On a hot August day in 1928, numerous politicians and diplomats from across the world congregated in the sunny rooms of the Quai d’Orsay, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Paris. Their intent was to forever end all wars. Noble? For sure. Naïve? Absolutely.
The Kellogg-Briand Pact, named after U.S. Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg and French Minister of Foreign Affairs Aristide Briand, was an agreement that criminalised all warfare. The Pact was signed on August 27, 1928, by 31 countries, to include all the major global powers of the time (Germany, France, Japan, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.). The Pact was largely the work of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an organisation established by the famous American industrialist Andrew Carnegie with the purpose of promoting international discourse, individual citizens and peace advocates.
But it was Briand who first proposed a peace treaty that would ban war between France and the U.S. The French, of course, did not expect a future conflict with America, the two nations have had a strong relationship ever since the American War of Independence. But Briand wished the treaty to serve as a deterrent against any future aggression by Germany. U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, however, was less eager to join in such an agreement. He thus proposed an international rather than bilateral agreement. And so, the Kellogg-Briand Pact came into existence.
The Pact was meant to work alongside the disarmament initiatives which had already begun in Great Britain, France, and America, and the newly established World Court and League of Nations. In the years following the end of the First World War, in 1918, a series of conferences were held in capitals around the world intending to limit countries’ arms expenditures — limitations to the number and structure of navies were at the forefront of these efforts. The reason stemmed from the naval buildup between Great Britain and Germany (with the famous Dreadnought battleships) that largely led to tensions before WWI.
In hindsight, it was yet another attempt by the still shell-shocked-from-the-massacre-of-the-trenches international community to ensure that never again would such a wasteful conflict occur. It stipulated that, going forward, nations would no more use warfare as a means to resolve “disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them.”
It was not long before the Pact crumbled. But not all of the Pact’s initiatives came to nothing. After the end of the Second World War, the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals utilised the legal framework established with the Pact to charge, sentence, and execute the top German and Japanese leadership. Most specifically, the prosecutors used the Crimes Against Peace clauses.
A noble attempt to end conflicts. But it ignored that war is an essential aspect of humanity.