Sunday, September 3, 2017

Countries conquer a lot less now

If you were to ask historians to name the most foolish treaty ever signed, odds are good that they would name the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. The pact, which was joined by 63 nations, outlawed war. Ending war is an absurdly ambitious goal. To think it could be done by treaty? Not just absurd but dangerously naïve.

And the critics would seem to be right. Just over a decade later, every nation that had joined the pact, with the exception of Ireland, was at war. Not only did the treaty fail to stop World War II but it also failed to stop the Korean War, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Indo-Pakistani wars, the Vietnam War, the Yugoslav civil war and the current conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and Yemen.

But the critics are wrong. Though the pact may not have ended all war, it was highly effective in ending the main reason countries had gone to war: conquest. ...

First, some context. Before 1928... international law also gave countries the right of conquest, meaning they could benefit from war by keeping its spoils, territory and, in some cases, people. ...

When it outlawed war, the Kellogg-Briand Pact changed nearly every rule that states had followed for centuries. Most important, countries could no longer establish right, justice or title by brute strength. Because war was now illegal, except in cases of self-defense, states lost the right of conquest. ...

With the research assistance of 18 Yale law students, we found that from 1816 until the Kellogg-Briand Pact was first signed in 1928, there was, on average, approximately one territorial conquest every 10 months. Put another way, the average state during this period had a 1.33 percent chance of being the victim of conquest in any given year. ...

A country with a 1.33 percent annual chance of conquest can expect to be conquered once in an ordinary human lifetime. And these conquests were not small. The average amount of territory seized between 1816 and 1928 was 114,088 square miles per year.

Since World War II, conquest has almost come to a full stop. The average number of conquests per year fell drastically — to 0.26 per year, or one every four years. The average size of the territory taken declined to a mere 5,772 square miles per year. And the likelihood that any individual state would suffer a conquest in an average year plummeted — from 1.33 percent to 0.17 percent, or once or twice a millennium. ...

The illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 might seem to prove us wrong. But the seizure of Crimea is the exception that proves the rule, precisely because of how rare conquests are today. Consider that before 1928, the amount of territory conquered every year was equal to roughly 11 Crimeas. In addition, nearly every state in the world has rejected the 2014 annexation as illegal, refusing to recognize Crimea as part of Russia.
--Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro, NYT, on the power of norms