Iran’s Crisis of Legitimacy
An Embattled Regime Faces Mass Protests—and an Ailing Supreme Leader
FOUR years ago the United States joined with France in the initiation of the Pact of Paris—the so-called Briand-Kellogg Pact for the Renunciation of War. A year later, in 1929, the Pact became formally effective, and it has now been adhered to by sixty-two nations. Scarcely had its ratification been announced on July 24, 1929, when it became subjected to the first of a series of difficult challenges which are still going on. In the defense of the Pact in these tests the American Government has been a leader. I believe it would be appropriate, in the light of this three years' history, to take stock now of what the Pact is, the direction in which it is developing, and the part which we may hope that it eventually will play in the affairs of the world.
Events have been moving so rapidly since the World War, and we have been so close to them, that it is difficult to obtain an adequate perspective. I think, therefore, that it would be well to summarize briefly the background out of which this great treaty came and against which it must be judged.
Prior to the World War many men had had visions of a warless world and had made efforts to accomplish the abolition of war, but these efforts had never resulted in any very general or effective combinations of nations directed towards that end. During the centuries which had elapsed since the beginnings of international law, a large part of that law had been a development of principles based upon the existence of war. The existence and legality of war were to a large extent the central facts out of which these legal principles grew and on which they rested. Thus the development of the doctrine of neutrality was predicated upon the duty of a neutral to maintain impartiality between two belligerents. This further implies that each belligerent has equal rights and is owed equal duties by the neutral. It implies that the war between them is a legal situation out of which these rights and obligations grow. Therefore, it is contrary to this aspect of international law for the neutral to take sides between belligerents or to pass a moral judgment upon the rightfulness or wrongfulness of the cause of either—at least to the extent of translating such a judgment into action. So long as a neutral exercised this strict impartiality, international law afforded to him, his commerce, and his property, certain rights of protection. And during the generations which preceded the World War much of the growth of international humanitarianism was associated with attempts, not to abolish war but to narrow and confine its destructive effects by the development of these doctrines of neutrality. Their chief purpose was to produce oases of safety for life and property in a world which still recognized and legalized the destruction of human life and property as one of the regular methods for the settlement of international controversies and the maintenance of international policy.
The mechanical inventions of the century preceding the World War, and the revolutionary changes in industrial and social organization by which they were accompanied, have, however, produced inevitable effects upon the concept of war which I have described. Communities and nations became less self-contained and more interdependent; the populations of industrialized states became much larger and more dependent for their food supplies upon far distant sources; the civilized world thus became very much more vulnerable to war. On the other hand, with these mechanical advances modern armies became more easily transportable and therefore larger and were armed with far more destructive weapons. By these changes on either side the inconsistency of war with normal life became sharper and more acute; the destructiveness of war to civilization became more emphatic; the abnormality of war became more apparent. The laws of neutrality became increasingly ineffective to prevent even strangers to the original quarrel from being drawn into the general conflict.
Finally there came the World War, dragging into its maelstrom almost the entire civilized world; tangible proof was given of the impossibility of confining modern war within any narrow limits; and it became evident to the most casual observer that if this evolution were permitted to continue, war, perhaps the next war, would drag down and utterly destroy our civilization.
Before this war was over it began to be called "a war to end war," and at the Peace Conference at Versailles the victorious nations entered into a covenant which sought to reduce the possibility of war to its lowest terms. The League of Nations Covenant did not undertake entirely to proscribe wars between nations. It left unrestricted a zone in which such wars might occur without reprobation. Furthermore, it provided under certain circumstances for the use of force by the community of nations against a wrongdoer as a sanction. It created a community group of nations pledged to restrict war and equipped with machinery for that purpose. Some of this machinery, notably article 11, which provides, on a threat of war, for the calling of a conference for purposes of conciliation, has on several occasions proved a valuable influence in the prevention of war. Another important and beneficent result of the League organization has been the regular conferences which are held between the representatives of the different nations. These discussions have often proved to be effective agencies for the settlement of controversies and thus for war prevention. By them there also has been developed, particularly among the nations of Europe, a community spirit which can be evoked to prevent war. In all of these ways there has been produced the beginning of a group sentiment which is wholly at variance with some of the old doctrines in respect to war.
Nine years later, in 1928, came the still more sweeping step of the Pact of Paris, the Briand-Kellogg Treaty. In this treaty substantially all the nations of the world have united in a covenant in which they renounce war altogether as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another and have agreed that the settlement of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature among them should never be sought except by pacific means.
The change of attitude on the part of world public opinion toward former customs and doctrines, which is evidenced by these two treaties, is so revolutionary that it is not surprising that the progress has outstripped the landmarks and orientation of many observers. The treaties signalize a revolution in human thought, but they are not the result of impulse or thoughtless sentiment. At bottom they are the growth of necessity, the product of a consciousness that unless some such step were taken modern civilization might be doomed. Under its present organization the world simply could not go on recognizing war, with its constantly growing destructiveness, as one of the normal instrumentalities of human life. Human organization has become too complex, too fragile, to be subjected to the hazards of the new agencies of destruction turned loose under the sanction of international law. So the entire central point from which the problem was viewed was changed. War between nations was renounced by the signatories of the Briand-Kellogg Pact. This means that it has become illegal throughout practically the entire world. It is no longer to be the source and subject of rights. It is no longer to be the principle around which the duties, the conduct, and the rights of nations revolve. It is an illegal thing. Hereafter when two nations engage in armed conflict either one or both of them must be wrongdoers—violators of the general treaty. We no longer draw a circle about them and treat them with the punctilios of the duelist's code. Instead we denounce them as lawbreakers.
By that very act we have made obsolete many legal precedents and have given the legal profession the task of reëxamining many of its codes and treatises.
The language of the Briand-Kellogg Treaty and the contemporaneous statements of its founders make its purpose clear. Some of its critics have asserted that the Pact was really not a treaty at all; that it was not intended to confer rights and impose liabilities; that it was a mere group of unilateral statements made by the signatories, declaring a pious purpose on the part of each, of which purpose that signatory was to be the sole judge and executor, and for a violation of which no other signatory could call him to account.
If such an interpretation were correct, it would reduce the Pact to a mere gesture. If its promises conferred no rights as between the members of the community of signatories, it would be a sham. It would be worse than a nullity, for its failure would carry down the faith of the world in other efforts for peace.
But such critics are wrong. There is nothing in the language of the Pact nor in its contemporaneous history to justify any such an interpretation. On its face it is a treaty containing definite promises. In its preamble it expressly refers to the "benefits furnished by this treaty," and states that any signatory power violating its promise shall be denied those benefits. The correspondence of the framers of the treaty shows that they intended it to be a treaty which would confer benefits, which might be lost by a violation thereof. During the period when the treaty was under negotiation, Mr. Kellogg declared in a public address, made before this very body on March 15, 1928: "If war is to be abolished it must be through the conclusion of a specific treaty solemnly binding the parties not to resort to war with one another. It cannot be abolished by a mere declaration in the preamble of a treaty."[i] In drafting the treaty Mr. Kellogg rightly and tenaciously fought for a clear, terse prohibition free from any detailed definitions or reservations. In his own words, he sought "a treaty so simple and unconditional that the people of all nations could understand it, a declaration which could be a rallying point for world sentiment, a foundation on which to build a world peace."[ii] Any other course would have opened the door to technicalities and destructive limitations.
As it stands, the only limitation to the broad covenant against war is the right of self-defense. This right is so inherent and universal that it was not deemed necessary even to insert it expressly in the treaty. It is also so well understood that it does not weaken the treaty. It exists in the case of the individual under domestic law, as well as in the case of the nation and its citizens under the law of nations. Its limits have been clearly defined by countless precedents. A nation which sought to mask imperialistic policy under the guise of the defense of its nationals would soon be unmasked. It could not long hope to confuse or mislead public opinion on a subject so well understood or in a world in which facts can be so easily ascertained as they can be under the journalistic conditions of today.
Again, the Briand-Kellogg Pact provides for no sanctions of force. It does not require any signatory to intervene with measures of force in case the Pact is violated. Instead it rests upon the sanction of public opinion, which can be made one of the most potent sanctions in the world. Any other course, through the possibility of entangling the signatories in international politics, would have confused the broad and simple aim of the treaty and prevented the development of that public opinion upon which it most surely relies. Its efficacy depends upon the will of the people of the world to make it effective. If they desire to make it effective, it will be irresistible. Those critics who scoff at it have not accurately appraised the evolution in world opinion since the World War.
From the day of its ratification on July 24, 1929, it has been the determined aim of the American Government to make this sanction of public opinion effective and to insure that the Pact of Paris should become a living force in the world. We have recognized the hopes which it represented. We have resolved that they should not be disappointed. We have recognized that its effectiveness depends upon the cultivation of the mutual fidelity and good faith of the group of nations which has become its signatories, and which comprise virtually all of the nations of the world. We have been determined that the new order represented by this great treaty shall not fail.
In October 1929 President Hoover joined with Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, in a joint statement at the Rapidan in which they declared: "Both our Governments resolve to accept the Peace Pact not only as a declaration of good intentions, but as a positive obligation to direct national policy in accordance with its pledge." That declaration marked an epoch.
In the summer of 1929 hostilities threatened between Russia and China in northern Manchuria. Both nations were signatories of the Pact. It was the most difficult portion of the world in which such a challenge to this treaty could have occurred. Yet we at once took steps to organize public opinion in favor of peace. We communicated with the Governments of Great Britain, Japan, France, Italy and Germany, and the attention of the Governments of Russia and China was formally called to their obligations under the Treaty. Later during the same autumn, when hostilities actually broke out and military forces of Russia had crossed the Manchurian boundary and attacked the forces of China, our Government communicated with all the signatories of the Pact, suggesting that they urge upon Russia and China a peaceful solution of the controversy between them. Thirty-seven of these nations associated themselves with our action or signified their approval of our attitude. Although the aspect of the controversy had been extremely threatening and the forces of Russia had penetrated nearly a hundred miles within the boundaries of China, the restoration of the status quo ante was accepted by both parties and the invading forces were promptly withdrawn.
Two years later, in September 1931, hostilities broke out between the armed forces of Japan and China in the same quarter of the world, Manchuria, and the situation was brought to the attention of the Council of the League of Nations, which happened to be then in session at Geneva. Our Government was invited to confer as to the bearing of the Pact of Paris upon the controversy. We promptly accepted the invitation, designating a representative to meet with the Council for that purpose; and the attention of the two disputants was called to their obligations under the Pact by France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, Norway and the United States—those nations, other than the United States, being members of the Council then in session.
The hostilities between Japanese and Chinese armed forces continued and protracted efforts towards conciliation were made by the Council of the League, which had taken jurisdiction of the matter. The American Government maintained its attitude of sympathetic coöperation with the efforts of the Council and acting independently through the diplomatic channels endeavored to reënforce the Council's efforts at conciliation. Finally, when in spite of these efforts Japan had occupied all of Manchuria, the American Government formally notified both that country and China, on January 7, 1932, that it would not recognize any situation, treaty, or agreement which might be brought about by means contrary to the covenant and obligations of the Pact of Paris. Subsequently, on March 11, this action of the American Government was endorsed by the Assembly of the League of Nations, at a meeting in which fifty nations were represented. On that occasion, under circumstances of the utmost formality and solemnity, a resolution was adopted, unanimously, Japan alone refraining from voting, in which the Assembly declared that, "it is incumbent upon the members of the League of Nations not to recognize any situation, treaty or agreement which may be brought about by means contrary to the Covenant of the League of Nations or to the Pact of Paris."
These successive steps cannot be adequately appraised unless they are measured in the light of the vital change of point of view which I have described in the opening of this address. They were the acts of nations which were bound together by a new viewpoint towards war, as well as by covenants which made that viewpoint a reality. Except for this new viewpoint and these new covenants, these transactions in far-off Manchuria, under the rules of international law theretofore obtaining, might not have been deemed the concern of the United States and these fifty other nations. Under the former concepts of international law when a conflict occurred, it was usually deemed the concern only of the parties to the conflict. The others could only exercise and express a strict neutrality alike towards the injured and the aggressor. If they took any action or even expressed an opinion, it was likely to be deemed a hostile act towards the nation against which it was directed. The direct individual interest which every nation has in preventing a war had not yet been fully realized, nor had that interest been given legal recognition. But now under the covenants of the Briand-Kellogg Pact such a conflict becomes of legal concern to everybody connected with the Treaty. All of the steps taken to enforce the treaty must be judged by this new situation. As was said by M. Briand, quoting the words of President Coolidge: "An act of war in any part of the world is an act that injures the interests of my country." The world has learned that great lesson and the execution of the Briand-Kellogg Treaty codified it.
Thus the power of the Briand-Kellogg Treaty cannot be adequately appraised unless it is assumed that behind it rests the combined weight of the opinion of the entire world united by a deliberate covenant which gives to each nation the right to express its moral judgment. When the American Government took the responsibility of sending its note of January 7 last, it was a pioneer. It was appealing to a new common sentiment and to the provisions of a Treaty as yet untested. Its own refusal to recognize the fruits of aggression might be of comparatively little moment to an aggressor. But when the entire group of civilized nations took their stand beside the position of the American Government, the situation was revealed in its true sense. Moral disapproval, when it becomes the disapproval of the whole world, takes on a significance hitherto unknown in international law. For never before has international opinion been so organized and mobilized.
Another consequence which follows this development of the Briand-Kellogg Treaty, which I have been describing, is that consultation between the signatories of the Pact when faced with the threat of its violation becomes inevitable. Any effective invocation of the power of world opinion involves discussion and consultation. As long as the signatories of the Pact of Paris support the policy which the American Government has endeavored to establish during the past three years of arousing a united and living spirit of public opinion as a sanction to the Pact, as long as this course is adopted and endorsed by the great nations of the world who are signatories of that Treaty, consultations will take place as an incident to the unification of that opinion. The course which was followed in the Sino-Japanese controversy last winter conclusively proves that fact. The moment a situation arose which threatened the effectiveness of this Treaty, which the peoples of the world have come to regard as so vital to the protection of their interests, practically all the nations consulted in an effort to make effective the great peaceful purposes of that Treaty.
That the Pact thus necessarily carries with it the implication of consultation has perhaps not yet been fully appreciated by its well-wishers who have been so anxious that it be implemented by a formal provision for consultation. But with the clarification which has been given to its significance by the developments of the last three years, and the vitality with which it has been imbued by the positive construction put upon it, the misgivings of these well-wishers should be put at rest. That the American people subscribe to this view is made clear by the fact that each of the platforms recently adopted by the two great party conventions at Chicago contains a plank endorsing the principle of consultation.
I believe that this view of the Briand-Kellogg Treaty which I have been discussing will become one of the great and permanent policies of our nation. It is founded upon conceptions of law and ideals of peace which are among our most cherished faiths. It is a policy which combines the readiness to coöperate for peace and justice in the world, which Americans have always manifested, while at the same time it preserves the independence of judgment and the flexibility of action upon which we have always insisted. I believe that this policy must strike a chord of sympathy in the conscience of other nations. We all feel that the dreadful lessons taught by the World War must not be forgotten. The determination to abolish war which emerged from that calamity must not be relaxed. These aspirations of the world are expressed in this great Treaty. It is only by continued vigilance that it can be built into an effective living reality. The American people are serious in their support and evaluation of the Treaty. They will not fail to do their share in this endeavor.
[i] Speech of March 15, 1928, before the Council on Foreign Relations, New York. Published as Special Supplement to FOREIGN AFFAIRS, Vol. 6, No. 3.
[ii] Speech of March 28, 1930, before the League for Political Education at New York.