Union would “renationalize” its security policy after the end of the cold war, also believed that NATO would disappear once its “main threat,” the Warsaw Pact, collapsed. These analysts were entrenched in the realist tradition and did not reckon with the common transatlantic identity developed among the Alliance members.

Robert De Wijk, a senior advisor to the Dutch government, argues that “NATO’s task as a collective defense organization has been completed, because the threat from the East no longer exists. NATO must change into an ‘organization for cooperative security’ that draws its right to exist above all from carrying out military operations aimed at conflict management and humanitarian aid.” De Wijk realizes that obtaining political support among the member states for this new orientation would be very difficult. But, he says: “If you regard NATO as a classic defense alliance, then it can be closed down. After all the objectives have been reached.” In fact, he argues that NATO should be folded into the OSCE.17

NATO, of course, was never simply a classic defense alliance, but its political component was obscured during the cold war. After the cold war, NATO launched several Partnership for Peace (PfP) program initiatives and throughout the 1990s expanded on them. The PfP program is not simply a waiting room for those countries wishing to join NATO. Many of the former so–called neutrals — Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Austria, and Switzerland — have used the PfP to promote their own security cooperatively.

For example, Ireland, having participated in the UN–mandated (but not operated) peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, wanted to institutionalize its relationship with NATO — the United Nations designee as the regional organization responsible. The Irish government requested its parliament’s approval to apply for PfP membership and in so doing defined the PfP as: “a voluntary, non–binding and cooperative security framework of cooperation between  NATO and non–members of NATO that has evolved into a major framework for cooperation, training and preparation for UN peacekeeping, humanitarian tasks and crisis management.”18

NATO has launched other efforts to promote cooperative security, including its special relationship with Ukraine and the Founding Act with Russia. Particularly notable is that even the preamble to the 1997 NATO–Russia Founding Act connects democracy, that is the promotion of internal liberal democratic values, with cooperative security:

The Russian Federation, on the one hand, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its member States, on the other, hereinafter referred to as Russia and NATO, based on an enduring political commitment undertaken at the highest political level, will build together a lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro–Atlantic area on the principles of democracy and cooperative security[emphasis added]

NATO has also asserted its promotion of cooperative security in Europe. The final communiqué from its December 1997 Brussels ministerial asserts:

As Foreign Ministers, we attach particular importance to the far–reaching, positive political developments, which have occurred since 1991 in the security landscape in Europe and to new cooperative security structures, which are being built throughout the Euro–Atlantic region.

We reaffirm our commitment to further strengthening the OSCE as a primary instrument for early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post–conflict rehabilitation as well as for enhancing cooperative security and advancing democracy and human rights. NATO enlargement is linked to and part of a comprehensive process which comprises the following elements: broad cooperation with Partners within the Euro–Atlantic Partnership Council and the enhanced Partnership for Peace Programme; a strong, stable and enduring partnership with Russia based on the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation, signed in Paris on 27th May 1997; a distinctive Partnership with Ukraine, which was founded by means of the Charter, signed in Madrid on 9th July 1997; and an enhanced Mediterranean Dialogue. All these elements contribute to establishing the foundation of a Euro–Atlantic area characterized by cooperative security and reliable stability, and are supplemented by the work of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co–operation in Europe), in particular on a ‘Common and Comprehensive Security Model for the 21st Century’ in accordance with the decision of the OSCE Lisbon Summit in 1996. [emphasis added]

Expanding on the theme of cooperative security, NATO Secretary–General Javier Solana identified the,

. . . various elements of a comprehensive approach to cooperative security as a wide–ranging and continually deepening program of military and defense–related practical cooperation through the Partnership for Peace; the establishment of a new forum — the Euro–Atlantic Partnership Council — to provide for regular, intensified political consultations with all Partners on a wide range of security issues, from peace support to policy planning; new and dynamic partnerships with Russia and Ukraine; and the process of opening NATO to new members.

Solana views the Partnership for Peace program as the “flagship” of NATO’s program for cooperation. He also stresses the importance of NATO enlargement in furthering cooperative security:

An enlarged NATO gives us better means — and, indeed, greater incentives — for Partners wishing to join NATO to deepen their ties with the Alliance as well as with other Partners. The prospect of NATO membership has already proven it to be an important instigator of domestic reform and improved bilateral relations among countries of Central and Eastern Europe. And that cannot but contribute to building cooperative security.

Solana argues that NATO has redefined itself based on a definition of security that sharply contrasts with one used during the cold war:

In broadening our concept of security, in taking on new roles and missions, in carrying out wide adaptation, the NATO of today is no longer about defending against large–scale attack. It is about building security within societies, creating the conditions of stability in which respect for human rights, consolidation of democratic reforms and economic patterns of trade and investment can flourish. . . . In short, it is about a new cooperative security order for the Euro–Atlantic region.19

He is not alone in seeing a fundamental change in the security basis for Europe. Jozef Sestak, State Secretary at the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs, foresees a Europe divided into two security systems: one, a collective security system based on a NATO core; and, the other, a cooperative security system made up of broader NATO cooperative programs, such as the Euro–Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), the OSCE, and the Western European Union (WEU).20 Solana and others seem to be moving away from a state–centric view of security to an individual–based definition of security favored by liberals. NATO had become a cooperative security system long before Solana used the term to describe NATO activities. These efforts at promoting liberal order in Europe were a necessary precursor for the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo.

NATO’s humanitarian intervention in Kosovo represents a cooperative security enforcement action

NATO’s humanitarian intervention in Kosovo represents a cooperative security enforcement action. NATO acted without a UN mandate. This occurred in part because the norm for action did not exist at the UN Security Council, while it did exist among NATO members. Another indication that NATO serves as a security community is the failure of repeated and considerable tensions between Turkey and Greece to lead to war.

OSCE — A Venue for Cooperative Security? The Organization for Security and Co–operation in Europe differs from NATO and the EU. OSCE members do not form a security community and do not hold common values despite the official adherence to the Helsinki Principles. The OSCE region extends from Vancouver to Vladivostok and is quite diverse, providing little basis for a common identity. Nevertheless, despite what appears to be infertile ground, many view the OSCE as the quintessential cooperative security example. The OSCE Handbook lists its priorities as follows:

  • to consolidate the participating State’s common values and help in building fully democratic civil societies based on the rule of law;
  • to prevent local conflicts, restore stability and bring peace to war torn areas;
  • to overcome real and perceived security deficits and to avoid the creation of new political, economic, or social divisions by promoting a co–operative system of security.

The Handbook itself is rife with cooperative security references:

The comprehensive nature of security in the OSCE context is closely related to the Organization’s co–operative approach to solving problems. Starting from the premise that security is indivisible, participating States have a common stake in the security of Europe and should therefore co–operate to prevent crises from happening and/or to reduce the risk of already existing crises getting worse. The underlying assumption is that co–operation can bring benefits to all participating States, while insecurity in one State or region can affect the well–being of all. The key is to work together, achieving security together with others, not against them.

‘We are determined to learn from the tragedies of the past and to translate our vision of a co–operative future into reality by creating a common security space free of dividing lines in which all States are equal partners. We face serious challenges, but we face them together.’Lisbon Declaration on a Common and Comprehensive Security Model for Europe for the Twenty–first century, December 1996. 21

OSCE’s drive for cooperative security appears most clearly in the efforts to further politico–military security. Guidelines such as the OSCE’s Charter on European Security or the Code of Conduct on politico–military aspects promote the notion that security should be accomplished jointly without any one state achieving an advantage. Some analysts suggest that these agreements have no teeth, given that states would not be sanctioned if they did not honor them.

OSCE is more like a bazaar than a factory — states and international organizations can pick and choose how they wish to cooperate

All the OSCE does is cooperative security, in that it is a consensus–based organization. However, the OSCE should also be viewed as a norm–setting agency. States, and even other international organizations, are free to participate as they see fit. At the OSCE Istanbul summit in November 1999, a “Platform for Co–operative Security” was embedded within the Charter for European Security. The platform offers the OSCE as a coordinating framework for international organizations and for states wishing to work in a sub–regional context. The OSCE is more like a bazaar than a factory  states and international organizations can pick and choose how they wish to cooperate.

Despite these strengths, the OSCE does not meet all of the criteria for a security community. Some OSCE members have recently been at war with each other and plan for such contingencies in the future. The OSCE’s strength lies in providing an opportunity for states to cooperate, if and when they wish, setting regional benchmark norms. Nevertheless, it is no accident that those states that most frequently exploit the OSCE capabilities come from the western end of the Eurasian land mass. European countries merely proceed to cooperate on security matters based on existing memberships in institutions that are a part of the OSCE.

ASEAN Limited Cooperative Security Without Democracy. The Association for South East Asian Nations does not seem particularly fertile ground for developing a security community or promoting cooperative security. Arguably, none of its member countries is a mature liberal democracy. ASEAN member states do not have common forms of governments, and, in fact, have very little in common with each other, prompting one observer to distinguish them as a “chaos of cultures.”22 Nevertheless, no war has occurred between these states since 1964. The ability of the countries within this region to deal with their security problems constructively and cooperatively reflects the continued commitment of their respective elites.

Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand formed ASEAN in 1967 as a forum for regional cooperation, mindful of the recent regional conflict. Indonesia’s failed policy of confrontation with Malaysia and Singapore, resulting in Sukarno’s 1965 fall, allowed regional politics to be put on a more cooperative footing. Its neighbors conceivably wanted to lock Indonesia into the ASEAN cooperative security structure, just as France wanted to bind Germany into European cooperation after World War II. The United States exit from the region in 1974, with the end of the Vietnam War, raised fears of Vietnamese aggression. The first ASEAN summit took place in 1976. Brunei joined ASEAN in 1984; Vietnam joined in 1995. Laos and Myanmar followed in 1997, and Cambodia in 1999.

The norms that bind countries in this region appeared in the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia:

a. Mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all nations;

b. The right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion;

c. Non–interference in the internal affairs of one another;

d. Settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful means;

e. Renunciation of the threat or use of force;

f. Effective cooperation among themselves.

One scholar, Amitav Acharya, argues that the original members of ASEAN diverged considerably in their perceptions of external threat. However, all agreed that internal insurgency, in particular communist–backed internal insurgency, posed the major threat.23 ASEAN members realized that interstate war would only exacerbate the political, ideological, and economic conditions feeding these internal conflicts. Cross–border cooperation was required to contain, if not defeat, insurgent groups.

Archarya also argues that “the practice of multilateralism, the ASEAN norms, the ‘ASEAN Way,’ and principle of regional autonomy constitute the basis of ASEAN’s collective identity.”24 The term “ASEAN Way” refers to the perception that regional disputes should be solved by consensus, outside of formal mechanisms. In essence, disputes should be solved “among friends” and not by outsiders — an approach to conflict management that promotes ASEAN’s regional autonomy.

ASEAN is a security community because its members, national political elites, have chosen cooperation over competition to accomplish regional security

ASEAN’s sense of collective identity has been maintained through its relatively exclusive membership. Remaining largely within Southeast Asia ASEAN has deflected the desires of countries such as Sri Lanka to join.

ASEAN, thus, contrasts sharply with Western Europe as a security community. ASEAN governments are either quasi–authoritarian or transitional democracies, not consolidated liberal democracies. The economic material basis for regional cooperation is quite small. Intraregional exports represent only a third of all exports, a figure consistent with the export–driven growth strategy of their economies. Institutionalism is quite limited — there are no supranational organizations in ASEAN and nothing to compare with the EU’s acquis communitaire. Nevertheless, ASEAN has become a security community largely through its national, political elites’ efforts to avoid competition and to choose cooperation as a means for assuring regional security.

The ASEAN states have, in fact, made material steps toward cementing their relationship. In 1992, ASEAN agreed to establish the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) committed to the gradual lowering of tariffs by 2008. This date was subsequently moved forward to 2002. Trade between ASEAN countries grew from $44.2 billion in 1993 to $73.4 billion in 1998.25 Before the 1997 financial crisis, intra–regional trade had an annual growth rate of 30%, compared to 19% for external trade. However, in the aftermath of the 1997 financial crisis, intra–regional trade contracted much more sharply than external trade. Attempts to extend AFTA to include New Zealand and Australia have met strong resistance.

The lack of strong, underlying, common values sharply limits ASEAN’s effectiveness. No war has broken out among its members. It has brought into its fold former threats such as Vietnam. Yet, ASEAN has not developed a common position on such regional threats to stability as the situation in East Timor. Indonesia invaded East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, in 1975 and annexed it in 1976. The United Nations never recognized this annexation. On August 30, 1999, East Timor voted for independence. Anti–independence militias perpetrated a blood bath, destroying East Timor’s infrastructure, displacing 600,000 of its original 850,000 population, and convincing Australia to lead a multinational peacekeeping mission into East Timor. The second largest contingent, 1,500 troops (to Australia’s 4,500), came from an ASEAN member, Thailand. The Philippines also sent troops.

ASEAN clearly failed to develop a coherent East Timor policy, particularly because one of its founding members, Indonesia, considered East Timor to be an internal matter. ASEAN’s failure to form a cohesive policy contrasts sharply with the readiness of NATO to act in Kosovo.

Nevertheless, several commentators see a growing convergence of values among the ASEAN states. A development of common values bodes well for future cooperative security. In particular, ASEAN Secretary–General Rodolfo Severino said in his keynote address at the ninth annual conference of the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations in Beijing on August 29, 2000:

Political diversity is inevitable, necessary, and even desirable. But in the light of globalization and regional economic integration, in the face of global competition for markets and investments, some political convergence will have to take place, within Southeast Asia and elsewhere, and it will likely be in the direction of greater openness, greater freedom, and greater pluralism. It will proceed at different paces, and political diversity will remain. But the direction is emerging into view. Globalization and the technological revolution will also have a significant impact on the diversity and convergence of cultures.26

The Future of Cooperative Security

Cooperative security requires a belief in a common future and that cooperation offers the best possible means of achieving national interests

The success of cooperative security hinges upon several factors. Above all, it requires the belief that certain countries share a common future, and that cooperation offers the best possible means of achieving their national interests. Historically, the perception of a common threat was the most frequent, as well as the most effective, basis for establishing a security system. This was surely the case for the Concert of Europe, NATO, the EC/EU, and ASEAN.

Because national elites were willing to work together in the face of a common threat, they developed a common identity that transcended national borders and intensified their sense of a common purpose. Once formed, that new identity can be quite tenacious, permitting security arrangements to outlive the threats that first brought them together. Just as the Concert of Europe long outlasted the danger of another French revolution, so NATO and the EU have transformed themselves since the fall of communism and the full integration of Germany into Europe.

Today, the threats to Europe are increasingly transnational phenomena. They include corruption, organized crime, migration, epidemic diseases, environmental catastrophes, and terrorism. Such complex problems can only be overcome by united action across national frontiers. To the extent that threatened states work together, they gain a critical awareness of their common future, and we can expect cooperative security to become the norm.

In Western Europe and North America, cooperative security has become a way of life that is steadily moving to the east and the southeast. The security communities of these regions draw their unusual strength from one main factor: they consist of consolidated, liberal democratic states. As security communities, both NATO and — even more so — the EU have developed dense networks of multilateral institutions that foster the denationalization of security policy and serve the needs of entire regions. It is no accident that NATO and the EU both promote liberal democracy. They do so because they believe, in part, that security is better assured cooperatively among countries that have adopted the liberal democratic form of government.

Interdependence leads to a common identity — especially economic interdependence. The fact that Central and Eastern European countries seek validation of their European identity through EU membership, while several countries find it important to actively reject their Balkan identity, is indicative of this strong need for an economically protective common identity.

At the same time, a need for multilateral approaches to security builds toward cooperative security. This is especially true among small countries that need to pool resources. The Baltic countries provide a good example, and recent efforts made in Southeastern Europe are promising. Consensual decision practices often aid this multilateral security approach to establishing a common identity, and hence the felt need for cooperative security. ASEAN countries share only two common factors: a geographical propinquity and a belief in a common future, but it has succeeded as a cooperative security unit.

Cooperative security has been increasingly adopted as a mechanism for furthering national security. As the prisoner’s dilemma illustrates, countries will behave individually in a rational manner, but in so doing will act against their own long–term interests. Relying on self–help and old–style balancing behavior has given way to cooperative efforts to promote stability. Even among states that lack common values, cooperative security is possible. ASEAN is an important practical example. Cooperative security has been approached on a case–by–case basis, but since the end of World War II several security communities have developed — most notably in Western Europe.

The EU in contrast with ASEAN, gives credence to the fact that common values and a common economic destiny leads to more cooperative security. The more dense the interaction among states and their citizens, the more they will find ways to further their security cooperatively. It is the EU members of the OSCE who take the organization most seriously as a venue for cooperative security. Should they wish, non–democratic OSCE members can participate in the OSCE’s cooperative opportunities. However, it is clear that those members of the OSCE already united by the common values of liberal democracy best use the organization. Liberal democracy may not be necessary for cooperative security to begin or to continue, but it expands the range of options and benefits for all.

Modern security challenges lead inexorably to the increasing use of cooperative security

Since military force used unilaterally has become largely discredited as an instrument of policy, countries will band together to use force collectively to further security in their immediate neighborhood. Moreover they will take other steps, economic and otherwise, to improve their security environment to lessen the likelihood that new threats will arise. Older traditional concepts of security have proved inadequate to deal with these issues. The nature of modern security challenges leads inexorably to the increasing use of cooperative security.


1 David Baldwin, “The Concept of Security,” Review of International Studies, Vol. 23, No. 1, January 1997, pp. 3-26.

2  Arnold Wolfers, “‘National   Security'   as   an  Ambiguous Symbol,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 67, No. 4, December 1952, p.  485.

3 Baldwin, “The Concept of Security.”

4 Charles Glaser, “The Security Dilemma Revisited,” World Politics, Vol. 50, No. 1, October 1977, pp. 171–201.

5 As cited in Andrew Butfoy, Common Security and Strategic Reform: A Critical Analysis, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.

6 Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation, New York: Basic Books, 1984.

7 Karl Deutsch, Political Community and the North Atlantic Area, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957.

8 The French first used gas in grenades in 1914. The Germans followed by carrying out the first large–scale chemical attack on April 22, 1915 at Ypres, Belgium. Chlorine gas was released from gas cylinders along six kilometers of the front line. The Germans claimed that they did not violate the 1899 agreement because they did not use projectiles.

9 Ashton B. Carter, William J. Perry, and John D.Steinbrunner, A New Concept of Cooperative Security, Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution Press, 1993.

10 Carsten Holbrad, The Concert of Europe: A Study in German and British International Theory, New York: Longman, 1970, p. 124.

11 Holbrad, The Concert of Europe, p. 7.

12 Deutsch, Political Community and the North Atlantic Area.

13 Quoted in Ole Waever, “Insecurity, Security and Asecurity in the West European Non–War Community,” in Emmanuel Adler and Michael Barnett, eds., Security Communities, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 83.

14 Statement by Harold Macmillan, British MP, quoted at:; accessed December 2000.

15 The Schuman Declaration, May 9, 1950; available online at; accessed December 2000.

16 Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland Jerzy Buzek, “Priorities of the Polish Foreign Policy,” speech at the Paaskivi Society, Helsinki, November 4, 1999; available online at; accessed December 2000.

17 Rotterdam Algemeen Dagblad, June 26, 1997. Translation by Foreign Broadcasting Information Service, FBIS–WEU–97–177.

18 Irish Department of Foreign Affairs Press Release, October 13, 1999; available online at; accessed December 2000.

19 NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, “NATO's Role in Building Cooperative Security in Europe and Beyond,” speech at the Yomiuri Symposium on International Economy, Tokyo, Japan, October 15, 1997.

20 Jozewf Sestak, State Secretary at the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Harbingers of Gloom Will Not Help,” interview by Leopold Moravcik, Bratislava Pravda, July 18, 1997.

21 Organization for Security and Co–operation in Europe (OSCE) Handbook, Prague: 2000, p. 17–18; available online at; accessed January 2001.

22 Amitav Acharya, “Collective Identity and Conflict Management in Southeast Asia,” in Adler and Barnett, eds., Security Communities, p. 203.

23 Acharya, “Collective Identity and Conflict Management in Southeast Asia,” p. 203.

24 Acharya, “Collective Identity and Conflict Management in Southeast Asia,” p. 213.

25 ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA): An Update, November 1999; available online at; accessed September 2000.

26 ASEAN Web Site,; accessed September 2000.


ASEAN – Association for South East Asian Nations CENTO – Central Treaty Organization

CFSP – Common Foreign and Security Policy (EU)

CSCE – Conference on Co–operation and Security in Europe EAPC – Euro–Atlantic Partnership Council

EC – European Community

ECSC – European Coal and Steel Commission EU – European Union

MAP – Membership Action Plan (PfP) NACC – North Atlantic Cooperation Council NATO – North Atlantic Treaty Organization NGO – Non–governmental Organization

OSCE – Organization for Co–operation and Security in Europe PJC – NATO–Russia Permanent Joint Council

PfP – Partnership for Peace

SEATO – South East Asia Treaty Organization UN – United Nations

UNSC – United Nations Security Council WEU – Western European Union

WMD – Weapons of Mass Destruction WTO – World Trade Organization

About the Author

Michael Mihalka was a professor of Eastern Europe Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. Prior to his position at the Marshall Center, he was a senior analyst at the Open Media Research Institute in Prague, Czech Republic. He has also served as a senior analyst at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California. His teaching positions included the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of Texas at Austin, the RAND Graduate School, and the Private Institute for International Business Studies (affiliated with Clemson University). In addition to his work on international relations theory, his research also covered internal violence and the democratic transition.

The Marshall Center Papers

The Marshall Center Papers seek to further the legacy of the Center's namesake, General George C. Marshall, by disseminating scholarly monographs that contribute to his ideal of ensuring that Europe and Eurasia are democratic, free, undivided, and at peace in the 21st century. Papers selected for this series are meant to identify, discuss, and influence significant defense-related security issues. The Marshall Center Papers' focus is on comparative and interdisciplinary topics to include international security and democratic defense management, civil military relations, strategy formulation, defense planning, arms control, peacekeeping, crisis management, and cooperative security. The Marshall Center Papers are authored by Marshall Center faculty and staff, Marshall Center alumni, or by individual, invited contributors.

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