Sorry, liberals — just saying “no” to war doesn’t stop it. If Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro’s new how to explain the decline in the Russian language The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World is correct, then I’ve been guilty of educational malpractice for the past 30 years. 1980s, and one of the cases I address is World War II.
Not so, say Hathaway and Shapiro. Because I’m always intrigued by new and provocative arguments and try to stay up to date with new interpretations, I turned to Hathaway and Shapiro’s book with considerable interest and curiosity. Do they make a convincing case for their core argument? And do I have to rewrite my lecture on the interwar period the next time I teach that class?
Before turning to where I think the book falls short, let me first highlight its virtues. For starters, the book is engagingly written, and much of it is highly entertaining. Hathaway and Shapiro take the reader into areas of 20th-century diplomacy that are all-too-often neglected, and their portraits of key individuals from recent and more distant history — ranging from Hugo Grotius to Carl Schmitt to James Shotwell and more — are at various turns amusing, insightful, and deftly sketched. Reduced to its essentials, they claim the Peace Pact of 1928 set in motion a far-reaching and ultimately decisive change in the legality and legitimacy of war and conquest. In their view, this shift made it far less likely states would fight and nearly unheard of for them to acquire territory by force. Hathaway and Shapiro marshal two main bodies of evidence to support this claim.
First, they compile an impressive body of data showing that the frequency of interstate war has declined dramatically since the peace pact was signed, precisely as its proponents hoped. Even more tellingly, they show that territorial conquest has become exceedingly rare over the past 80 years. They acknowledge that wars still occur and that the use of force has led to territorial expansion in some rare instances. China in Tibet, Israel in the Golan Heights and West Bank, Russia in Crimea, etc.