1937 – The Kellogg-Briand Pact 9 Years On – Making War Illegal – Past Daily Reference Room
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The Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact. In short; an international agreement to make war illegal. Signed and enacted on August 27, 1928, and being celebrated nine years later, in 1937 as a pact holding by threads, but still holding.
The Kellogg–Briand Pact (or Pact of Paris, officially General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy) was a 1928 international agreement in which signatory states promised not to use war to resolve “disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them”. There were no mechanisms for enforcement. Parties failing to abide by this promise “should be denied of the benefits furnished by [the] treaty”. It was signed by Germany, France, and the United States on 27 August 1928, and by most other states soon after. Sponsored by France and the U.S., the Pact renounced the use of war and calls for the peaceful settlement of disputes. Similar provisions were incorporated into the Charter of the United Nations and other treaties and it became a stepping-stone to a more activist American policy. It is named after its authors, United States Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg and French foreign minister Aristide Briand.
One month following its conclusion, a similar agreement, General Act for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, was concluded in Geneva, which obliged its signatory parties to establish conciliation commissions in any case of dispute. The pact’s central provisions renouncing the use of war, and promoting peaceful settlement of disputes and the use of collective force to prevent aggression, were incorporated into the United Nations Charter and other treaties. Although civil wars continued, wars between established states have been rare since 1945, with a few exceptions in the Middle East.
As a practical matter, the Kellogg–Briand Pact did not live up to its primary aims, but has arguably had some success. It did not end war or stop the rise of militarism, and was unable to keep the international peace in succeeding years. Its legacy remains as a statement of the idealism expressed by advocates for peace in the interwar period. Moreover, it erased the legal distinction between war and peace because the signatories, having renounced the use of war, began to wage wars without declaring them as in the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935, the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939, and the German and Soviet invasions of Poland.
The pact’s central provisions renouncing the use of war, and promoting peaceful settlement of disputes and the use of collective force to prevent aggression, were incorporated into the United Nations Charter and other treaties. Although civil wars continued, wars between established states have been rare since 1945, with a few exceptions in the Middle East. One legal consequence is that it is unlawful to annex territory by force, although other forms of annexation have not been prevented. More broadly, some authors claim there is now a strong presumption against the legality of using, or threatening, military force against another country. The pact also served as the legal basis for the concept of a crime against peace, for which the Nuremberg Tribunal and Tokyo Tribunal tried and executed the top leaders responsible for starting World War II. Many historians and political scientists see the pact as mostly irrelevant and ineffective.
In 1937 the Pact was still considered the hoped-for deterrent to a world war. And this anniversary program, nine years after the signing was a celebration of that fact.