The New York Times seems to be trying to rebrand itself as a history revisionism rag. First, it published an article that claimed that sex was so great in the old Soviet Empire that it was apparently one big Playboy Mansion. Now, the Times has published a piece by two law professors at Yale that claim that the Kellogg-Briand Pact actually worked.

What was the Pact?

The Kellogg-Briand Pact was an international agreement that was signed in 1928 that for all intents and purposes outlawed war as an instrument of national policy. The treaty, named after the then American Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and the French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand, also called upon signatories to settle their differences by peaceful means.

The agreement fell apart relatively quickly when Japan, which had signed the agreement, invaded Manchuria and took it from China. Things went downhill from there, climaxing in World War Two. The conventional wisdom was that the Kellogg Briand Pact was a piece of utopian foolishness, with no actual enforcement mechanism to back it up.

What is the New York Times talking about?

The thesis developed by the two Yale professors is that the Kellogg Briand Pact had a delayed effect that created the idea that Wars Of Conquest were no longer acceptable. This position seems rather remarkable considering the history of the post-World War Ii world. The authors do acknowledge the role of the nuclear balance of terror and the growth of free trade in tamping down wars of conquest.

They don’t mention that the terrible cost of World War II also put a damper on the idea of going to war to grab someone else’s territory. The most destructive war in history taught many countries that the best deterrence to war was not a scrap of paper but large militaries and powerful alliances.

Also, it’s not that countries didn’t try to grab the territory of their neighbors, The Korean War started as an attempt by North Korea to annex South Korea by force.

A coalition of Arab countries tried to conquer the nascent State of Israel less than three years after VE Day. Nineteen years later, Israel ended the Six Day War by occupying the West Bank of the Jordan River, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai as a bid to create defensible borders. A number of other conflicts, the Iran-Iraq War comes to mind, involved attempts to take territory but devolved into military stalemates.

Absent the nuclear balance of terror, it is virtually certain that the Soviet Union would have invaded Western Europe. A war between the USSR and Red China was only deterred by the presence of nuclear weapons. So, wars of conquest were not stopped by an obsolete treaty but by real world military and political considerations.