9.5 Reforming International Security

Reforming international security is highly desirable to avoid or minimise future wars; a rules-based world order should be the objective.

The need for reform is all too evident.  London’s Imperial War Museum lists more than 20 wars started since the founding of the United Nations (UN) in 1948.  At the start of 2024, The Atlantic describes Not a World War But a World at War: “The past two years have seen the most conflicts of any time since the end of the Second World War”.  The major powers are involved in dangerous confrontations that could spill out of control at any moment.

The UN was founded as a collective response to the carnage of the Second World War.  Its design was based on the concept that the major powers would collaborate in keeping the peace.  It is incapable of responding to situations where one of the P5 defies it, though – as when Britain and America invaded Iraq, and when Russia invaded Ukraine.

It is trying to act as both a legal system and a political forum.  It depends on tactical decision-making, and that is its principal weakness as a legal system – as described earlier (5.3.6).  Too much authority is vested in five powerful Security Council Members, who each have the power of veto: China, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation.  Disagreements between the Permanent 5 (P5), as they are known, have rendered the UN impotent (

As Ian Morris observed in his book War: What is it good for?, civilisation only makes progress as a reaction to crises: “paradoxically, war is the only human invention that has allowed us to construct peaceful societies”.  As noted earlier (, the world is now undergoing a major geopolitical reset.  Countries are relying on self-protection, rather than complying with international law, as the UN has been unable to keep the peace in Europe.

New international agreements are needed, but it isn’t yet possible to start political negotiations.  As commented in an article, The Hard Truth About Long Wars:

“Compromise fails to materialize for three main strategic reasons: when leaders think defeat threatens their very survival, when leaders do not have a clear sense of their strength and that of their enemy, and when leaders fear that their adversary will grow stronger in the future. In Ukraine, all these dynamics keep the war raging.

But these three tell only part of the story. Fundamentally, this war is also rooted in ideology. Russian President Vladimir Putin denies the validity of Ukrainian identity and statehood. Insiders speak of a government warped by its own disinformation, fanatical in its commitment to seize territory. Ukraine, for its part, has held unflinchingly to its ideals. The country’s leaders and people have shown themselves unwilling to sacrifice liberty or sovereignty to Russian aggression, no matter the price. Those who sympathize with such fervent convictions describe them as steadfast values. Skeptics criticize them as intransigence or dogma. Whatever the term, the implication is often the same: each side rejects realpolitik and fights on principle.”

At some point in the future, it is to be hoped that a realistic peace will be negotiated between Russia and Ukraine.  That will affect the security of Europe as a whole.  And only then will it be possible to negotiate a new rules-based international order.  As described earlier (, the current system was meant to work as a system of rules and that is beneficial.  It is rational for the great powers to collaborate, to avoid the huge costs of continual conflict, as was recognised when the UN was founded.

A proposal for reforming international security is described in the following sections:

A reformed UN is the most credible option available (9.5.1). None of the suggested alternatives can offer stability.  A unipolar world led by America, a multipolar world, an alliance of democracies, and a Cold War 2 have all been suggested – but each has serious weaknesses.

It would need to become rules-based, to give it more legitimacy (9.5.2). It would then be more of a legal system and less dependent on tactical political negotiation.

The leaders of the major powers would all need to agree a new UN Constitution, to implement the reforms (9.5.3). Their frustration with the current situation might be a powerful motivator.

There are strong arguments for supporting a rules-based system (9.5.4). It would make the world a less dangerous place and it would command popular support.



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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/95a.htm.