The Kellogg-Briand Pact, an ambitious but inefficient treaty
On July 24th1929, the Kellogg-Briand pact went into effect. Also known as the Pact of Paris, this agreement stated that the signatory states promised to renounce the use of war as an instrument of national policy. It has been said of the Kellogg-Briand pact that it legally forbade war;this is not true. The Kellogg-Briand pact, a French-American initiative, proposed the conviction of using war as a way of resolving inter-state conflicts, and the settlement of these issues through peaceful methods. Although it has been applauded as a remarkable diplomatic initiative, the Pact was, in fact, a failure:it failed to impose sanctions in case its principles were breached. As such, the signatory states could easily break the Pact without fear of retribution.
The Kellogg-Briand Pact was signed in Paris, on August 27th1918, by representatives of 15 states:Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, New Zeeland, Poland, South Africa, Great Britain, the US and the Free Irish State.
In 1927, with the occasion of celebrating 10 years since America had joined the War, French Foreign Affairs Minister Aristide Briand went to Washington to present a project for a treaty through which the French and American governments would condemn the idea of war and promote a peaceful settlement of conflicts. The project was presented to Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg, who ‘really had no idea how to react when confronted with a document that condemned something nobody was afraid of and offered something everybody knew to be implied.’ However, Kellogg did accept to support such a pact, realizing it would have no practical consequences.
‘Aristide Briand was the classic political leader of the Third Republic. After beginning his career as a leftist activist, he became a permanent member of French cabinets – sometimes as prime minister, but most often as Foreign Affairs Minister. After the Great War, Aristide Briand quickly realised France’s relative superior position over Germany started to falter and concluded that a French-German agreement was the best solution for France’s long-term security. [...] Briand understood that if France didn’t pursue reconciliation, it would still happen in the end, but under Anglo-Saxon pressures and forced on by Germany’s growing power.’ (Henry Kissinger, in Diplomacy)
Kellogg took Briand’s idea even further and proposed that the treaty be not a bilateral one, between the USA and France, but an international one, open to any state that wished to accept its principles. Why the change? The Americans feared a bilateral treaty because it could’ve been interpreted as an alliance that would force the US to intervene in favour of France in case of a European conflict. This is way Kellogg proposed an open treaty. Later on, both the Americans and the French added changes to the initial treaty, imposing certain conditions that ended up restraining the pact’s applicability. For example, it stated that the pact must exclude from its principles the defensive wars and that it mustn’t affect a country’s prior obligations resulting from its status as a League of Nations member or signatory of the Locarno treaty.
The treaty project was very well received on the international diplomatic scene. After the Great War’s horrors, people liked the idea of condemning the war as illegal. Besides, because the treaty specifically said it only covered aggression wars (and not defensive ones also), many countries easily accepted to sign the pact.
American president Coolidge declared, in 1928, that ‘Respecting this pledge promises more to the world peace than any other agreement ever negotiated between nations’. Yet still, the Americans firmly refused to introduce any form of practical application of the treaty or any type of sanction that could limits its freedom of action.
The Kellogg-Briand act was one of the many diplomatic initiatives of the interwar period through which the European states hoped to prevent another war. Like the League of Nations treaty, the Kellogg-Briand pact, a symbol of the idealistic diplomacy of the 1920s, proposed grand pacifist ideas and principles, but with no applicability.
Only a few years after it was signed, in the first half of the 1930s, the pact was proved to be inefficient in stopping the development of militarism policies in states like Germany, Italy and Japan. Its uselessness became clear in 1931, when Japan, a signatory state of the pact, invaded the Chinese province of Manchuria, and the other countries realised they had no means of imposing the treaty’s clauses or sanction those who broke them.
However, the Kellogg-Briand pact proved to be useful after the war, serving as the foundation for creating the concept of ‘crimes against peace’, as well as for the UN Charter.