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World’s Worst Treaty Turns 84

Today we celebrate one of the world’s least notable anniversaries: the 84th year since the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which outlawed war for the better part of the past century and won its authors the Nobel Peace Prize. This immodest treaty aimed at nothing less than permanent elimination of war as an instrument of national policy and remains on the books to this day. A quick review of 20th century history is the clearest testament to its lasting effectiveness.

Although modern do-gooders and green activists have no shortage of poorly concieved global treaties of their own, the Kellog-Briand Pact remains the gold standard for the overreach of good intentions.

Over at his CFR blog, James Lindsay has a good overview of the origins of one of the worst policy ideas in American history. Understanding what can and can’t be accomplished through international agreements and treaties is an indispensable qualification for successful leadership in foreign affairs. Unfortunately, many people find this a hard concept to grasp, as a result of which vast amounts of energy continue to be wasted on utopian quests and unicorn hunts.

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  • Luke Lea

    A treaty to abolish nuclear weapons would be almost as bad.

  • WigWag

    Professor Mead’s color palate is certainly idiosyncratic. In a post about, of all things, the Kellogg-Briand Pact (note correct spelling) he just couldn’t resist mentioning one of his least favorite colors; green.

    Of course, all of his loyal readers know that green isn’t the only color that Professor Mead dislikes; he doesn’t think much of blue either.

    When it comes to red, Professor Mead’s feelings are a little more ambivalent. If it’s a communistic shade of red than we know he doesn’t think much of it. If it’s the shade of red that denotes the polar opposite of blue, he sort of finds it attractive.

    I hope that Professor Mead doesn’t suffer from synesthesia. If he does, my guess is that every time he sees the color green he hears the sounds of finger nails scratching a chalk board. I’ve been to Jackson Heights; the good news is that there isn’t that much green there. As for blue, if he’s a synesthesia sufferer, every time he sees it, my guess is that he hears the sound of an off-key soprano singing the Queen of the Night Aria from the Magic Flute. Trust me, sung off key, it isn’t pretty.

    So, if he hates green and blue and is ambivalent about red, what are Professor Mead’s favorite colors?

    Well, someone who writes a post about the Kellogg-Briand Pact and feels the need to mention green just has to be partial to black and white.

    Come to think of it, several of his posts suggest that black and white are his favorite colors.

  • AdamH

    This is one of my pet peeves. An historical event that on its face seems harmless, but in fact has had far reaching consequences down to the present. As I wrote in July 2011 (slightly edited):

    Since World War II, when nations fight wars they are forced to use euphemisms such as “police action” or “kinetic military action,” because war is illegal. Countries simply fight each other; they no longer declare war on each other.

    Now this might not be much of a problem (other than being offensive to common sense) except that in the laws of war, both national and international, many protections and clauses are brought into effect only by a declaration of war. So we are left with nations fighting wars that are not called wars; because if they were honest and called it a war, war could be declared on them, and their leaders (if they lost) could sent to jail for violation of Kellog-Briand. Rather, nations fight their wars undeclared in order to satisfy a patently ridiculous international nicety, and those caught up in the midst suffer for it.

  • Gary L

    One of the commentators on James Lindsay’s blog asked if Kellogg-Briand is still valid. Lindsay has not yet responded. WRM, what’s your take?

  • John Haskell

    I can’t tell you how delighted I am to learn that both Versailles and Brest-Litovsk are now off the hook.

  • Eurydice

    LOL@ John Haskell – I was just going to write that.

    If Mr. Lindsay is correct about the politics underlying the Kellogg-Briand Pact, then good intentions don’t seem to have played any part in it.

  • Nathan

    WigWag @ 2 – I’m with Professor Mead on this one. Mead didn’t criticize the green movement as a whole in this post–he criticized their attempts at international agreements. I think it’s clear that those have been unproductive boondoggles and there is no reason to expect that to change.

    As for the blue criticism, the “blue” refers to a social model, not to a political party. The blue model is falling apart all around us, and only a blind man wouldn’t be able to see that. If one political party chooses to oppose major elements of the blue model (while being clueless about it) and another party chooses to be reactionary about defending the crumbling model…that isn’t Mead’s fault.

  • Nathan

    Also, I haven’t seen Mead refer approvingly to a theoretical team “Red” either. The republican party currently has a tendency to want to drift back into discarded social models that won’t work for today’s world any better than the blue model will.

  • Leonardo

    So the blog called “The American Interest” believes outlawing war [stinks]. What a surprise. May I conclude that outlawing war is bad according to “the american interest” as it deligitimizes a main tool of the American Foreign policy: WAR?

  • Dutch 1960

    In other news, treaties are being negotiated to outlaw pestilence, famine, and death. To sit at the treaty table, your car must wear a “coexist” bumper sticker.

  • Eurydice

    @Nathan – Perhaps Prof. Mead can clear this up, but it doesn’t seem as if he picked the color blue out of a hat. If one were to ask a group of people to choose a color to represent something stale, bloated, outdated and unworkable, I doubt if blue would the number one choice – more likely, it would be something fusty and musty and moldy-gray green.

    Prof. Mead knows quite well that blue and red are cultural shorthand for left and right – that’s why Democrats wear blue ties and Republicans wear red ties, and why the president wears a purple tie when he wants to seem inclusive. To coopt a cultural cue and then declare people in error for reacting naturally would be disingenuous.

  • Armando

    “So the blog called “The American Interest” believes outlawing war [stinks]”

    No, this blog believes that a treaty outlawing war is [stupid], and has done precisely nothing to curtail its use as a tool of national policy.

    “May I conclude that outlawing war is bad according to “the american interest” as it deligitimizes a main tool of the American Foreign policy: WAR?”

    It’s a main tool of the foreign policy of EVERY country (Russia in Georgia, China in the South China Sea, the UK and France in Libya, etc., etc.).

  • Kevin

    Speaking of Meade’s “color”, I have always thought he was a bit more of a purple-ish (ca. 1996 Bill) Clinton Democrat than a deep red Republican. what impressed me about reading Special Providence years ago was how he was able to capture the conflicting viewpoints in such a sympathetic tone to each.

  • Ed

    My brother told me of a joke that was popular in the military in the 70’s. “If at first you don’t suceed get a bigger hammer.” The joke mocked the mindset of the certain members of the armed forces, the mindset that gives us ever bigger weapons systems to fight ever decreasing enemy capabilities.

    Little did the author of said quip know that this mindset has permeated all aspects of government for many decades. This has led to our ruling bureaucrats the urge to spend more and more money to “fix” domestic problems such as poverty, health care and housing in spite of the failure of one program after another to achieve its stated goals.

    We all want to win our wars and achieve peace and prosperity at home. But please, no more. The bigger “hammers” these bureaucrats love simply aren’t working, not for weapons, not in bringing peace and not in providing for our economic needs.

  • Dutch 1960

    Outlawing war (as is adorning your car with a “coexist” sticker) is nothing more than a conceit. Each is a completely unrealistic gesture allowing one to pretend that “I am doing something about” the problem, when in fact one is doing nothing more than preening for the audience.

    Mocking these empty and completely unrealistic and silly gestures is not the same thing as advocating for the opposite. Instead it is understanding and accepting that human nature and the power of crowds sometimes defeats our best intentions and ideals. Awareness of this reality is a step in understanding how the real world functions. Blue pill and such.

  • Nathan

    Eurydice – I don’t claim that there isn’t any relation. The article I read that introduced our “blue model” terminology seemed fairly explicit in a historical relation.

    I think it’s fair to say that the use of the term in this blog has gone *well* beyond “red=Republican” and “blue=Democrat” however. The Republicans, for instance, tend to show high levels of support for some elements of the blue model, most notably in the military. Similarly, the blog has given praise to Democrats that are seeking to do something about the ailing blue model.

    While I personally find Mead to have a slant, I don’t read this blog to be fed with yet another dose of partisanship for the day. I expect long-time readers to recognize the nuance in Mead’s color-coding as well.

    If I wasn’t clear about it before, I don’t think the blue model or the supposed red model (the social model we had before the blue model came into force) are sufficient for this country’s development. We need something that addresses the challenges of our day, not those of decades past.

  • Eurydice

    Nathan – I agree with you, both on the need for modern solutions and in the lack of interest in partisanship. And I was also around when the origins of the blue model were being discussed. My only point is that blue and red are deeply imprinted as partisan colors and no amount of, “But I mean something else that’s higher and finer and more historically nuanced” will change people’s subconscious reactions.

  • Luke Lea

    The only way to make war obsolete is to have an effective world government of some kind. Now that nuclear weapons have been invented the world has an incentive.

    I think WRM and other realists lose sight of this simple observation too easily when they forecast a multi-polar world and seem comfortable with the idea. A bi-polar world? Maybe. But multi-polar? You are asking for tragedy.

  • Luke Lea

    Maybe we should think in terms of world governance instead of world government. A treaty among the world’s democracies could enforce certain civilized norms without a strong central authority, at least maybe. The flaw with the UN was letting non-democracies in.

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