Kellogg-Briand Pact

Dark green: original signatories
Green: subsequent adherents
Light blue: territories of parties
Dark blue: League of Nations mandates
administered by parties

The Kellogg-Briand Pact was an agreement signed by a number of nations in 1928, named after Frank B. Kellogg, United States Secretary of State, and Aristide Briande, the foreign minister of France. Its intention was to outlaw the use of war to resolve disputes between signatory states. Its first signatories, on August 27, 1928, were the United States, France, and Germany; most other powers signed afterwards. Although the pact was unsuccessful in preventing the re-militarization that eventually led to World War II, its intentions were incorporated into the United Nations Charter in the 1940s.


After World War One, many Americans were determined that the United States should not become involved in another war. Their methods of trying to achieve this were varied – some pointed to the new World Court and the existing League of Nations as being the best forums in which to decide international disagreements, while others believed that disarmament was the first priority. The latter group tended to speak out in favor of the 1921 Washington Naval Conference and its successors.

A further group, generally given the title of peace advocates, went further and declared that war itself should be made illegal. Among the most prominent people to be involved with this faction were James T. Shotwell and Nicholas Murray Butler, who had close links with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. This organization had been set up by the renowned industrialist, Andrew Carnegie, in 1910, and had as its aim the promotion of internationalism.

French Involvement

Butler and Shotwell helped Briand to suggest an agreement on bilateral terms between France and the United States, with the effect of outlawing the two nations from going to war with each other. France had suffered greatly in World War One and remained nervous of neighboring Germany’s future intentions. As such, the country was eager to make alliances with other world powers, especially those which would strengthen its somewhat unevenly spread defenses. In April 1927, Briand published the proposal in an open letter.

The suggestion was received coolly in Washington by President Coolidge and by Kellogg, although elements within the U.S. peace movement were much more enthusiastic. Coolidge and Kellogg were concerned that the bilateral nature of the proposed pact might be taken to mean that the U.S. would have to intervene if the security of France ever came under threat. The way out of this, they decided, was to use the bilateral agreement merely as a starting point to encourage other nations to sign up to the abolition of war.

An International Dimension

The notion of extending the pact was warmly received in international circles. World War One had caused grievous losses in many countries, and there was a strong distaste for anything that might lead to a repeat. Public opinion was strongly in favor of outlawing war, while most nations were satisfied by the pact’s provision that acts of self-defense would be excluded from the prohibition; wars of aggression would be the only types of military action to be expressly banned.

International governments also calculated that signing up to the agreement posed them little real risk. If the pact proved to be a success, then it would be to the benefit of all parties. If, however, it failed, there would be no legal consequences. By the early months of 1928, negotiations had expanded to include all the powers which eventually became part of the first round of signatories, and the pact took its final form: one clause made war as a matter of national policy illegal, while the other urged signatories to use peaceful means to settle disputes.

Fifteen nations attended the initial signing session for the pact, which was held in Paris on August 27, 1928. These included most of the existing great powers, including Britain, Germany, Italy, and Japan, as well as the original authors, France and the United States. The other signatories were drawn from two groups: one consisting of the British territories such as Canada, the other made up of smaller European nations like Belgium. The Soviet Union was a notable exception. The U.S. Senate, having established that the pact did not prevent the U.S. acting militarily in self-defense, ratified the pact by an 85-1 vote.

The Pact in Action

The first significant test of the Kellogg-Briand pact came in 1931 with the Mukden Incident, in which Japan invaded Manchuria. Japan was a signatory to the agreement, but neither the League of Nations nor the United States was eager to take strong action, partly on account of the ravages many parts of the world were experiencing in the midst of the Great Depression. Japan therefore had an almost free hand to behave as it wished in Manchuria, and this in turn signaled the pact’s essential weakness to other powers.

During the 1930s, the increasingly militaristic nature of the governments of Germany, Italy, and Austria placed the pact under further pressure. It became clear that the exemption for self-defense in the agreement’s wording was vague, and could therefore be interpreted to any party’s best advantage. Because of its numerous loopholes, the pact was more symbolic than actual in its anti-war expression, and it was ineffective in preventing the outbreak of World War Two. Nevertheless, Kellogg was awarded the 1929 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the pact.

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