Peace and World Order


By LORD HALIFAX, British Ambassador to the United States

Delivered at the Annual Dinner of the American Society of International Law, Washington, D. C., April 29, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 460-462.

YOU will, I am sure, feel it is only fitting that before I go on to speak of other things, I should say a word about a great American who must be much in our thoughts tonight. Others have more right than I have to speak of all that Frank Knox achieved for the service he loved so well; of that mighty battle fleet he did so much to build; of the robust judgment, the courage and fighting spirit he brought to the councils of the nation.

For my part I cannot forget that for three years I was honored by his friendship; that I learned, more and more, bis value to our common cause and that, by word and example, he did as much as any man could do to foster a real comradeship in arms between your Navy and ours, and between your people and mine.

I am very glad to be here tonight to pay the tribute of a layman to the work which members of this association are doing in the field of international law. Particular significance attaches in these days to all that study, concerned as it is with so much that is directly at issue in this war. And, therefore, all thinking persons will have welcomed the statement, to which many members of this society have contributed, defining the action that seems requisite to lay "the basis of a just and enduring world peace, securing order under law to all nations."

There can be no field of inquiry closer to what I judge to be the public preoccupation at the present time. For I cannot doubt that the masses of the Allied peoples everywhere have two dominant thoughts, which can be truly said to include most of the things that matter to the world. The first is that they are determined to fight this war through and to finish it as quickly as they can; and the second is the question of how they can prevent there ever being another.

As to the first, we must all have a feeling of waiting on great events; waiting above all for the time when, now that the Allies have a preponderance of ships, planes, fighting material and men, we may strike decisive blows that will drive Germany and Japan out of the war. Meanwhile, our course is plain: It is to take no chance, to relax no effort, to hold back nothing that will hasten the day of victory.

The second thought is a question upon the answer to which depends the future of the human race. The best minds everywhere are working on it from every angle, for we realize how complex is the problem and how closely all parts of it are tied up together. Can we insure that the world will bind itself, both in written undertaking and in concrete act, to live in future, in the words of the preamble to the covenant of the League of Nations, "by the firm establishment of the understanding of international law as the actual rule of conduct among governments"? Or are the forces that would support and establish such a law once again to be swallowed by the jungle, of which the only maxim is:

"The good old rule, the simple plan,
That they should take who have the power
And they should keep who can"?

Nations, like individuals, have great opportunities. They can convert them to large achievement or they can let them go. The nations have let go many opportunities; and, as we reflect upon the rate of growth in the destructive capacity of a scientific age, we should be the more grateful if we are allowed another chance. For if we do not take advantage of it the human race may come perilously near self-extermination.

Can we do better this time? The answer will depend upon whether or not we can be clear-sighted enough to recognize and face the real elements in the problem, pleasing or ugly as these may be.

Earlier Efforts for Peace

Time was when there was real substance in the idea of the community of nations. The Roman Empire included within its borders the whole of the western civilized world, and in the shadow of its might peoples dwelt for generations in security. It vanished as a fact before the barbarian invasions and the division of the empire between Byzantium and Rome; but it survived as an idea in the concept of the unity of Christendom and in the shadowy supremacy of the Holy Roman Empire, which with the passage of years became, in the words of Voltaire, "neither holy nor Roman nor an empire." Such fragments of unity as remained at the close of the Middle Ages were further broken by the Reformation and the rise of strong national states. War followed war, with hardly a breathing space, while a few men patiently, but in vain, labored to rediscover the lost art of peace.

From their efforts we had the beginnings of a law of nations, with the publication in 1625 of Grotius' great work, "De Jure Belli ac Pacis." Many different suggestions were made to restore the broken unity of Europe: the "Grand Design" associated with Sully, Minister of Henry IV of France; William Penn's "Eassy Toward the Present and Future Peace of Europe"; the "Fundamental Treaty" of the Abbe Saint-Pierre; Kant's "Treatise on Perpetual Peace"; the Holy Alliance—to name the more famous only of these projects.

We had the great European Congresses—Westphalia, Utrecht, Vienna, Berlin. But these, for all their importance, were hardly more than glimmers in the surrounding gloom. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries every decade had its war; and even after 1815, when the British Navy sailed the seas without serious challenge, wars, though localized, continued; and in this uneasy fashion we reached the twentieth century, the first World War, and the great, but for the time at least unsuccessful experiment of a League of Nations.

It is a long story. Why has humanity been so frustrated? Causes of failure to prevent war, like the actual causes of war, have varied at different times. In the Middle Ages and indeed, later, religious and dynastic influences were far stronger breeders of wars than they are today; though these wars often left little mark upon the life of the ordinarypopulation. It is also true that economic maladjustments, as we know them in the light of what we have learned in a century of mechanical invention, were less tormenting to our forefathers than they are to us. These maladjustments, with the economic disorders they produced, by pre-disposing people to accept bad advice, gave the gangster dictators exactly the opportunity they needed.

So one could go on, comparing and contrasting. But through all the variations we can plainly discover certain elements, forces, facts that in different circumstances remain fairly constant, and that go some way to explain the difficulties which have thwarted realization of the idea of inter national solidarity.

The first is, of course, that which we call nationalism, the sense which makes men, organized in a nation, conscious of their distinction from other national groups and leads them to prefer their own group to any other. Here, plainly, there is something which goes very deep both in history and human nature and has been a powerful force for both good and evil. But whatever its merits or demerits, it is in the world to stay, and no plan for more stable international order has a hope of succeeding that does not take it into full account.

Self-sufficiency a "Delusion"

The second fact is that wars induce in nations a desire for unity which peace often dissolves. Emotion is a stronger spur than reason, and when the storm clouds of war are emptying themselves upon the earth nations may register many good resolutions which are apt to fade when the skies clear.

"The devil was ill, the devil a monk would be;
The devil was well, the devil a monk was he."

The third thing, that we are very apt to forget, is how slow and difficult has been human progress and how very gradually we can expect to make large changes in human motive. The time has gone by when we might have been tempted to think of progress as something quasi-automatic, given enough mechanical aids to simplify, support and embellish daily life. We have seen too clearly how thin is the crust that separates man from animal and how easily something which we had thought firm and permanent can be thrown back into barbarism.

What, then, are we to think? For if we no longer can go to sleep with the thought of progress being easy and assured, we certainly cannot any longer take refuge in any kind of escapist philosophy. Neither as individuals nor as nations is it likely to be possible for us to stand on one side and keep out of the way of the traffic or to suppose that in a world that gets smaller every day political or economic conditions will allow any nation for long to enjoy the delusion of self-sufficiency.

Fortunately we can learn from our latest and greatest failure. It would not be hard to compile a list of the mistakes that the democracies made after 1918, but it all largely comes back to some very simple and very broad miscalculations.

Warns Against Disarming

You in the United States and we in the United Kingdom thought that what was so abundantly clear to us—namely, that for victors and vanquished alike war was a disastrous interlude—must be equally clear to everybody else. But it was not. And this instinctive misjudgment was responsible for giving many people a wholly exaggerated view of the strength of the League of Nations and of leading them to place quite undue faith in the mere signature of pacts and treaties.

This again led to our tragic mistake of putting the cart before the horse in the whole business of disarmament. Trusting to our own good intentions, believing that what was clear to us about war being a bad solution must also be clear to others, we pushed on with disarming ourselves and disarming by agreement our late allies, while failing effectively to control the rearmament of those who had lately been our enemies.

I have called this putting the cart before the horse, because we did it all before we had established any firm system of security that would be called into operation if anything went wrong with our arrangements. And if there is one thing I would suppose was quite certain about our post-war actions this time, it is that neither you nor we shall be so mad as to disarm our nations except on a proved and established basis of security.

What does that mean? It means in the first place the refusal, by whatever action may seem the most sure, to the late aggressors of any opportunity to begin again. It means, secondly, the maintenance of these controls or prohibitions until we are satisfied that there is a real and a permanent change of heart. It means, finally, the refusal to permit any one-sided infraction of any terms that are imposed or accepted.

This last must be one of the fundamental principles of international action after the war. If law is to be effective, it must be applied always, everywhere and to all. We do not acquit a man of murder because he is a wealthy citizen, or because his victim was an old man who had not long to live. We do not acquit a man of theft because the amount he stole was not very large. Let the criminal get away with one crime and he is already half-way to the commission of another. And with Hitler, as with Japan, nothing succeeded so fatally as success.

I am not concerned to argue at what particular point they could have been halted in their depredations. No one knows better than I do how tragically our diplomacy, and I daresay yours, was hampered by the fact of which I spoke a moment ago—namely, that we had thrown away our strength. But that should not blind us to the truth that with each successful infraction, international law was weakened and the next crime came more easily.

Every part of this program makes two demands upon us. It demands the existence of force in some form which can, if necessary, be invoked as the law-abiding citizen invokes the policeman to keep order. It also demands the continued readiness of public opinion in all the peace-loving nations to remain resolute in this business of enforcement. Certainly our leaders must lead; but if they have insufficient regard for the thought of those who follow, they may not impossibly find themselves in the position that led the British statesman Disraeli on a historic occasion to describe the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, as being "an emperor without his army."

Must Face Responsibility

Three weeks ago Mr. Hull addressed a serious and timely warning on this very point. "A proposal," he said, "is worse than useless if it is not acceptable to those nations who must share with us the responsibility for its execution. It is dangerous for us and misleading for them if in the final outcome it does not have the necessary support in this country." And what is true of the United States is true, with due allowance for variations of constitutional machinery, of other countries, too.

Can we, then, reasonably look forward to public opinion here and in the British Commonwealth being willing for the requisite period of time to accept the great responsibility that must go with power and that must surely accompany a victory, in the approach to which, through many almost miraculous deliveries, we can hardly fail to see the overruling, hand of God?

The great powers cannot abdicate or delegate the responsibilities which their greatness has thrust upon them. They cannot take shelter behind a rampart of small states or suppose that a collective pronouncement of high intention can by itself and on all occasions take the place of action.

Nothing is more easy than to be gloomy about the future. It is easy to recall that in 1918 we had the same good intentions and made the same good resolutions. It is also true that at the end of this war the problems of peace are going to be much more difficult than they were at the end of the last war. Yet mankind never crosses the same river twice and it is perhaps reasonable to hope that the world will not twice make the same mistakes. Macaulay used to say that "no man who is correctly informed as to the past will be disposed to take a morose or disappointing view of the present."

And with all the disappointment and anxiety which we must feel, there is something to set upon the other side. During the last 150 years the world has made real progress toward recovery of the idea of a working society of nations. That progress is plainly, if unostentatiously, marked by a number of conventions and agreements, all of which, whatever may have been their intrinsic importance, plainly acknowledge that there is such a thing as an international community.

There were the numerous congresses and conferences of the nineteenth century, held either to liquidate or avert a war and important as registering the conviction that war is not merely the affair of the actual or potential combatants. And in 1918 we saw the culminating experiment of the League of Nations which, apart from its subsidiary, the International Labor Office, and its fruitful activities in the field of humanitarian and scientific endeavor, did realize, in a form however incomplete, the idea of an international society.

With all this slow but recognizable progress, large changes were bound to occur in the old conception of neutrality. So long as a war could be regarded as a private quarrel between two countries, other countries not directly concerned might hope to remain outside it. But one effect of the influence exerted upon world thought by the League of Nations has been to make war less the exclusive concern of combatants and more an offense against international law and order. In this war, more plainly even than in the last, we have found that no neutrality will avail by itself to protect the interests of a neutral or even to secure its national existence.

Furthermore, today the whole character of war has altered. Certainly this war is about something much more profound than frontiers or interests, as we used to understand them. And if the world should ever fail to keep the peace in the future, it is probably safe to assume' that this would be because of a clash of fundamental ideas affecting all society.

The cumulative effect of these converging forces is to make it probable that the process of revising the old conception of neutrality will continue and that there will be a proportionate development in the idea that the protection of peace and world order are of common concern to all.

With all this, we must never lose sight of the momentum to war given by the economic and social disorders of our time. No political action by itself can be relied upon to keep war from the world unless we all realize how closely these problems belong to our peace and are prepared with resolution to meet and master them together. I do not say that we shall ever find their solution easy; but I am pretty sure that we shall never solve them separately.

The nations were far from accepting these truths twenty-five years ago, but they are a good deal nearer to them today. And as between the United States and the British Commonwealth, there is the further undoubted fact that the present war has brought us to a better knowledge of each other. It is leading both our peoples to realize that in discharging whatever responsibilities the needs of world security may place upon us, we are not and shall not be acting in any spirit of good fairy generosity to the world, but in the strictest temper of self-interest.

Urges Cooperation

It is one of the crowning mercies of our times that there is no part of the earth's surface where American and British interests are in clash, or where, on the other hand, it is not to the highest advantage of both that they should stand together.

But there is perhaps something deeper than any of this, if we can truly make the thought real and our own. Our nations are now partners in this struggle. Many thousands from each nation are fighting side by side with the other in a comradeship of arms, and on a scale the like of which the world has seldom seen. Each day their unity is being welded and consecrated anew through sacrifice. They are our representatives, in that they are where they are because their respective nations have chosen them for that work. Most of us perhaps feel that they are more than our representatives, as with deep humility we read fractions of the single story of courage and devotion that filter back from them to us on our home fronts.

Must we not rightly feel, as they are part of us and we of them, that the best way to prove ourselves not unworthy of their company is to build that same fellowship between our peoples of which they, our noblest and our best, have shown the pattern ? To do less would surely be to fail and to betray them by leaving their work half done. Nor are we likely to find any cause of greater inspiration in the days of peace than that to which those whom I have called our representatives have so freely surrendered themselves in war.