Give Peace a Chance in the 21st Century: The Need for a New Kellogg-Briand Pact

This post was coauthored with Cole Kosydar, MSt in US History

Will the bloody child of Aleppo, whose ravaged face caught the attention of the world community, inspire humanity to end this war in Syria? The death toll has already risen to 470,000, at least according to a report published early this year by the Syrian Center for Policy Research. Yet despite this carnage, the international community's response has been feeble; there seems to be a lack of desire to champion peace or any committed willingness to search for it.

It is disturbing that even in the 21st century the concept of achieving and sustaining peace is viewed with incredulity. But this was not always the case. American public sentiment was once more accepting of diplomacy over war. In fact, in 1928 following the calamity of the First World War, the American Secretary of State, Frank Kellogg, in cooperation with his French counterpart Aristide Briand signed a treaty to outlaw war itself. While the Kellogg-Briand Pact was cast aside with the outbreak of WWII and then subsequently forgotten in the proxy battles of the Cold War, it should not be understood today as simply misplaced idealism. We argue that the United States should again aspire to outlaw war -- specifically preemptive war --- and commit itself to international treaties that will ensure this pledge is upheld. Or else, we believe these wars will continue.

A new decade in the 21st century approaches and the strife of war continues to affect many American families whose sons and daughters are deployed on bases around the world. The fall of the Soviet Union and the supposed triumph of liberal capitalism was heralded as the end of history. The 21st century was supposed to rubber stamp the belief that interventions like Vietnam would never happen again in a world of stable capitalist democracies. But they have, over and over again.

Since President George H.W. Bush declared an end to the Vietnam complex after a decisive victory by the American led coalition in the first Iraq War, the United States has led military interventions in at least five different countries from Somalia to Haiti, from Beirut to the Balkans, not including the wars following September 11th. And one should not forget the lightening strike military interventions in Libya, Granada, Panama in the twilight hours of the Cold War under President Reagan. Counting the current Iraq/Afghanistan War the United States has carried out at least 10 large-scale, boots-on the-ground interventions in total since the Vietnam War.

It is more accurate to say then that from the fin-de-siècle of the 20th century to the first two decades of the 21st, this has been an era not of defensive war, but of preemptive war. What happened to the nation that once sought to outlaw war? What happened to the nation that once lampooned the far-reaching chains of the British Empire? It is fair and circumspect to ask: have we through political, military, and economic coercive influence become an Empire ourselves?

On his deathbed, the architect of the Vietnam War, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara --"The Whiz Kid" -- urged in his memoirs that America in its hurt and recalcitrance learn from the mistakes of Vietnam and accept a sense of historical responsibility to lead an international community without unnecessary violence and war (McNamara 1996).

The shadows of Vietnam defined the Baby Boomer era, just as Iraq has come to define the era of their sons and daughters. Let not another war define the millennial generation. To prevent these types of ill conceived invasions, the U.S. Senate should allow itself to be legally bound by Security Council resolutions and give this commitment teeth by joining the International Criminal Court (ICC) so American leaders can be held responsible. If anything, the ICC will act as a powerful determinant against "preemptive war." These commitments are not an abdication of American sovereignty, but in fact a reaffirmation of our collective security obligations. All our NATO partners are members of the ICC, and so too should the United States.

These steps may still leave us far from adhering to the principles of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, but they are important and necessary steps in the right direction. Peace in this decade may not be achieved, but it is a goal to which we should never stop aspiring.

Sources: McNamara, Robert. In Retrospect:The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. 1996.