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  • The Rise and Fall of Euro-American Inter-State War
  • Nicholas Mulder (bio)

internationalism, war, peace, Kellogg-Briand Treaty, history of international law, aggression, conquest, self-defense, sanctions

The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017. xxii + 430 pp.

If one asked a group of historians, political scientists, and lawyers what they would consider the single most important treaty or international agreement of the last two centuries, one could expect a familiar set of names to be cited: Vienna, Versailles, the Geneva Conventions, Bretton Woods, Yalta, San Francisco, the GATT, Rome, Helsinki. Few would name the 1928 General Treaty for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, also known as the Paris Peace Pact and the Kellogg-Briand Pact, as the most significant. Yet this is the claim put forward by Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro in The Internationalists. The book is an original and provocative work that is grippingly written and makes an ambitious set of arguments spanning several different fields including history, international relations, political science, and international law. Hathaway and Shapiro are distinguished legal scholars at Yale Law School, where Hathaway teaches and works mainly on international law (besides her legal scholarship, she has served as Special Counsel to the General Counsel for National Security Law at the Pentagon); Shapiro holds appointments at the Law School as well as the Philosophy Department at Yale.

The Internationalists contains three layers of analysis. The first recovers the Kellogg-Briand Pact and underscores its singular importance to world history. Yet the Paris Peace Pact emerges from the book not so much as a significant episode in its own right—only a dozen or so pages are devoted to the way the treaty actually came to be—but rather as a pivotal point in the history of international law since the early seventeenth century. The essential argument of the book therefore resides at a deeper level, in what Hathaway and Shapiro call the turn from the Old World Order to the New World Order.

The Old World Order is the umbrella term they use to describe the ensemble of basic assumptions underlying the law of nations between the early seventeenth and early twentieth century. Its premise was that war was the basic legal procedure for righting wrongs. International law did not care about which party to a conflict possessed a rightful claim, and whose cause was therefore the most just. War was the main arbiter of inter-state disputes, with the spoils and the mantle of justice accruing [End Page 133] to the victor. Four legal rules followed from this: first, territorial conquest was legal; second, gunboat diplomacy was normal and permitted; third, economic sanctions as an alternative to war did not exist, because imposing them violated the impartiality that was essential to remaining legally neutral; and fourth, once a state of war existed, soldiers could kill, maim, and slaughter without being held individually accountable.

Hathaway and Shapiro anoint Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) as the archetypal thinker of this order. Although they trace the key features of his thinking, their picture of the Old World Order does not depend on Grotius's ideas alone. Hathaway and Shapiro provide a lucid tour d'horizon of the early modern philosophy of the laws of war. They point out the importance of war manifestos as expressions of grievances, shedding light on an understudied topic among historians of international law. Another chapter illuminates how the existence of a legal state of war allowed individuals to get away with murder. The overall picture that emerges is that of a legal universe that is radically different from the one we inhabit today. For centuries, war was not only tolerated, but also had an important regulative function in the international order because there were no overarching principles of right and wrong—in short, no substantive universal understanding of justice—upon which all countries agreed.

The Old World Order is a stylized depiction of a historical era, but this is the point of the analysis: to create an ideal type of how the laws of war functioned. One of...


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