Collective Security vs. Self-Help in Resolving International Conflicts

Instructor: Reed Hepler

Reed Hepler received an M.L.I.S. from IUPUI, with emphases in Digital Curation and Archives Management. He received a Bachelor’s in History from USU, with minors in Religious Studies and Anthropology. He also earned a Certificate in Museum Studies. He has worked in museums, libraries, archives, and historical sites for the past four years.

Compare and contrast strategies of collective security and self-help to resolve international conflicts. Learn about the humanitarian approach of the United Nations to conflict. Updated: 04/28/2022

Resolving International Conflicts

International conflicts affect the entire world. Causes of international conflicts include resources, political differences, and geographic boundaries of the states involved. The three main strategies used by states and international coalitions to resolve international conflicts are collective security, self-help, and the humanitarian approach.

Collective Security

Collective security is a strategy in which the conflicting nations are convinced to cooperate with each other and the mediators in their conflict to preserve the strength and peace of the global community. Collective security encourages nations to focus on the benefits they have received and not only the negative aspects of the conflict in which they're embroiled.

Rebellious states, or states that don't agree to work together for the common good, are perceived as enemies of international peace. This brings the collective efforts of the other nations to those states to subdue them. Examples of organizations or actions that invoke the strategy of collective security include the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the League of Nations, and the United Nations.


In the self-help strategy of international conflict resolution, nations in a conflict are encouraged to protect themselves against aggressors and attacks. This includes an injunction against furthering the conflict by attacking the other nations involved in the conflict.

An example of self-help was the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s passed by the United States. The last two of these four acts allowed the United States to send non-weapon resources to the Allied forces who were fighting in World War II. Eventually, this policy led to intervention by the United States in the international war. However, the initial strategy used was self-help.

Humanitarian Approach of the United Nations

The United Nations is widely seen as an impartial third party in international conflicts. This has led to its being involved in resolving these conflicts. Efforts utilized by the United Nations to promote resolution include:

  • Political missions to all involved countries
  • Peacekeeping operations involving military and political agents
  • Human rights analysis
  • Assistance in conducting negotiations and elections
  • Imposition of sanctions

In the humanitarian strategy of international conflict resolution, humanitarian efforts are used to improve the health and social status of the population of a state. These efforts are independent of any external intervention in the conflict.

Humanitarian efforts are used to ameliorate the problems caused by internal and international conflicts. However, they don't end when the conflicts are resolved. They're used continuously to improve the social and economic state of affected nations until they have been fully developed. The end goal of humanitarian efforts by the United Nations is to ensure that all nations that have been negatively impacted by conflicts are able to access all basic resources and needs for their populations.

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