Paris and the Kellogg-Briand Treaty


December 13, 2015 1:29 PM



The Paris Climate Confab has wound up, and we have an agreement.

I don’t know any more about the details of the deal than what John Kerry said on TV this morning.  But from what he said, two words popped into mind:  “Kellogg-Briand”.  K-B isn’t much taught in the history books these days, probably because international diplomats would like us to forget about it.  It was a 1928 treaty, ramrodded by the U. S. (Secretary of Sate Kellogg) and France (Foreign Minister Briand) to outlaw war (formal title is “General Treaty for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy”).  Initially 62 countries signed on including the U. S., U. K. and France, but also notably Germany, Italy and Japan.

K-B was announced with much hoisting of champagne glasses and back-patting among diplomats.   Wow.  No More War.  We just made it illegal.

Of course, a few years later Japan took over Manchuria by force and invaded China.  Italy bombed, gassed and invaded Ethiopia.  Then Germany touched off WWII by tankety-tanking Poland.  Diplomatic historians note the nasty diplomatic exchanges at each juncture reminding Japan, Italy and Germany of their “international obligations” under the Kellogg-Briand Pact.  Messrs. Tojo, Mussolini and Hitler were obviously unimpressed.

Secretary Kerry’s shorthand version of the Paris agreement this morning is that most countries have submitted an “emissions reduction plan”.  There is a mandatory reporting requirement for progress on that plan…every five years. And…  Well, there is no “and”.  Countries can presumably fill out a piece of paper, with whatever numbers look good, every five years, and that’s that.  Think China.  And unlike K-B, it isn’t even a treaty, a legal nicety that probably makes little difference.

Maybe there’s more to it than that, but one doubts.  Mr. Kerry had every incentive to put the best possible face on it, and that’s all he had.

Don’t ice down any bubbly.  Looks more like a K-Besque non-treaty to outlaw atmospheric carbon.

Historical note.  K-B is still technically in effect.  In 1971 Barbados, with great fanfare, became the last signatory to the Kellogg-Briand Pact.  They got a standing ovation at the U. N.



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  • deanadams

    Note the complete lack of a) acknowledging the severity of the problem and b) any alternative program or agreement that would be feasible considering GOP refusal to do (a).

  • IndyJEF

    I don’t know why I read this article. I knew it would be a waste of time but… I hoped for something positive. It’s hard for right wing humbugs to see anything positive that the current Administration is trying to accomplish.

  • David Weinschrott

    the lack of “teeth” is deliberate. The president can implement the US response with executive orders if no obligation is stated in the aggreement. If it were more like the nature of a treaty, then Congress would have scope to strike it down. Kerry worked hard the other day to strike a passage with the word “will” in it replaced by the word “should. ” it was reported in the NYT. The ludites in Congress in their every day, every issue obstruction make this strategy necessary to make any progress possible on important issues. When will we be delivered from this irrational drag on common sense policy?