Since the First World War, a principal organizing value, or political myth, structuring international relations and especially the international legal order has been the doctrine of collective security and its concomitant restraints on the use of force by States. It was not always so: although some commentators thought that there were essentially moral and theological limits to resort to force, in the form of just war theories, others saw conflict as a means to promote virtue and social cohesion, or as a tool to promote political ambitions. Collective security was the product of popular peace movements crystallized by the carnage of the First World War. Its initial and sole focus was on inter-State conflict, but in recent years some powerful States have tried to promote policies which might involve a retreat from the doctrine of collective security and a reassertion of belligerent rights in order to protect their rights and ‘vital interests’.
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