Of War and Peace
Part two: Controlling Genghis Khan
Last month we referred to the problem posed by powerful warlords such as Genghis Khan, who have crushed civilisations and terrorised populations from time immemorial. Two inventions, one of the 18th century and one of the 20th, when taken together, offered for the first time in human history a solution to this all-important problem. This month we have space to describe only the 20th century invention.
For centuries prior to the first world war there had been attempts to reduce the threat of war by the signing of treaties between neighbouring states. It made obvious sense, peace being a desirable condition, to sign a non-aggression pact with a powerful neighbour. This device was recommended four hundred years ago by Niccolo Machiavelli, though he did advise against keeping treaty promises if those promises became seen as having become too burdensome or contrary to the interest of Princes. It was even recommended as worthwhile sometimes to make a treaty with a neighbour in order to throw him off guard, as a prelude to invasion.
An instance of such thinking can be found in recent times in Hitler’s speeches. Earlier speeches were frankly threatening, talking about the need for a talented people to spread out, when economic threats must give way to the power of the sword, about the need for lebersraum at the expense of inferior races, and so on, but nearer the time of the second world war, a time when he had firmly decided upon war, Hitler’s speeches (1938) became bland and conciliatory, even expressing the wish to live in peace and eternal friendship with his neighbours.
A dense web of treaties, with no solid guarantee that any would be honoured, was clearly not the answer to controlling rogue states. Sometimes, indeed, treaties were used as a prelude to war on neighbouring non-signatories, the purpose of the treaty being not to seek peace, but instead to ensure the success of a combined military adventure.
But with the
prompt of a savage world war, perceptions changed. A genuine attempt was made
to approach the problem of war along cooperative lines with the founding of the
The League did
well at first, but failed due to lack of commitment of its member nations.
Mussolini broke the rules by invading
Then came the
second world war, even more horrific than the first, and once more an attempt
at cooperative security was tried. The United Nations Organisation was formed,
and this time the
Next month: Of war and peace: The 18th century invention that complements and completes the 20th century invention.