Politics

Letters From the January 7, 2019, Issue

The War on War

In his review of Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro’s The Internationalists [“The War Against War,” Dec. 3/10], Stephen Wertheim perpetuates the erroneous notion that the Pact of Paris sought to “outlaw” war. As Wertheim writes, the pact “outlawed ‘war,’ full stop.” In fact, it did no such thing. The word “outlawed” or “outlawry” does not appear in its two substantive articles. Instead, the pact calls for the signatories to “renounce it [war] as an instrument of national policy.”

Although outlawing war and renouncing its use might seem to come to the same thing, the distinction is critical. It split the US peace movement in the 1920s, with passionate believers on both sides. Nicholas Murray Butler, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was this country’s strongest advocate for the renunciationists. Outlawing war, he said, would be as futile as passing a resolution outlawing hypocrisy. In addition to being useless, it inevitably had to be tied to some scheme for punishing transgressors. Renunciation, on the other hand, was a voluntary act with significant moral consequences.

Although Frank B. Kellogg and Aristide Briand, the pact’s architects, weren’t necessarily convinced by Butler’s arguments (Kellogg and Butler in fact detested each other), they did finally settle on calling for the “High Contracting Parties” to sign on to renounce the use of war. No effort was made to outlaw it or declare it illegal.

Michael Rosenthal
new york city

Stephen Wertheim Replies

I thank Michael Rosenthal for recovering the distinction between the renunciation and the outlawry of war. That figures like Butler insisted on stopping at the former, in part because the latter might imply a need to punish transgressors, seems to strengthen my point that the Pact of Paris was born of contradictory visions: one pacifist and the other sanctionist, with a continuum in between.

Nevertheless, to many of its supporters at the time, the pact undermined the legality of war (except in “self-defense,” a notably capacious category) and constituted the high-water mark of the “outlawry” movement. And despite what Butler intended, its ultimate—inevitable?—significance was to supply a rationale for war against war.

Stephen Wertheim
new york city

The US as It Should Be

“What would it mean to be a leftist in foreign policy?” David Klion asks in his review of The World as It Is, the new memoir by former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes [“The Blob,” Nov. 12]. To begin with, it would mean insisting that our government renounce the use of force outside our borders unless authorized by the United Nations Security Council. This is already every nation’s obligation, so we would simply be demanding that our government obey the law.

Next, we should insist that our government renounce the first use of nuclear weapons and also, as we’ve already pledged to do in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, make every effort to move toward their complete abolition.

Finally, the United States should promote democracy internationally. The best way to do this would be to flood the world with copies of The Politics of Nonviolent Action and other books by Gene Sharp. Nonviolent direct action is the most effective vehicle of social change and democratic self-organization.

George Scialabba
cambridge, mass.


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