Your Book Review: The Internationalists
Finalist #8 in the Book Review Contest
[This is one of the finalists in the 2022 book review contest. It’s not by me - it’s by an ACX reader who will remain anonymous until after voting is done, to prevent their identity from influencing your decisions. I’ll be posting about one of these a week for several months. When you’ve read them all, I’ll ask you to vote for a favorite, so remember which ones you liked - SA]
In The Internationalists, Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro (H&S from now on) work to raise the profile of the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact, at the time the most-ratified treaty in history, in which 63 nations (unlike today, this was most of the world - 51 became founding members of the United Nations) came together to declare war illegal. Here is the Pact, in full.
Signatories shall renounce war as a national policy and;
Signatories shall settle disputes by peaceful means
I'll sum up the most common historical view of the Peace Pact with this quote from the US State Department's history website:
It had little effect in stopping the rising militarism of the 1930s or preventing World War II.
Or maybe we can quote famed diplomat George Kennan:
The Cold War strategist George Kennan described it as “childish, just childish.” (Introduction)
So, if the State Department says it didn't work, George Kennan is disdainful, and most people haven't even heard of it, why should you care?
Well, let me ask you a question. Why didn't the death of Princess Diana in France because of a car chase with a paparazzo cause Italy to go to war with Canada?
If you find that question confusing, you might, with a little poking at it, start to also wonder why the death of an Austro-Hungarian Prince, in Serbia, at the hands of an anarchist, caused Germany and the US to battle each other in World War I, and when Germany lost, for the allies to humble and punish Germany above all. And that question can lead back to the question of what changed, between World War I, and now, and that, according to H&S, leads right back to the Pact, and the history of the outlawry movement.
World War I happened before the Peace Pact, while World War II happened after, so one of the major differences between them could be the Pact, and H&S claim that it is. I’ve often assumed a false equivalence between them, that I notice others share. They're both World Wars, after all, and Germany's the bad guy in both cases. Our brains like to make morality plays out of the silliest little things, so why not enormous monumental ones too? The US and Germany were on the opposite sides in both wars, and Germany was evil in II, so clearly Allies good, Axis bad, right?
Germany's World War I Debt Was So Crushing It Took 92 Years to Pay Off is a pretty good example of how history writers today often frame World War I in terms of a morality play, with Germany as the villain.
The Treaty of Versailles didn’t just blame Germany for the war—it demanded financial restitution for the whole thing, to the tune of 132 billion gold marks, or about $269 billion today.
The history classes I took didn't do a lot to clear it up either, explaining World War I in terms of things like "nationalism" and "jingoism", and a “web of alliances”. But these seem like fully general explanations, as we still live in a world that has plenty of nationalism and webs of alliances. Maybe jingoism is different now than it was then, but if so, I’m not really clear on how.
Imagine, for a moment, if you were to make a fundamental change to a game like basketball. In your new basketball, each team from the league sends a representative to a poker table, and the two first teams to run out of chips are forced to play basketball to showcase their shame at being the worst in the league at poker. One day, commentators reviewing old basketball videos start cutting together a massive highlight reel about how bad Michael Jordan must have been at poker.
This is the chasm that H&S are attempting to help readers cross - from the current world, where we expect war to be illegal, back into the time before the Peace Pact, when war was expected and normal, the usual instrument of international conflict resolution. Why did World War I start, again? It wasn’t just because of the assassination, and it wasn’t because of Germany.
[After the assassination] Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum: Unless Serbia met ten conditions aimed at suppressing the “subversive movement” behind the assassinations, there would be war. Serbia acceded to all but the second part of the sixth condition, which insisted that Austria-Hungary participate directly in the investigation of the assassination. This demand was unacceptable, Serbia explained, because its constitution did not permit a foreign power to participate in an internal investigation. Nine and a half out of ten was not good enough. (Chapter 5)
Within our modern framework, none of this makes sense. It wasn’t that Serbia assassinated the Prince and German diplomats decided this was a good excuse to conquer Europe, while everyone else reacted with horror that they could think such a thing. It was a good excuse to conquer Europe, but leaders of countries in Europe took many things to be good excuses to conquer Europe, and Europe generally went along with that, because the rules were fair. It was just a natural chain reaction to the fact that countries used war as a tool of diplomacy. Within the old frame, we can see that the Allies treated Germany not as a villain, but as a defeated foe, and before the Pact, when you defeated your foe in war, you made them pay tribute in territory, concessions, and money.
Originally, war was nothing less than the rawest enactment of power over those who could be defeated, and over time was tamed and made more legible to the modern mind by philosophy and legalism, but it remained normal and expected. Adding rules to an activity does make it more civilized, in a sense, but in the case of war, it remains horrific. Ultimately, World War I demonstrated to some forward-looking thinkers that our interconnected world simply could not bear it anymore.
And so, to repurpose a quote from Jai Dhyani’s 500 million and not one more, "An idea began to take hold: Perhaps the ancient god could be killed." A few people began to imagine that perhaps war should not be legal and normal, the prerogative of Kings or Parliaments, but rather, should be outlawed.
H&S profile a number of people who were involved in the creation of the Pact, and the followup that happened throughout World War II, eventually culminating in the creation of the United Nations. Here are the chief ones, briefly:
Salmon Levinson was a lawyer in Chicago who was one of two rivals to be first to popularize the idea of outlawing war, both through private letters to influential people he knew and through publishing a pamphlet that was read by tens of thousands of people. He is also the author of the text of the Pact itself.
James Shotwell was a history professor who is the other claimant as first to popularize the idea of outlawing war, and would make numerous contributions to the movement.
Hersch Lauterpacht was a lawyer who worked on the intellectual implications that the Pact had on other behavior in international relations, including the changes to expectations of neutrality, the use of sanctions, and many other aspects. He is also credited as the author of the arguments that were used against the Nazis at the Nuremburg trials, though he himself did not attend, perhaps because he had lost nearly his entire family to the Holocaust.
And others along the way who made enormous contributions as well, including:
Henry Stimson was a diplomat who became Secretary of State and later Secretary of War for Roosevelt. He wielded immense power as Secretary of War, and advocated for the creation of the United Nations as a tool to enforce the Peace Pact after the war.
Sumner Welles was a diplomat who rose to become Undersecretary of State before being forced to resign to prevent a scandal about his bi or homosexuality. He was one of the primary authors of the documents that would found the United Nations.
I leave out Kellogg and Briand, who read as largely opportunists seeking to use these ideas for their own benefit. Kellogg in the end received the Nobel Prize. As an aside, I often think a history of all the times a Nobel went to the wrong person, or someone else could have reasonably contested it, would be a fascinating and very long book.
Unlike many works of history, The Internationalists isn’t about a leader, a country, or a time period. Instead, it is an intellectual history - the history of a set of ideas and how they changed our cultures. As such, it ties together threads across historical periods and places to show how the ideas, rules, and culture changed. This is my favorite kind of history, both because it’s the history of the most interesting aspect of human behavior - ideas, and how they affect us - as well as because it often brings out surprising connections across times and places.
As an intellectual history, it offers us something more than just the events that occurred. H&S offer us a demonstration of how culture changes in response to intellectual inventions. This is a topic that should be near and dear to any aspiring rationalist. Culture changes slowly, and then quickly, and then often forgets that it has changed. Someone, probably not Gandhi, perhaps a union activist named Nicholas Klein, gave us the pithy "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
What they didn't add is "then they forget they ever thought differently."
People struggle to really deeply inhabit the mindset of another culture. We also have this cliche, “the past is another country,” that helps remind us that it’s just as difficult to place ourselves in the mind of someone from a long time ago. The changes in the intellectual watershed, the ideas that were invented and became normal, are a big part of why.
For those of us steeped in evolution, it's challenging to fully inhabit the worldview from before Darwin that can only explain the complexity of lifeforms through a divine being individually designing them. Most people growing up inside our trade-centric capitalist system struggle to look at the long distance movement of objects in the archaeological record and see anything but trade. And it's rare for any of us to really internalize what it meant to live in a world where war was not just legal, but normal and expected.
In defending the Pact's place in the tier of first-class important events of the 20th century, H&S also document some of the intellectual history of evolving expectations and norms about war. These norms were driven from Europe, perhaps because of a combination of globalization and near-continuous intra-Europe conflict that co-occurred with the Enlightenment and the need to document philosophical underpinnings for everything.
A brief aside - these norms were often confusing and initially incomprehensible (and often patently unfair!) to peoples outside the European sphere of intellectual influence. H&S tell some great stories of cultures colliding. One is an instance of a Sioux warrior having to be freed rather than tried for murder because the US finally admitted that he was a foreign soldier, and thus immune to prosecution for murder. Another is the “opening” of Japan via Commodore Matthew Perry’s gunboat diplomacy - basically, showing up and threatening to go to war if they didn’t sign a treaty with him - and the ensuing pursuit by Japanese scholars of an understanding of the European philosophy of war.
Before the Pact, the expectations of everyday citizens of the world was that sovereign countries had the right to go to war. Today, most people expect the opposite: that war is unusual, morally wrong, and forbidden except in rare circumstances.
The implicit belief that our current expectations of war are the only possible expectations of war is widespread, even among rationalists. Not to pick on him, but Zvi wrote the common version of it recently:
"One school of thought is that Putin will consider himself entitled to keep any gains won on the battlefield, or at least any that it would make sense to keep. Whereas Ukraine most definitely can’t agree to that any time soon. It also is highly contrary to the kind of history that Putin used to justify his invasion. You very much do not get to keep whatever you happen to occupy when there is a formal peace settlement, that has never been how this works. For a guy who lectures us for hours about events from Europa Universalis this would be a very poor understanding of war score and formal borders." (emphasis added)
Except this has only been true since the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Prior to the Peace Pact, you absolutely did get to keep territory you took in war.
It is hard to think of a legal right that has a longer or more illustrious pedigree than conquest. Cyrus the Great, who ruled the Persian Empire in the sixth century BC, admonished his court not to feel guilty about their imperial prerogatives: “It is an eternal law the wide world over, that when a city is taken in war, the citizens, their persons, and all their property fall into the hands of the conquerors. It is not by injustice, therefore, that you hold what you have taken, rather it is through your own human kindness that the citizens are allowed to keep whatever they do retain.” (Chapter 2)
European countries constantly fought for and won territory both within Europe and throughout the world during the 18th and 19th centuries. The US, too, started doing so almost as soon as it existed. For example, in 1847 the US acquired territory from Mexico through conquest, in a war started officially because of unpaid debts.
Though President Polk wanted the land owned by Mexico, he did not simply threaten to invade unless the Mexican government handed it over”.
His legal justification for the war looked back to 1821, when Mexico secured its independence from Spain. The years following independence brought deep instability. Mexico went through thirty-five administrations in thirty-four years. U.S. citizens conducting business there were subject to illegal confiscations of property and physical assaults by government officials and made numerous claims against Mexico for compensation. U.S. diplomats collected these complaints and presented them to the Mexican government. (Chapter 2)
Under a succession of Presidents, the US threatened Mexico with war if redress wasn't provided. We went to arbitration in 1839 with a panel of 2 Mexicans, 2 Americans, and the representative of the King of Prussia.
[The panel] awarded the United States roughly $2 million in damages. Unfortunately, the cost of near-constant revolution had depleted Mexico’s treasury and it could not satisfy those awards (Chapter 2)
When Mexico repeatedly couldn't pay, Presidents Tyler and Polk offered to accept land instead. Polk also advanced troops on the border to make it clear what the alternative was. Mexico attacked scouts of the US army, and Polk asked for a declaration of war. But the main reason for the war wasn't the attack on our scouts. “Polk’s war message, however, focused first and foremost on the issue of unpaid debts.” (Chapter 1)
Even more confusing to our modern expectations, before the Peace Pact there was no such thing as helping your friends while staying neutral. Under the rules written by Hugo Grotius that held until the Peace Pact, which H&S term the Old World Order, nations had an obligation to neutrality if they wished to not be dragged into the war as co-belligerents. In 1793, France sent a diplomat named Edmont-Charles Genêt to the US to acquire any assistance the US was willing to provide for France’s war against Britain. Many people in both countries viewed the other as a sister nation, the only other Republic in the world. Still, we refused.
Neutrality entailed strict impartiality. If Britain could not use American ports to outfit privateers, then the law of nations would not allow France to use them in this way either.
Any unequal support provided by the United States to France would have been a casus belli, an act of belligerency warranting a military response. The Girondins should have realized that the United States government could not let its territory be used as a recruiting ground for a rebel army to foment insurrections. To aid France this way would have been an act of war against Britain and Spain.
As Vattel stated, “[A] neutral and impartial nation must not refuse to one of the parties, on account of his present quarrel, what she grants to the other.” Jefferson quoted this precise passage in his June 17 letter to Genêt. (Chapter 4)
The Pact evolved from a more complex wrangling among thinkers and diplomats as they struggled to imagine a world in which war wasn’t normal, and argued over how to chart a course to achieve that. In the end, because of uncertainty about how best to achieve their aims, and the need for diplomatic compromise, all it says is that war is outlawed. Enforcement mechanisms and expectations of what to do when countries violated it would come later.
H&S sum it up this way:
Our book explains why this skeptical reaction [that outlawing war is preposterous], while reasonable, is wrong. Outlawing war only seems ridiculous to us because ours is a world in which war has already been outlawed. (Introduction)
Let’s compare this to the current topic of concern, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The global outcry against Russia, the massive and continued use of sanctions to try to isolate and punish Russia, and the supplying of arms to Ukraine to help them fight off Russia -- all of these are aspects of a set of expectations about the legal status of war that we have inherited from the Peace Pact, a set of expectations that H&S name the New World Order. None of this would have been allowed under the Old World Order.
Our current economic sanctions against Russia and our providing weapons to Ukraine would have been, in the 19th century, considered plenty of reason for Russia to declare war on us. Today, though Russia complains and bickers, they recognize that under the current rules, what we're doing is (perhaps barely) allowed - in fact, they themselves have frequently done similar behavior, expecting that it will not draw them directly into war. The idea that we can sanction countries for launching an illegal war is an intellectual creation of Hersch Lauterpacht and others, interpreting the Peace Pact.
In the 1935 edition [of Oppenheim’s International Law], Lauterpacht added twenty pages on the Peace Pact. In the preface, he justified this major revision by saying that the Pact had “effected a fundamental change in the system of International Law.” In particular, Lauterpacht claimed, the old principle of neutrality had to be abandoned. Under the Pact, “the outbreak of war is no longer an event concerning the belligerent alone." Rather, it is the concern of the entire world. “The guilty belligerents, by breaking the [Pact], violate the rights of all other signatories, who, by way of reprisals, may choose to subject him to measures of discrimination, for instance. by actively prohibiting some or all exports into his territory. (Chapter 10)
Since it began I have, as I think we all have, been trying to make sense of the war in Ukraine. What story does it best fit, and how will its future unfold? Is it the beginning of World War III, as once again a dictator with a powerful army attempts to sweep across Europe, to build or rebuild the Russian Imperium? Is it closer to a religious crusade that will end in Kyiv or not at all? Is it the last gasp of a demographically dying nation? Will it be the model for future wars, that countries that feel threatened can conquer their neighbors?
I've found it useful to notice the ways, as H&S exhaustively document, that we don't live in the era of World War I, or even World War II, anymore. In the first world war, war was expected, and the web of alliances that had been built were almost designed to pull us all into war, not because we were trying to right a wrong or stop an evil, but because war was inevitable between nations.
In the second world war, we no longer viewed war as inevitable or normal, but we had yet to build infrastructure and institutions, such as the sanctions regimes and "outcasting", as H&S call it, that we would use to respond to a country invading another. Many countries also had yet to fully internalize the idea that war was illegal, or imagine what that meant they should do about it when someone broke the Pact. Today we have those institutions, though they are far from perfect. Some of them seem thoroughly broken, like the UN Security Council, others are creaky with disuse, and some, like individually targeted financial sanctions, are brand new and may turn out to be more effective than what we had before.
An obscure office in the U.S. Treasury Department is tasked with enforcing sanctions rules: the Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC. Over the course of the last two decades, OFAC has developed more targeted—and effective—sanction tools. The biggest innovation came in 2010. At the behest of OFAC, Congress passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, which strengthened U.S. sanctions on the Iranian energy industry and financial sector. Whereas previous measures had targeted Iranian firms, Congress now authorized the imposition of “secondary sanctions” on any bank, anywhere in the world, that transacted with Iran’s central bank. By placing it on the black list, OFAC could cut off any bank from access to the U.S. financial sector. The United States offered banks a choice: You can do business with the United States or you can do business with Iran; you can’t do both. (Chapter 16)
One of the strongest bulwarks against war’s success today is that citizens everywhere do not believe that most war is legitimate. Putin’s war propaganda is focused on minimizing the war, calling it a “special operation” and claiming it’s in defense of the local Russian populations. While these excuses can cover a variety of sins, they demonstrate that even Putin expects that his people do not support wars of conquest. H&S document that in the 19th century, leaders published pamphlets justifying their wars using a wide variety of reasons, and that the citizens accepted these reasons as legitimate. Today, most reasons for war that used to be legitimate, are no longer considered so.
Still, it's unclear whether these tools and expectations, the New World Order, can withstand the desires of dictators to overturn them for their own advantage. Today we have nearly a century of the expectation that war is illegal, and decades of relative peace between nations (see the discussion in the New World Order section for some of the evidence of this). We remain unsure what will happen if our expectations, our belief that “we just don’t do this anymore”, just isn’t strong enough to constrain dictators.
H&S help us travel back into the minds of a set of thinkers who were in a very similar situation, though with many fewer tools. The thinkers they profile had worked to get the world to agree that war was illegal, but only a decade later were facing a set of countries that were violating that agreement. They had to invent tools to hold those countries and leaders to account, to enforce the Pact that they had signed. Some of those institutions were ideas, like the changes to neutrality that Lauterpacht authored, while others were formal organizations, like the United Nations and other international organizations. They built them because they needed them, layering idea upon idea until the whole came to resemble its current form. The story of how they came to do so makes a fascinating case study in the idea of raising the sanity waterline.
The core objections
H&S carefully document and disprove five major claims about why the Kellogg-Briand Pact is irrelevant. I’ve added a sixth here, which they do not address, and a short section about it below.
Outlawry of war wasn't actually a significant change for anyone at the time.
Outlawry wasn't taken seriously at the time by the signatories - that it was just feel-good propaganda.
World War II proves that it failed, so it wasn't important.
The world isn't more peaceful today, post outlawry.
Any increase in peace since World War II is due to democracies, nuclear weapons, or other reasons, and not the Peace Pact.
The US keeps starting or engaging in wars, like in Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
I will briefly summarize the 3 major sections of the book and how they tackle the first five claims.
Section 1: The Old World Order
This section refutes the claim that outlawry of war wasn't actually a significant change for anyone at the time.
To do so, it covers the history of the international laws of war as described by Hugo Grotius in a set of books titled The Law of War and Peace, including how he came to write it, what the laws were, and how they were used and understood. In this section, H&S work to fully immerse us in the laws of war before the Peace Pact, and the ways that people understood war as a result. I’ve already included a number of things about this up above, so I’ll just put in a few interesting notes here, and if you want more persuasion that people viewed war differently, I’d suggest you pick up the book.
There is lots of historical evidence that attitudes toward war before the Peace Pact were not like attitudes toward war today, that people - lawyers, diplomats, sovereigns, and citizens - believed it to be normal and legal, and frequently justified.
Conquest in response to debts or offenses was one of the primary motivators of war in the period ruled by the Old World Order (generally, from some time before 1625 when Grotius wrote the rules down to 1928, when the Peace Pact was signed), though H&S also document some of the weirder ones, like a King who declared that they had the right to wage war against another because the other King stole his wife. But because Grotius had declared that no one outside the belligerents could determine whose side was just without violating neutrality, the reasons for war were largely whatever Monarchs could get away, which ran the gamut.
Perhaps because it was fashionable, perhaps to convince their citizenry of their rightness, Monarchs paid handsomely for famous thinkers to write manifestos explaining why they were going to war, and other Monarchs and the citizenry generally accepted these reasons. It would be like if Putin had called up Google co-founder Sergey Brin and asked him to write out why Russia had the right to conquer Ukraine, and then everyone else shrugged and decided, sure, that sounds reasonable.
Heads of state enlisted esteemed writers and scholars as well as experienced lawyers to draft [war manifestos]. The English military and political leader Oliver Cromwell commissioned John Milton, the great epic poet, to write A Manifesto of the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth in 1655 when he ordered the invasion of the Spanish possessions in the Caribbean. In 1703, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I employed Gottfried Leibniz, the rationalist philosopher, co-inventor of calculus, and a trained lawyer, to compose the Manifesto for the Defense of the Rights of Charles III, which defended the empire’s involvement in the War of the Spanish Succession.
Commodore Perry arrived in Japan in 1853 and returned for real the next year. Because they were so confused about how the laws of war were supposed to work, Japan proceeded to send Nishi Amane to the Netherlands to study the Law of War and Peace, and twenty years later, in 1875, Japan conquered Korea. Their logic for doing so was that they were afraid Europe or China would get there first. The world recognized their conquest at the time, though after WWII they were made to give it up.
Korea was alluring prey for aggressive Western nations. As Nishi Amane [the scholar who brought the Grotian rules to Japan] would later explain, defending one’s borders “is like riding in a third-class train; at first there is adequate space but as more passengers enter there is no place for them to sit. The logic of necessity requires the people to plant both feet firmly and expand their elbows into any opening that may occur for, unless this is done, others will close the opening. (Chapter 6)
Section 2: The Transformation Period
Recall our list of counterclaims, #s 2 and 3.
2. Outlawry wasn't taken seriously at the time by the signatories - that it was just feel-good propaganda.
3. World War II proves that it failed, so it wasn't important.
This section tells the story of how the Peace Pact came into existence, including how influential it was on the thinkers of the time. Throughout the 1930s and 40s, thinkers and diplomats attempted to turn the Peace Pact into practice, and then, when World War II demonstrated that they needed significantly more teeth to make the Peace Pact real, created the United Nations and other international institutions dedicated to supporting the Pact’s goals. At the time, they viewed World War II as a sign that they hadn’t gotten the right combination of institutions to make the Peace Pact succeed, not that it wasn’t important. This was a classic situation of needing More Dakka and they did, indeed, keep adding more until it worked.
In an account composed more than a decade later, Jackson recounted that this view of the Pact was shared by the president and his inner circle. The Peace Pact, he reported, “left no vestige of legal right for [a state] to resort to a war of aggression. From the beginning, Roosevelt, Hull, Welles, Stimson and I had been in agreement that Hitler’s war . . . was an illegal one, and that other powers were under no obligation to remain indifferent. (Chapter 11)
There is some counter-evidence in support of #2, from the side of the Japanese at least.
Japan, for example, did not think that it had renounced the rules of the Old World Order on August 27, 1928. Its signing of the “No-War Pact,” as the Paris Peace Pact was known in Japan, was regarded as a diplomatic gesture, a noble proclamation affirming the aspiration of all civilized nations to seek peace. Indeed, Japanese officials considered it a sign of how far their nation had come that it was included among the fifteen countries at the grand ceremony in Paris. (Chapter 7)
But at least on the Allies side, they had intended it seriously, and as World War II went on, that intention redoubled.
Sumner Welles, Undersecretary of State during World War II, was assigned by Roosevelt to create a plan for peace after the war. What he and James Shotwell authored was effectively an outline of the United Nations, and they put the Peace Pact at the very center of it.
Shotwell was far from subtle about his effort to treat the Pact as a starting point. He placed the Pact at the start of his preliminary draft. Article 1 repeated the Pact verbatim. Article 2 provided that “[t]he United Nations, in order to strengthen and safeguard the peace of nations as set forth in the General Pact for the Renunciation of war, agree to cooperate in the establishment of the necessary instrumentalities for its effective maintenance.” What followed was an outline of nearly every essential institutional component of the modern-day United Nations. Ten days later he circulated a more detailed draft, now entitled “Provisional Outline of International Organization.” (Chapter 8)
It wasn't just the United Nations. NATO was built off of the Atlantic Charter, and it was also designed to reinforce the Peace Pact. This is why it's reasonably accurate to describe it as a defensive alliance.
The [first draft of the Atlantic Charter] was a remarkable document. It began by restating the principles of the Stimson Doctrine—there would be no conquest; the two countries would “seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other.” Moreover, there would be “no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned.” The Charter looked ahead to a time “after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny”—a remarkable statement for a neutral in the war—and declared the two states’ “hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries. (Chapter 8)
This section brings to bear quotes from leaders at the time showing how important they considered the outlawry of war, how they viewed it as changing the world, but also how unprepared they were for how to react to countries choosing to ignore the Pact. Most importantly, they show how the Allies were strongly motivated to fight World War II specifically to preserve and expand the Pact, to make the world safe for peace.
Unfortunately, then, as now, Russia/the Soviet Union did not quite live up to the ideals that the Allies generally advocated for. The Soviet Union took territory after World War II, the only one of the Allies to do so.
The only ally to gain any significant territory after the war was the Soviet Union. More than twenty million of the nation’s citizens had died in the course of the war, and Stalin insisted on several territorial gains as the price of peace—many, but not all, of them in areas previously contested. … These concessions to Stalin were seen by the other Allied powers as regrettable deviations from accepted law, not precedents to be followed in the future. (Chapter 13)
To be fair, we are talking about Josef Stalin, here. Who’s surprised?
Section 3: The New World Order
Recall our list of counterclaims, #s 4 and 5.
4. The world isn't more peaceful post outlawry.
5. Any increase in peace since World War II is due to democracies, nuclear weapons, or other reasons, and not the Peace Pact.
H&S walk through the best academic evidence we have of whether the world is more peaceful today than it was in the period from 1816 (when our data collection starts being decent) to the Peace Pact. They then spend some time discussing why the evidence better supports the Peace Pact than other causes. In particular, H&S highlight that only since the Peace Pact have countries been denied territorial gains from their conquests. There's a lot of detail in there. Here's just a taste of it.
A loose team of political scientists has assembled comprehensive data to help them study war. The resulting project, with the intentionally clinical name “Correlates of War,” hosts datasets on everything from “militarized interstate disputes” to “world religion data” to “bilateral trade.” Most relevant here, it includes extensive data on “territorial change”—a record of every single territorial exchange between states from 1816 to 2014, totaling over eight hundred entries.
What do our 254 cases of territorial change tell us? They tell us something that is at once striking and surprising: Conquest, once common, has nearly disappeared. Even more unexpected, the switch point is that now familiar year when the world came together to outlaw war, 1928.
From the time the data start in 1816 until the Peace Pact opened for signature in 1928, there was, on average, approximately one conquest every ten months (1.21 conquests per year). Put another way, the average state during this period had a 1.33 percent chance of being the victim of conquest in any given year. Those may seem like pretty good odds. They are not: A state with a 1.33 percent annual chance of conquest can expect to lose territory in a conquest once in an ordinary human lifetime.
After 1948, the chance an average state would suffer a conquest fell from once in a lifetime to once or twice a millennium. (Chapter 13)
The US wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya
One disappointment I have is that H&S do not spend much time discussing the US wars of the last two decades. The book was published in 2017, so there’s really no excuse for this. Even counting them, their claim that wars since the Peace Pact have been fewer and less world-changing than before the Peace Pact still holds up, but since they don’t directly discuss the most notable wars of the last two decades, they leave a significant hole in their argument. I can imagine defenses that they would make, but they should have made them. They mostly refer to these conflicts either as not a conquest (since the US isn’t officially running those places now) or as a side effect of the Peace Pact in allowing failed states (See Addendum 1 for more on that)
More recently, the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, toppled Sadaam Hussein, and installed the Coalition Provisional Authority to govern the country. But what’s most notable about these “nonconquests” is how ineffective and unstable they usually are. Exerting influence indirectly is inefficient and expensive. (Chapter 13)
And in 2015 alone, high-fatality civil wars continued in Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Ukraine.
Why, if war has been outlawed, is there still so much conflict?
The answer is that these conflicts are not prohibited by the Pact. Indeed, they are the predictable consequences of it … the prohibition on the use of force by one state against the territory of another has allowed two sources of conflict to simmer… within [states]. (Chapter 15)
The broader intellectual history of war
Reading The Internationalists led me to want to read a broader intellectual history of war. H&S include some comments that hint at it, for example describing the Principle of Distinction and other agreements made about how to behave during war.
Fortunately for the civilians of Europe, the biblical model of war was finally repudiated. By the middle of the eighteenth century, European armies had come to recognize a “Principle of Distinction,” the doctrine central to modern humanitarian law, which distinguishes between soldiers and civilians and protects the latter from the former.
The Principle of Distinction was the first curtailment of Grotius’s blanket immunity for those waging war. In the next century, it was followed by a flood of new legal regulations placing stricter controls on a soldier’s license to kill. International treaties protected the wounded and medical personnel (First Geneva Convention, 1864) prohibited the use of fragmenting, explosive, and incendiary small arms ammunition (St. Petersburg Declaration, 1874) banned explosives from balloons, asphyxiating gas, and dum-dum bullets (First Hague Convention, 1899) and proscribed pillage, the execution of surrendering soldiers and prisoners of war, and forcing civilians to swear an allegiance to a foreign power (Second Hague Convention, 1907). (Chapter 3)
But the history of this and other pre-Peace Pact intellectual history of war is thin within the text, as the point H&S are chasing is specific to the Peace Pact's relevance in history, not the broader history of war. Some of my favorite books are books that tie together aspects of history across wide gulfs, which The Internationalists succeeds at. It’s rare and delightful to see how a piratical ship capture by the Dutch in the 16th century ties together with the opening of Japan, the US battles with Mexico, and finally, the creation of the United Nations.
H&S’s perspective is that the Peace Pact marks a turning point, and one that should not be forgotten. It’s also clear that it marks a capstone on a long history of small changes that are also, themselves, interesting battles in the long-running war to make the world less intolerable.
In the end, they identify four key changes in the intellectual landscape, with Lauterpacht’s fingers in nearly all of them.
Neutrality no longer requires impartiality. States can help those they view as victims.
Economic sanctions are a valid form of punishment of aggressor states, not a casus belli.
Conquest is illegal, and will not be recognized.
Coerced agreements through threats or gunboat diplomacy are not valid.
James T. Shotwell and Salmon Levinson started us on the journey to ending war. Hersch Lauterpacht formalized it.
The legacy of Hersch Lauterpacht was nothing less than a system of rules embodying the idea that war is an illegitimate tool for establishing or enforcing legal rights.
The last few years I have been celebrating Petrov Day with readings and quotes from people who changed the world. This year I’m likely going to add some recognition of Hersch Lauterpacht, Salmon Levinson, James Shotwell and the others who brought about an end to the normalcy of war.
Addendum 1: So, we did it, we’re all good, right?
So, we outlawed war, and war has become less common, this is all positive, right?
Well, no. H&S also discuss the downsides of the Peace Pact, including failed states that act as breeding grounds for abusive governments and terrorism, and how the expectations built by the Peace Pact prevent stronger neighbors from conquering them.
[W]eak and failed states are a significant source of terrorist threats. States that control their territory suppress violent groups, usually through ordinary law enforcement—police, rather than the military. In states that cannot control their territory, by contrast, violence tends to grow, with no organized force to contain or counter it.
By removing predators from the international ecosystem, then, the outlawry of war has effectively enabled the survival of the weakest. Those weak states sometimes become failed states. And those failed states too often become breeding grounds for internal conflict and terrorism.
This is the dilemma: The rules of the New World Order that provide so much benefit protect all states from the use of force, including those we do not want to protect because they are too feeble, chaotic, authoritarian, or, for lack of a better word, evil. (Chapter 15)
There’s clearly still work to do to figure out how to handle the downsides of banning interstate war, but overall, I’m still glad Levinson, Shotwell, Lauterpacht, etc started us down this path.
Addendum 2: The League of Nations
I think it’s also reasonable for you to be wondering what about the League of Nations? How does that fit in here? The answer is complex, and deeply inspected in the book, but doesn’t quite fit into this review. H&S argue that the League was built on the Old World Order, and assumed both that states could go to war, and then, when the League adopted the Peace Pact, it all got really confused because there was a lack of clarity over whether that meant the League required members to go to war against whoever went to war first, or what the situation was. It got pretty confusing, at the time.
Levinson and his allies were not the only ones to notice that the League and the outlawry of war imposed conflicting legal obligations. As the committee appointed by the League Council to examine the matter put it, “The League Covenant, under some of its articles, reserves the right to go to war.” But the Pact prohibited the resort to war—perhaps even wars that would be approved by the Covenant. (Chapter 7)
But the League did renounce conquest, and make other steps in the right direction, so, uh, I guess it’s a wash?
It would be hard to overemphasize the importance of the League’s acceptance of the Stimson Doctrine. By February 1933, the vast majority of states had joined the League—including the defeated Central Powers of Austria, Germany, Turkey, and Bulgaria. By accepting the Stimson Doctrine, a policy proposed by the nonmember United States, the members of the League had renounced the most ancient right of sovereignty: the right of conquest. (Chapter 7)
Addendum 3: Idealism, or cynical self-preservation?
H&S do acknowledge that one reason the Pact appealed to the Allies was that they were on top at the time, and the Peace Pact would preserve the empires they had built in the face of upstart imperial contenders, including Germany, Italy, and Japan.
The Axis powers stood for the Old World Order. Germany, Japan, and Italy had each rejected the principles of the Peace Pact—Japan by invading Manchuria and continuing into China, French Indochina, British Malaya, Indonesia, and Singapore; Italy by invading Ethiopia, Greece, Yugoslavia, and North Africa; and Germany by seeking to gain control of nearly all of Europe. Each had a reason to resent the Allies and their efforts to outlaw war. The Axis powers had largely missed out on the colonial land grab. Japan only began to participate in international affairs in the 1860s, and it was more than a generation before it was prepared to project military force outside its own borders, too late to successfully participate in the empire-building scramble. Both Germany and Italy finally achieved unification in the same year—1871. They joined the land grab soon after, but were never as successful as France, Spain, Portugal, Britain, and the Netherlands, which built extensive empires. Without the authority to wage war and conquer new territory, the Axis powers saw little possibility of ever achieving equality. (Chapter 8)
It’s an interesting point, and almost certainly true to some degree or another. It’s also an interesting thing that sometimes when people push for idealistic sounding things that help them personally, they end up helping other people too. Whether Britain did this so that Germany wouldn’t take their colonies or not, the end result is a world that doesn’t believe war is good. And ironically, as we’ll see in the next addendum, it didn’t preserve their empires.
Addendum 4: De-colonization
One notable thing that the leaders did not expect that came out of the Pact is that colonial peoples used its ideals to argue for independence. This is another aspect of history that’s thin in the text, and I’ll look forward to finding more of it in other books.
An account by a member of the British 23rd Indian Division—known as “The Fighting Cock” for the insignia on the uniforms of the men within it—shows how the colonized turned the colonizers’ ideals against them. During the war, the Japanese had seized control of Indonesia from the Dutch. When the Japanese surrendered in early September 1945, the Fighting Cock went to Java to accept a transfer of authority to Allied forces. In Singapore, en route to Java, an advance party met a “cheerful Dutchman who assumed that he and his countrymen were coming back to the peaceful reoccupation of their Empire.” But the Indonesians had a different idea. To greet the returning imperialists, they covered carriages and vehicles with graffiti declaring: “Atlantic Charter means freedom from Dutch Imperialism.” “Indonesia for Indonesians.” And, simply, “Merdeka”—Freedom. The armed resistance did not abate until the United Nations recognized the country’s independence in 1949.
Indonesia was not alone. With the war won, it was difficult to square the ideals for which the Allies had fought with the realities of empire. (Chapter 14)
Addendum 5: Presented without comment
Strictly speaking, though, exile was not a punishment, for Napoleon had committed no crime. Like his soldiers, Napoleon was licensed to kill. Furthermore, as a sovereign, he had the right to resort to arms—to plan, declare, and wage war. Elba, therefore, was not a prison. It was more like a sanitarium, sealed off from the rest of Europe to protect it from the Corsican contagion.
Indeed, the Allies had no choice but to give him a sovereign country of some kind. With the war over, Napoleon lost his status as a prisoner of war and had to be released. But the Allies could not let him stay in France as he posed too great a danger to the newly restored Bourbon king. Nor did they have the authority to detain him on foreign soil against his will. There was only one remaining option: give him his own kingdom and then forbid him from coming back to theirs. (Chapter 3)
But perhaps the biggest problem for outcasting is that countermeasures [i.e. responding to a violation of the rules with your own violation of the rules] do not always work. Yes, they are effective for enforcing rules on trade and mail delivery, but there is a whole array of rules that cannot be enforced through simple tit-for-tatting. For example, countermeasures cannot be used to enforce human rights agreements like the United Nations Convention Against Torture. A state cannot torture its own people in response to illegal torture by another state against its people. (Chapter 16)
Addendum 6: Seeing Like an Islamic State
The last chapter, titled Seeing Like an Islamic State is, to me, the least successfully persuasive, perhaps because it would need to be a full book of its own to take into account sufficient perspectives to fully persuade, especially on a topic that is somewhat aligned with culture war. Reading it provides a useful exercise in trying to push yourself out of assuming that other people everywhere have the same cultural assumptions that you do, and the specifics of it are interesting, but I can’t recommend it as conclusive. H&S’s goal is to cover some of the modern threats to the New World Order.
They argue that the conflict between the West and the Islamic world isn’t really about the specific disagreements, as much as it is that many in the Islamic world reject the intellectual underpinnings that Europe formulated - the New World Order. This goes back to Sayyid Qutb, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood and inspiration to Al-Qaeda and ISIS. According to H&S, Qutb’s experience in the West and then interacting with the Nasser government in Egypt led to him rejecting in its entirety the Western conception of states, national sovereignty, and the Peace Pact.
This has been inherited by some others within the Islamic world who consider themselves to be in a state of permanent jihad against the West. In this way they seek to move the underlying expectations, to change the rules of the game. Instead of seeing conflicts with Islamic jihadists as equivalent to other conflicts, then, we should attempt to understand their worldview. It is its own set of rules and expectations, but likely is closer to the way pre-Enlightenment religious wars, also known as hygienic wars, worked. Here are some quotes to set the flavor of it, but none of this is essential to the rest of the book.
Qutb is the mirror image of Grotius. Grotius sought to ground the right of war on liberalism, on the natural rights of individuals to use force to protect life and property. Qutb grounded the right, indeed the duty, of war in the obligation to annihilate Jahiliyyah. Whereas Grotius argued that war could be fought for liberal rights, Qutb argued that war had to be fought against liberal rights.
The Qutbian enemy, therefore, is breathtakingly encompassing. The realm of Jahiliyyah is not merely the West, with its secularism, racism, imperialism, inequality, and sexual promiscuity. Nor is it simply Nasser and his henchmen, the brutes who ran torture chambers like Tora Prison. It encompasses all secular Arab governments—including those in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria. It also includes the ulema, the clergy who claim to speak for Islam, but support the lordship of man. It includes anyone who stands in the way of the establishment of an Islamic State. The enemy is the rest of the world.
[To Qutb] the Crusades were never about power or territorial control. The war with the West has always been a battle of ideas—between those who recognize that only God possesses sovereignty and those who impute it to man.
Qutb’s crusade is not a nationalist one. Seeing the history of the Middle East as a legacy of foreign control, he argued, misleads Arabs into thinking that the solution must be local control. Arab nationalists think that the antidote to imperialism is nationalism—Churchill must be replaced by Nasser. But that is a trap. Rule by man—any man—is the problem, not the solution. Victory over Jahiliyyah cannot be achieved by adopting an Arab form of Jahiliyyah. Eastern Jahiliyyah is no better than the Western version. In Qutb’s messianic view, triumph requires nothing less than a global Islamic state. (Chapter 17)