CRF Blog

What Happens When War Is Outlawed

by Bill Hayes

In What Happens When War Is Outlawed for the New Yorker, Louis Menand discusses the new book The Internationalists by Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro.

In “The Internationalists” …, two professors at Yale Law School, Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro, present another explanation for the decline in interstate wars since 1945. They think that nations rarely go to war anymore because war is illegal, and has been since 1928. In their view, the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact was not a Dr. Seuss parable with funny characters in striped trousers and top hats. The treaty did what its framers intended it to do: it effectively ended the use of war as an instrument of national policy.

Then what about the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, and so on, down to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor? Those actions were carried out by nations that were among the Pact’s original signatories, and they clearly violated its terms. According to Hathaway and Shapiro, the invasions actually turned out to be proof of the Pact’s effectiveness, because the Second World War was fought to punish aggression. The Allied victory was the triumph of Kellogg-Briand.

O.K., so what about the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons? The spread of democracy? Free trade and globalization? Isn’t the Kellogg-Briand Pact just a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc — an exercise in feel-good diplomacy that happened to find confirmation many years later in a state of global affairs made possible by other means? 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.

Genuine originality is unusual in political history. “The Internationalists” is an original book. There is something sweet about the fact that it is also a book written by two law professors in which most of the heroes are law professors. Sweet but significant, because one of the points of “The Internationalists” is that ideas matter. [more]