Quarterly - FOCUS IN/ON

Acts of aggression by Germany, Japan, and Italy instigated the Second World War, and the Kellogg-Briand Pact would be cited as one of the key documents with which to condemn the aggressors. At the close of the war, the United States was the chief architect of a new order to maintain peace, with the United Nations as a chief cornerstone. The United Nations Security Council was set up to prevent another war between the major powers by giving all of them permanent seats on the Council and veto power. Developments in international law such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Genocide Convention were supposed to make war more humane and prevent mass atrocities.

Unfortunately, it is still the case that laws to abolish war or to ameliorate its effects usually fail to prevent war and its destruction. Someone needs to enforce the law, and the only state capable and willing to do so often refuses to play in the system of its own making. As with the League of Nations, the United States was influential in the formation of the Genocide Convention of 1948, which it then didn’t sign until the 1980s, and of the International Criminal Court, which it refuses to join, unwilling to subject its own actions to international law. This is not to say that the laws of war are useless, or that the repeated iterations and refinements of international laws of war over time have not been a sign of progress. Even a powerful nation like the United States has its actions scrutinized in the Iraq war and is pressured to embed media to portray the battlefield to the public. And though there has been much controversy around treatment of U.S. prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, the very existence of controversy speaks volumes toward the power of the law.

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