World Peace Through Law

The Long-Forgotten Peace Plan of Five Past American Presidentsjames

by Prof. James T. Ranney (for fuller versions, email:

                  We must end war.  How to avoid a nuclear war is the most important issue facing humanity.  As H.G. Wells put it (1935):  “If we don’t end war, war will end us.”  Or, as President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev said in their joint statement at the 1985 Geneva Summit:  “a nuclear war cannot be won, and must never be fought.”

But apparently we have not thought through the full implications of the above statement.  For if the above proposition is true, it follows that we need to develop alternatives to war.  And therein lies the simple crux of our proposal:  global alternative dispute resolution mechanisms—primarily international arbitration, preceded by international mediation and backed up by international adjudication.

History of the idea.  This is not a new idea, nor is it a radical idea.  Its origins go back to (1) the famous British legal philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who in his 1789 Plan for an Universal and Perpetual Peace, proposed “a Common Court of Judicature for the decision of differences between the several nations.”  Other prominent proponents include:  (2) President Theodore Roosevelt, who in his long-neglected 1910 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech proposed international arbitration, a world court, and “some kind of international police power” to enforce the decrees of the court; (3) President William Howard Taft, who espoused an “arbitral court” and an international police force to compel resort to arbitration and adjudication; and (4) President Dwight David Eisenhower, who urged creation of an “International Court of Justice” with compulsory jurisdiction and some kind of “international police power universally recognized and strong enough to earn universal respect.”  Finally, in this regard, under the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, a “Joint Statement of Agreed Principles for Disarmament Negotiations” was negotiated over several months by U.S. representative John J. McCloy and Soviet representative Valerian Zorin.  This McCloy-Zorin Agreement, passed by the UN General Assembly on December 20, 1961 but not ultimately adopted, contemplated establishment of “reliable procedures for the peaceful settlement of disputes” and an international police force that would have had a monopoly of all internationally-usable military force.

World Peace Through Law (WPTL) summarized.  The basic concept, which is less drastic than the McCloy-Zorin Agreement, has three parts:  1) abolition of nuclear weapons (with concomitant reductions in conventional forces); 2) global dispute resolution mechanisms; and 3) various enforcement mechanisms, ranging from the force of world public opinion to an international peace force.

  1.       Abolition:  necessary and feasible:  It is time for a Nuclear Weapons Abolition Convention.  Ever since the January 4, 2007 Wall Street Journal editorial by the former “nuclear realists” Henry Kissinger (former Secretary of State), Senator Sam Nunn, William Perry (former Secretary of Defense), and George Shultz (former Secretary of State), elite opinion worldwide has reached a general consensus that nuclear weapons are a clear and imminent danger to all who possess them and to the whole world.[1]  As Ronald Reagan used to say to George Shultz:  “What’s so great about a world that can be blown up in 30 minutes?”[2]  Thus, all we need now is a final push to convert the already broad public support for abolition[3] into actionable measures.  Although the United States is the problem, once the United States and Russia and China agree to abolition, the rest (even Israel and France) will follow.
  2.      Global Dispute Resolution Mechanisms :  WPTL would set up a four-part system of global dispute resolution—compulsory negotiation, compulsory mediation, compulsory arbitration, and compulsory adjudication—of any and all disputes between countries.  Based on experience in domestic courts, about 90% of all “cases” would be settled in negotiation and mediation, with another 90% settled after arbitration, leaving a small remainder for compulsory adjudication.  The big objection raised over the years (especially by the neo-cons) to compulsory jurisdiction in the International Court of Justice has been that the Soviets would never agree to it.  Well, the fact is that the Soviets under Mikhail Gorbachev did agree to it, starting in 1987.
  3.      International enforcement mechanisms:  Many international law scholars have pointed out that in well over 95% of the cases, the mere force of world public opinion has been effective in securing compliance with international court decisions.  The admittedly difficult issue has been the role an international peace force might play in enforcement, the problem with any such enforcement being the veto power in the UN Security Council.  But various possible solutions to this problem could be worked out (e.g. a combined weighted-voting/super-majority system), in the same manner that the Law of the Sea Treaty devised adjudicative tribunals that are not subject to the P-5 veto.

Conclusion.  WPTL is a thoroughly middle-of-the-road proposal that is neither “too little” (our current strategy of “collective insecurity”) nor “too much” (world government or world federalism or pacifism). It is a concept that has been strangely neglected for the past fifty years[4]  which deserves re-consideration by government officials, academia, and the general public.

[1] Among the hundreds of military personnel and statesmen who have come out in favor of abolition:  Admiral Noel Gaylor, Admiral Eugene Carroll, General Lee Butler, General Andrew Goodpaster, General Charles Horner, George Kennan, Melvin Laird, Robert McNamara, Colin Powell, and George H.W. Bush.  Cf. Philip Taubman, The Partners:  Five Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb, at 12 (2012).  As Joseph Cirincione recently quipped, abolition is the favored view “everywhere…except in D.C.” in our congress.

[2] Interview with Susan Schendel, aide to George Shultz (May 8, 2011)(relaying what George Shultz said).

[3] Polls shows about 80% of the American public favoring abolition.  See

[4] See John E. Noyes, “William Howard Taft and the Taft Arbitration Treaties,” 56 Vill. L. Rev. 535, 552 (2011)(“the view that international arbitration or an international court can assure the peaceful settlement of disputes between rival states has largely disappeared.”) and Mark Mazower, Governing the World:  The History of an Idea, at 83-93 (2012)(international arbitration proposal “has remained in the shadows” after a flurry of activity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries).

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