Code of Peace: Ethics and Security in the World of the Warlord States

Dorothy V Jones (author); University of Chicago Press, 1991

By Penny Sanger (reviewer) | 1992-09-01 12:00:00

Dorothy Jones's "Code of Peace" is a set of nine principles that is sup-posed to guide states and their relationships as they work toward a goal of worldwide peace and security. They are all familiar: sovereign equality, political independence, and territorial integrity of states; peaceful settlement of disputes; equal rights and self-determination of peoples; non-intervention; no threat or use of force; cooperation, fulfillment of international obligations; respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Many readers of this magazine could probably tick them off mentally before they open the book. Two others, the creation of an equitable international economic order and protection of the environment, are cited but described as more recent principles which have won wide but not yet universal agreement.

These principles aren't all written down in any particular charter for nations to swear by when they take their seats at the United Nations. They have been slowly and painfully woven into the web of basically acceptable international behavior, mostly in the past century, by means of treaties, conventions, declarations and other international instruments.

And for many peace-loving people who in their lifetimes have seen war reach peaks of unimaginable ferocity; spread to most regions of the world and still command our best brains and most of our economic resources, such a collection of "rules" for peace seems hypocritical or at best meaningless.

But Dorothy Jones's achievement -she won the 1991 550,000 Lionel Gelber prize for the best book in English on international relations-is to convince us that these motherhood statements do represent a significant inching forward of the rule of international law and morality. She has unpicked from the fabric of history those frail strands which carry the hopes for peace, and shows how they were eventually woven into the tatters of 20th century diplomacy.

At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 the Polish delegate (considered a moderate) could say openly, "We have too many Jews.... Unless restrictions are placed on them soon, all our lawyers, doctors and small merchants will be Jews." The League of Nations committed itself to the equality of nations (though the arrival of the Ethiopians caused a sensation) and to practical advancement of human rights. But it operated in a political climate that made any intervention in a nation's internal affairs extremely difficult.

So these pages put today's clash between human rights and national sovereignty-in a world in which both are still keys to freedom-into clearer focus. The claims of minorities, workers, women, and whole racial groups managed eventually to attract the attention of the League and then the United Nations. But those fledgling bodies were also coping with an influx of new member states in which concepts of national sovereignty and noninterference ran just as strong as in the old Europe.

Not surprisingly it was the vision and skill of individuals and citizens' organizations that made the leaders listen and act. Samuel Gompers, for instance, the American Federation of Labor delegate to the 1919 peace conference, was committed to strengthening labor's bargaining position worldwide. The outlook for working people in Europe and America at that time was both bleak and turbulent. But how could international standards such as an eight-hour day be acceptable in Asian countries where the normal day was much longer? In the end Gompers and his colleagues' answer was to acknowledge that states' decision-making had a national base but to balance this reality with an international labor structure in which labor, management and government each have delegates but the voting system discourages unitary national viewpoints. The International Labor Organization continues this system today.

In April 1919 an International Council of Women delegation argued strongly in front of the commission then drafting the Covenant of the League of Nations for equal suffrage and the appointment of women as delegates to and officials of the League. They and many women's groups from all parts of the world continued this struggle for 30 years, being routinely welcomed, then ignored. They learned and passed on to other human rights groups after World War II, the importance of taking and keeping the international initiative. Gains will always be slow. In the international arena, states only reluctantly lace up to the complicated business of weaving morality into their rules of conduct.

For Nicholas Politis, the Greek delegate to the League of Nations, morality was as necessary as law if the international community was to govern itself well. Some of its elements-the spirit of justice, mutual respect and assistance, moderation, loyalty, solidarity-are necessary for each state's self-interest. More important, he showed that these elements serve as anchors in a closely tied web of reciprocal international obligations he called La Morale Internationale.

But what does any of this matter, if nations now seem to be even more warlike and their leaders more bloodthirsty than ever?

Dorothy Jones lists 79 international documents, beginning with the 1919 Covenant of the League of Nations, from which she drew her Code of Peace. The last cited is the 1989 final document of the Vienna Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). In 70 years, after centuries of using war as an instrument of policy, the warlords learned to acknowledge the need, at the very least, for better public manners.

And the reason we should be seriously hopeful rather than skeptical about these agreements is that many of them have spawned practical efforts to put the principles they embody into practice. Reading through the hook's well-organized appendices is a short trip through the United Nations' mighty efforts to translate its words into actions. Not nearly enough, and not soon enough, for instance, for the 50 million people who now face famine. But this book should give us all stronger heart for the struggles ahead.

Reviewed by Penny Sanger; a freelance journalist based in Ottawa.

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1992

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1992, page 24. Some rights reserved.

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