Making War Illegal
September 11, 2017 7:43 AM   Subscribe

In 1928, the Great Powers came together and formally renounced war as an instrument of national policy in a treaty known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Given the terrible blood-letting overseen by the signatories over the next twenty years, the general view of the Kellogg-Briand Pact has been that it was a hopelessly naive exercise. But a forthcoming book by two law professors argues that it was an important step in changing the way nations thought about war and guaranteeing the relative peace that has reigned since 1950. Of course some disagree. And the New Yorker puts the argument in the context of the debate between "Realists" and "Idealists" in International Relations.
posted by firechicago (21 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
so what about the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons? ...Isn’t the Kellogg-Briand Pact just a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc[?]...On the contrary, Hathaway and Shapiro argue. If war had not been outlawed, none of those other things—deterrence, democracy, trade—would have been possible. The Kellogg-Briand Pact is the explanation that explains all other explanations

I'm not buying. PHEPH indeed.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 7:48 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


War itself makes people change the way they wish to resolve disagreements.

The problem is that humans forget. The veterans and civilian survivors die and we lose the bonds that lived it and can remind us how horrible war can be.

Having studied the theories of warfare for the better part of 20 years and attempting to shift my focus into development/Peace studies, I've landed squarely in the realist's camp. The threats today come not so much from formalized state actors, but rogue/failing/failed states - and unfortunately, once the bombs start flying you can never really tell who will get pulled into the maelstrom (eg: Syria, North Korea, etc.) and what he effects will be.
posted by tgrundke at 7:54 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


The problem is that humans forget. The veterans and civilian survivors die and we lose the bonds that lived it and can remind us how horrible war can be.

I've often wondered if part of the reason Americans seem to have a higher tolerance for military action than other developed countries is because the US is almost unique among first-world powers in not having suffered the horrors of war on its territory. Sure we had Pearl Harbor, the specter of nuclear holocaust, and later 9/11, but we've never had our cities reduced to rubble and our population slaughtered like the EU or Japan has seen, sometimes repeatedly. Maybe war, despite the price we've paid and the people we've lost, seems less "real" to Americans and therefore more palatable.

On the other hand, Russia has seen as much devastation from war as anyone in the last few centuries and they seem pretty gung-ho on military actions against their neighbors (and possibly NATO?) so who knows.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:20 AM on September 11 [5 favorites]


I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans' Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' Day is not. So I will throw Veterans' Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don't want to throw away any sacred things. What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

And all music is.

― Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Breakfast of Champions
posted by lazycomputerkids at 8:39 AM on September 11 [28 favorites]


Related to this topic, I suggest reading Sebastian Junger's "Tribe" to provide a bit more context into human behavior and how warfare plays into that.
posted by tgrundke at 9:02 AM on September 11


So the Kellogg-Briand Pact changed the law. But did it really change behavior? Yes, as our data show.

That's not what the data show.

Anyway, we know when international law/treaties become effective: when they are costly to participate in, if they clarify shared norms of behavior when it is uncertain which point states should coordinate on, when they provide a forum for resolving disputes, etc. I dont think the Kellogg-Brian pact did many of these things. I haven't read the book, and its probably true that the pact did change behavior, but most likely didn't have a huge impact. Hathaway and Shapiro's research design simply can't ajudicate between competing explanations.

Regardless, I could go without another debate between 'realists' and 'idealists' in IR. How effing boring.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:08 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


the US is almost unique among first-world powers in not having suffered the horrors of war on its territory.

Paging Ken Burns...
posted by Pistache at 9:48 AM on September 11 [7 favorites]



I've often wondered if part of the reason Americans seem to have a higher tolerance for military action than other developed countries is because the US is almost unique among first-world powers in not having suffered the horrors of war on its territory.


An interesting thought were it not for the examples of Canada, Brazil and Australia, among others. I think it's a combination of many factors that leads to a national bellicose attitude - jingoism, military industrial complex and historical ignorance strike me as key contributors. The whole 'greatest country in the world' patriotism bullshit is a disease and needs to be done away with.
posted by dazed_one at 9:58 AM on September 11 [7 favorites]


sangermaine: On the other hand, Russia has seen as much devastation from war as anyone in the last few centuries and they seem pretty gung-ho on military actions against their neighbors (and possibly NATO?) so who knows.

I think it's like a bad childhood making someone resolve to never let happen again - either stop it before it starts or prevent yourself from being hurt by striking first and hardest.

Russia and Poland are two countries nearly exterminated by the Nazis - the difference is Russia was not actually overrun and sees standing alone, being able to strike the hardest, keeping enemies from combining against them, as what helped them survive not just WWII but the invasion from multiple Western Powers, including the USA, immediately after the Russian Revolution.

That chapter in American history doesn't really make it into our uber alles videos but you bet it's part of their memory - and the bear remembers.

posted by lon_star at 10:12 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately abuse is a cycle, even when it's with nations, and sometimes folks with bad childhoods grow up to be abusers themselves. Russia, and to a lesser extent China, have leveraged Security Council membership to effectively neuter the UN's enforcement mechanisms since its establishment. Russia's been a bad faith actor in the international community for the last 70 years.

They actually seem to be getting worse. And the future is not bright for them; renewable energy is not your buddy when you're an oil exporter.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:40 AM on September 11


I've often wondered if part of the reason Americans seem to have a higher tolerance for military action than other developed countries is because the US is almost unique among first-world powers in not having suffered the horrors of war on its territory.
Some historians would argue that the effects of war on American soil are so great that the reverberations can be heard 150 years later in the continuing cultural and political enmity between North & South. Sherman's March to the Sea was so devastating to the Southern US that people from the South still spit when they say his name 150 years later. The psychological and economic devastation of Sherman's "total war" concept was so effective that he re-used the concept in order to subdue Native American populations to make the American West appropriate for white expansion.
posted by xyzzy at 10:50 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Kinda disappointing that a FPP about how the international community signed a treaty to outlaw war turns into a US-centric discussion about the US' memory of war.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:04 AM on September 11 [8 favorites]


...a forthcoming book by two law professors argues that it was an important step in changing the way nations thought about war and guaranteeing the relative peace that has reigned since 1950.

Not on my planet, relative or not.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:10 AM on September 11


Not on my planet, relative or not.

Granted that the word relative is doing a lot of work there, and a lot of ink has been spilled both ways on this subject, but can you point to a period of history that was less warlike?

The early 20th century is obviously out. Most of the 19th century was peaceful in Europe, but the Europeans were fighting genocidal wars of empire everywhere else in the world, and the Chinese were consumed with a civil war that rivals anything in history. 1700-1815 saw the European powers fighting a major war once or twice a generation, not to mention conquering India and much of North America. And before that were the religious wars of the 16th and 17th century (plus the Mughal, Ottoman and Qing conquests). And so on and so forth.

1947-2017 is a terribly violent and bloody period, unless you're comparing it to any other seventy year period in history.
posted by firechicago at 11:38 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Nobody alive witnessed Sherman's march to the sea, but there are still Britons who remember the Blitz.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:48 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


The treaty was a reaction to the mind-boggling, civilization-cracking experience of WWI.
The more I study that event, the deeper the links and resonances run.

The problem is that humans forget. The veterans and civilian survivors die ...
Plenty of WWI vets fought in and/or led WWII.
posted by doctornemo at 12:15 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Plenty of WWI vets fought in and/or led WWII.

Including, er... Hitler.

I've often wondered if part of the reason Americans seem to have a higher tolerance for military action than other developed countries...

I've just been reading Drift, by Rachel Maddow. I don't know how respectable it is as a work of scholarship, but it is interesting to revisit, in detail, the changes in American attitudes towards war, through and after the Civil War and particularly after Vietnam. Attitudes manipulated deliberately by politicians by, say, maintaining a draft, rather than calling up reserves mostly populated by the sons of wealthy and connected families, who are there to evade battle in the first place. The sense I get is that these things are not abstract cultural currents, but exercises in direct social control.
posted by klanawa at 1:31 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Regardless, I could go without another debate between 'realists' and 'idealists' in IR.

I could do without the term "realist" being used outside of the art world for anything at all, honestly. It's such a flimsy objective facade to argue a line of bullshit from a position of false, patronizing authority in pretty much every usage. It's the "I'm not racist, but..." of supposedly serious discussion and it's more and more a red flag that someone isn't arguing in good faith.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:54 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


It's such a flimsy objective facade to argue a line of bullshit from a position of false, patronizing authority in pretty much every usage. It's the "I'm not racist, but..." of supposedly serious discussion and it's more and more a red flag that someone isn't arguing in good faith.

I think the IR paradigms are an impediment to knowledge and good research but this simply isn't the case at all. Realism, Neorealism, Structural Realism, etc. are value neutral terms in the IR world and its just an unfortunate accident that they mean things outside of that world. Its quite common for people to say, "I'm not a Realist."
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:01 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


That's good to know! It's a seriously abused term outside of that world, which colors my perception. When I see an article framing it as realists vs. idealists in international relations, it reads as Sober Conservative Adults vs. Those Damn Hippies and the author putting their thumb on the scale, akin to "climate skeptics" instead of "deniers" or "contrarians who are objectively wrong". It's an unfortunate quirk of mass media journalism where correct terms might be the technically correct choice, but can intentionally or unintentionally introduce side effects like this with incomplete context. Because yeah, even if it's a value neutral term in that world, it certainly isn't most everywhere else.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:20 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Including, er... Hitler.
Yup. And Churchill (on a variety of levels). And Truman. And de Gaulle. And Mussolini. FDR was Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

Stalin was in prison. He got drafted, but deferred medically, I think.
posted by doctornemo at 5:07 AM on September 12


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