Outlawing war

An vitally important book by Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro: The Internationalists: how a radical plan to outlaw war remade the world (Penguin/Simon & Schuster).  Hailed by Philippe Sands as ”A clarion call to preserve law and order across our planet”, it is all too timely:

A bold and provocative history of the men who fought to outlaw war and how an often overlooked treaty signed in 1928 was among the most transformative events in modern history.

On a hot summer afternoon in 1928, the leaders of the world assembled in Paris to outlaw war. Within the year, the treaty signed that day, known as the Peace Pact, had been ratified by nearly every state in the world. War, for the first time in history, had become illegal the world over. But the promise of that summer day was fleeting. Within a decade of its signing, each state that had gathered in Paris to renounce war was at war. And in the century that followed, the Peace Pact was dismissed as an act of folly and an unmistakable failure. This book argues that that understanding is inaccurate, and that the Peace Pact ushered in a sustained march toward peace that lasts to this day.

The Internationalists tells the story of the Peace Pact by placing it in the long history of international law from the seventeenth century through the present, tracing this rich history through a fascinating and diverse array of lawyers, politicians and intellectuals—Hugo Grotius, Nishi Amane, Salmon Levinson, James Shotwell, Sumner Welles, Carl Schmitt, Hersch Lauterpacht, and Sayyid Qutb. It tells of a centuries-long struggle of ideas over the role of war in a just world order. It details the brutal world of conflict the Peace Pact helped extinguish, and the subsequent era where tariffs and sanctions take the place of tanks and gunships.

The Internationalists examines with renewed appreciation an international system that has outlawed wars of aggression and brought unprecedented stability to the world map. Accessible and gripping, this book will change the way we view the history of the twentieth century—and how we must work together to protect the global order the internationalists fought to make possible.

You can read an extended essay by Oona, adapted from the book, via the Guardian here:

Today, perhaps more than at any time since 1945, the prohibition on use of force that has been the backbone of the international order for most of the last century is under attack. Indeed, it is in danger of collapsing – and taking the order it upholds down with it….

But international rules regarding the use of force are not a minor feature of the world we live in – and the fact that these rules have often been broken should not obscure how important they remain.

They are at the heart of some of the most beneficial transformations of the past 70 years, from the global decline in interstate conflict and combat deaths to the rising wealth and health that peace has allowed. With these rules at risk, the international community is facing a crisis of extraordinary proportions. Yet few people appreciate how serious and imminent the crisis is. Fewer still understand where these rules came from: a now-almost-forgotten agreement known as the Paris Peace Pact of 1928 that was eventually signed by all the nations of the world and had the immodest goal of outlawing war. In order to appreciate the magnitude of the threat, we must return to a world very different to our own, one in which the rules that we currently take for granted did not exist. The risk we face is reverting to this world, where might was right and war was legal.

You can read Louis Menand‘s extended review at the New Yorker here.

The fulcrum of the book is the Kellogg-Briand Pact (‘the Peace Pact’) of 27 August 1928; I opened my essay on ‘War and Peace’ [DOWNLOADS tab] with this extraordinary attempt to make war illegal, but I confess I knew little enough about it and now I see that my understanding was also spectacularly inadequate.  Read this book to find out why, but more importantly to think with the intellectual architect of the Pact, Salmon Levinson:

“The real disease of the world is the legality and availability of war.  We should have, not as now, laws of war, but laws against war; just as there are no laws of murder or of poisoning, but laws against them.”

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