Monday, March 20, 2006

Peace in our time--and other times: on the futility of antiwar covenants

After I made my flip comment in today's Petrov post about undeserving Nobel Peace Prize winners, I decided to actually look up the list of recipients over the years. And they haven't been as uniformly bad as I thought. Take a look.

However, the 1929 recipient, Frank Billings Kellogg, caught my eye.

Back in my school days, I remember hearing about the Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing war. Kellogg, of course, was one of its co-authors.

The Pact had always seemed ironic to me; it was so clearly unrealistic, even without the benefit of hindsight. But nevertheless it expressed a sentiment for which countless people over the ages--and I number myself among them--have longed.

My mother had actually spoken of the Pact, as well; she mentioned a powerful memory of hers from when it had been newly signed. She was a fourteen-year old in high school then, and her teacher had turned to the class (later to be known as "The Greatest Generation," the one that survived and endured the coming Depression and WWII) that they should be thankful, because they were the luckiest children ever on the face of the earth: they would never know war. My mother reported feeling an overwhelming and glorious sense of relief and gratitude.

So it just goes to show: never trust one's teacher.

But what was going on with that pact, anyway? How could people have been so naive?

Both Kellogg (a fascinating man who rose from poverty and obscurity to become a trustbuster and Secretary of State) and the Frenchman who was involved, Aristide Briand, started out as lawyers. Perhaps that fact explains some of their predilection for international legal documents.

It turns out, though, that neither man was exactly a starry-eyed believer in the Pact itself. Here's a nice summary of what appears to have actually been going on:

French foreign minister Aristide Briand first suggested a treaty between the United States and France renouncing war as a method of settling disputes between the two countries. Secretary of State Frank Kellogg was furious because Briand proposed the treaty in a speech made directly to the American people, rather than going through diplomatic channels. If he accepted Briand's offer, he feared it would drag the United States into alliance with France in the event of another European war—which was what Briand had in mind. But if Kellogg declined, groups favoring such a treaty would attack him in Congress and in the press. Support for the treaty came from opposite ends of the political spectrum. For example, Nicholas Murray Butler, the internationalist president of Columbia University, believed a treaty would move America closer to the League of Nations, whereas isolationist senator William E. Borah, a pacifist, simply hoped that the treaty would end war.

Kellogg turned the tables on Briand by picking up an idea of Senator Borah's for a multilateral treaty. Both Kellogg and Briand knew that such a treaty lacked force, but Briand, already a Nobel Peace Prize winner, could hardly ignore public demand for an antiwar treaty...

Great celebrations accompanied the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, but diplomats did not take the pledge seriously. In the United States, for example, the next order of business on the Senate floor after ratification was a bill appropriating $274 million to build warships.

So, what else is new?

But I'm interested in the Pact not only because it has a familial emotional resonance, but because I think it's an exaggerated example of just what is wrong with using international law in the service of ending war. International law no doubt has many uses, but one of them is not, I'm afraid, that old dream.

The problem is neatly summed up here, in a short article about the Kellogg-Briand pact:

Although 62 nations ultimately ratified the pact, its effectiveness was vitiated by its failure to provide measures of enforcement.

Ah yes: its failure to provide measures of enforcement. And whatever could those measures be? Why force, of course.

Any covenant that would work could only be successful because the signatories had no interest in going to war in the first place, in which case the piece of paper would only be a formality (that was known even way back in the Kellogg-Briand days, as the agreement explicitly reserved the right to self-defense). But still, the dream dies hard.


At 2:39 PM, March 20, 2006, Anonymous frank martin said...

k-b is as effective at stopping war as taking the locks off your doors would be in stopping crime.

At 5:06 PM, March 20, 2006, Anonymous Jim said...

Familial resonance indeed - all within Europe and neoEurope. That is the problem with the notion of
international Law" It is mostly all intra-European action, as if the tribal states of Europe were nations in the modern sense of the word like India or the US or China.

And that leads to the main pointlessnees and irrelevancy of international law - trying to resolve disputes between societies with a mechanism developed for resolving disputes within societies. Europeans don't see this disconnect they imagine they are living in an international system in Europe, as if Guangdong and Fujian provinces could make treaties with each other.

At 6:08 PM, March 20, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

France tried to drag us into benefiting their nation with a little stilleto in the back... nothing has changed.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

At 9:01 PM, March 20, 2006, Blogger Bezuhov said...

Well, that's the thing, though. I don't worry much about the possibility of war with the Smiths down the street, which is clearly a significant departure from the bulk of human history.

Change does happen.

The stars beckon.

At 9:42 PM, March 20, 2006, Blogger BeckyJ said...

Interestingly enough, about 90% of international laws are adhered to (I can't find a link, I'll look up the source later) even without any effective enforcement measures. But then, those laws usually have to do with such mundane stuff as fishing areas, etc. and have some sort of mutual advantage (everybody gets access to fishing waters) for all parties involved.

Those who believe that pacts such as K-B actually, have to assume that all parties are interested in such goals. However, if somebody (gov't) is interested in acquiring territory, religious conversion, or anything else that requires force, they may sign such an agreement, while having no intention of fulfilling it (see Hitler & Stalin).

At 11:10 PM, March 20, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

The only reason international law in international waters are followed is because of the US Navy. This is also why oil tankers aren't seized on the high seas like the pirates seized the Spanish Treasure Ships back in the 17th century.

The only "pirates" you hear about are smugglers operating on the African Somali coast. They usually operate those "small speedboats". Those kinds of pirates.

At 11:13 PM, March 20, 2006, Blogger Harry Mallory said...

Reminds me of the silly international ban on land mines and how the world would have been free of such a menace, if only the cowboy Americans would have signed off on it.

After all, Paul McCartney has endorsed the ban. Thats all you need to know.

At 11:45 PM, March 20, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

This is a reminder that French betrayals aren't a new thing.


As for Bez's comments, we've simply improved upon the Pax Romano. The fundamental politics have never changed in 2400 years.

The bulk of human history was simply recovering from the interregnum precipitated by the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire hundreds of years later, to the Persian-Arabs. And then the Persian-Arabs fell to the European Colonials, and then the European colonials fell to America.

Civilization has been in an ongoing spiral of falls since the Athenian Empire.

Nothing has changed about that dynamic.

Looking at the time scale, produces interesting results.

1453 for fall of Constantinople, the Fifth century for Rome, and etc.

That's about a little more than 500 years for the older wars.

After centuries of stagnation, the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire was a distinct period beginning just after turn of the 19th century. With the Russian expansionism and economical pains being reflecting in national uprisings, the Ottoman Empire tried to catch up to Europe, but was ultimately dissolved nonetheless.

The Ottos fell somewhere in the 20th to 19th century. Calculating that time from the 15th century, that's a little less than 500 years. the periods get shorter and shorter. But it also varies.

The Soviet Empire lasted about 80 years. Which is pretty ridiculous if you think about it, compared to the other great periods of Law and Order. Maybe because the Soviets sucked at law and order.

So I'd say America has about at least 500 years if we expand. If we don't expand, then that is probably another 500 years.

The more things change, the more things tend to look like the fall of other Empires and powers.

For example, presumably we fought the war of 1812 to protect American citizens from the abuse of foreign powers. Well, then you'd probably expect American citizens to be absolutely safe in the world. Ha, ha.

Remember Aruba? Did we send Special Ops to snatch everyone on the island and put them to the Question?

Did we arrest the workers of a cruise ship when we caught them covering up the crime of a murder of an American citizen?

Did the State Department protect American women and stewardesses abused in Saudi Arabia?

Heck, no.

The more things change, the more things look like the Iranian hostage situation.

I'd guess a scientist would say we are approaching the point of no return, or critical mass, or some such.

At 1:01 AM, March 21, 2006, Blogger Loyal Achates said...

Man, Neo-neocon sure does love war.

At 1:14 AM, March 21, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace.

I want peace, and believe it can only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect and early success. When peace does come, you may call on me for any thing. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.

You have heretofore read public sentiment in your newspapers, that live by falsehood and excitement; and the quicker you seek for truth in other quarters, the better.

At 3:43 AM, March 21, 2006, Blogger Bezuhov said...

Man, Loyal Achates sure does love his delusions.

As for ymarsakar's nihilism, how does one fall without first rising? Your theory omits the mechanisms involved in the latter.

People will indeed play negative-sum games if they're the only game in town. When positive-sum games are on offer, however, the negative-sum loses its allure.

At 7:22 AM, March 21, 2006, Blogger Goesh said...

- like Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations, when after the war to end all wars, man would unite in reason, rationality, brotherhood, empathy, understanding, compromise, negotiation, slobbery kisses and warm hugs and there would be no more war. Nature gives us cycles of upheaval, violence and chaos yet we persist in thinking man is somehow exempt from the course of nature. For every war there is at least one that did not occur by the same hands that create war. We live with plagues, tornados, hurricanes, brush fires, volcanos, tsunamis, earthquakes, drought, mudslides, blizzards and enemies, and we always will. Each visits chaos on us from time to time and there is always be a time for flight or fight.

At 9:54 AM, March 21, 2006, Anonymous Roy said...


"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it..."

Did you forget your attribution? I believe that is a direct quote from Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman.


At 10:02 AM, March 21, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Everything I wrote, Sherman had written.

It is quite on purpose.

I already answered some of your nihilism charges, Bez, in the dueling post.

I didn't make a theory up, I was only commenting on the wave forms, the negative flows of history.

At 1:01 PM, March 21, 2006, Blogger Timothy said...

International pacts such as Kellog-Briand are important if you want to prosecute people for war crimes post war. They provide the legal basis/foundation for trials.

If summary executions are more your thing, on the other hand, then you're right, who needs international law?

At 7:50 PM, March 21, 2006, Blogger Bezuhov said...

"yet we persist in thinking man is somehow exempt from the course of nature."

The lure of the positive-sum over the negative is nature in a nutshell. If it were not, this green earth would be a dead lump of minerals like the rest of the known universe. Try again.

Your philospohy minimizs dissappointment; it does not maximize truth.

At 12:35 AM, March 22, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Who are you talking to Bez?

At 1:09 AM, March 22, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3:38 AM, March 23, 2006, Blogger Bezuhov said...

Goesh. And you. And everyone who somehow thinks that recognizing the utility of trust, cooperation, and other forms of positive-sum interaction is some sort of dewy-eyed Wilsonian naivete.

The coldest-eyed, hardest-hearted realist understands that without ideals around which to rally forces he is dead, and not in the long run...

At 3:49 PM, March 24, 2006, Anonymous ElMondoHummus said...

I am sooo sorry to go off topic, but I have to respond (respectfully, of course), to Ymarsakar's comment:

"...oil tankers aren't seized on the high seas like the pirates seized the Spanish Treasure Ships back in the 17th century."

No offense, sir, but that's not the case. Just Google "Malacca Straight" and "piracy" and you'll see that tanker and cargo ship hijackings are distressingly common in that part of the Pacific. I can also refer you to a book I read last year on this subject; Dangerous Waters is the title.

ULCCs (Ultra Large Crude (or Cargo) Carriers) are frequent targets in various spots in the world, but in the Malacca Straight, the numbers are especially high. I don't know how often ships were pirated in the 17th Century, so I don't know if the pace of hijackings today outstrips or is shadowed by that time period, but such acts are happening today. I know your point was that the US Navy is pretty much all that's keeping peace in most of the high seas, and I agree with that, but even an organization that powerful can't stop piracy/hijackings/illegal boardings everywhere, and unfortunately, such acts are commonplace in some areas of the world.

Ending comment here to allow thread subject to reassert itself (Boy, am I a hypocrite, or what?! Wasn't I the one complaining about thread hijacking a month ago? :^} ). Ymarsakar: I'm far from an expert on the subject of piracy, but in order to keep this thread on topic, should you want to continue on this subject, I'll be happy to communicate somewhere else with you. Your own blog, perhaps? I'm afraid I don't have one myself.

At 10:03 PM, March 24, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Neo is pretty liberal with the stuff that can be discussed in her comments section. She doesn't tolerate gross personal mendacity of course, but unlike PressThink, she won't close off a thread cause she doesn't like where it is going.

Still, I did write a reply.


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