Common Security

What is Common Security?

Common security is an approach to achieving national, regional and international security by taking into account the security needs of other nations, including one’s adversaries, as well as one’s own security needs. It is based on the assumption that sustainable security cannot be obtained by undermining or threatening the security of others, but rather on resolving conflicts with one’s adversaries and ensuring the security of all is upheld.

Common Security relies on diplomacy, negotiation, mediation and other forms of conflict resolution, as well as on the application of international law, to ensure peace, fairness and security for all.

Common Security is a win-win approach to relations between countries (resolving issues so that everyone benefits) – rather than a win-lose approach (one country dominant over another) or a lose-lose approach (such as war).

Common security does not rule out national defence and military power as a component of national security. However, a common security framework places a much greater emphasis on conflict resolution and international law, and reserves military approaches as last resorts to address aggression, if all other methods fail, and as long as such use of force is in accordance with international law.

What are some Common Security mechanisms?

The United Nations is the world’s principal common security mechanism. The UN Charter prohibits the threat or use of force in international relations and requires Member States to resolve their conflicts peacefully (Article 2).

The UN Charter also outlines a range of common security approaches that UN Member States should utilise to resolve international conflicts, including by “negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.” (Article 33).

The Office of the UN Secretary-General provides assistance to member states in using these approaches, including to serve as a mediator when both/all parties agree.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), established as one of the six main organs of the United Nations, provides a judicial method for resolving disputes between nations if other methods are unsuccessful. 73 countries have made declarations accepting the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ for any legal dispute. In addition, a number of international treaties provide for jurisdiction for disputes relating to compliance with those treaties. A new initiative LAW not War is campaigning to achieve universal acceptance of ICJ jurisdiction by 2045, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the UN.

In addition, in 1998 the International Criminal Court was established in order to try individuals for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression.

There are also a number of regional bodies that are established with a mix of common security and collective security roles. These include the African Union (AU), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Council of Europe (COE), European Union (EU), League of Arab States (LAS), Organization of American States (OAS), Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Of these the organisation with the strongest common security roles is the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It brings together current and former adversaries  (all former Soviet/Warsaw Pact countries, all European countries along with Canada and the USA) in the organisation. And in its founding documents (see below) it highlights common security as the framework for the organization.

Common Security v Collective Security

There is sometimes confusion between common security and collective (cooperative) security including a mis-use of these terms.

Collective Security involves a group of nations cooperating to ensure security of all members of that group. NATO is an example of of a collective security organization with a focus primarily on military defence. The European Union is a collective security organization which focuses primarily on economic,  environmental and human security within the EU.

Collective security organizations can contribute to common security in their relations with those outside the group, and are encouraged to do so. But they are primarily concerned with the members of their group, which often places them in competitive and adversarial relations with those outside the group.

Some Common Security resources

Founding/guiding documents of common security organizations

International Reports

Appeals and campaigns


(Currently being compiled)


(Currently being compiled)