The very fact that the treaty existed was a powerful tribute to the force of public opinion against war, and to the very considerable lobbying effort of peace organizations. Negotiation of the treaty “capped a decade of achievement for pacifists and internationalists,” wrote Norman Ingram. The revulsion against the slaughter of war was so intense, and public advocacy for international cooperation so widespread, that political leaders felt obligated to respond. Kellogg admitted as much in a message to Briand: “there is a tremendous demand in this country and probably in foreign countries for the so-called outlawry of war.” Yet the very activists who campaigned to end war were the most skeptical of the resulting agreement and understood only too well that it would do little or nothing to reduce the likelihood of armed conflict.
The debate over the Pact of Paris reflected an underlying contradiction that has plagued peace advocacy throughout history and remains unresolved to this day: how to balance the principle of noninterference with the challenge of collective security. The system of international law that Grotius developed and that was codified at Westphalia was based on the preservation of state sovereignty. States were not to intervene militarily in the affairs of others. The League of Nations, on the other hand, was an attempt to create a system of collective security, in which member states would be obligated to submit disputes to international arbitration, and would be required to take action, including the use of military force, in response to aggression and violations of international law. The debate over intervention and collective security continued and intensified into the 1930s. When critical challenges to international peace emerged in Manchuria, Ethiopia, Spain, and Czechoslovakia, political leaders were put to the test and failed to respond. The solemn vows of the Kellogg– Briand Pact and the Covenant of the League of Nations were ignored.
Many peace advocates were skeptical of the collective security concept and doubtful that a League dominated by the major imperial powers would be able to act decisively against aggression. As philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote, it was unrealistic to expect that members of the League would use military force to block Japanese aggression in Manchuria. The British government had friendly relations with Japan, France was preoccupied closer to home, and both governments were busy policing their colonial possessions. Similar self-interested calculations prevented collective action during the crises in Ethiopia and Spain.
To counter fascist aggression would have required a substantial military commitment and perhaps major combat, which could have spread into the general conflagration that political leaders were attempting to avoid. “Nations will only go to war,” Russell observed, “when they believe their national interests to be involved; and the enforcement of international law is not yet recognized as in itself a national interest.” The desire to use the League’s collective security machinery was based on peace sentiment, yet it depended upon the willingness to wage war. This inherent contradiction crippled the League and has plagued the United Nations as well.