Conflict and Compromise: International Law and World Order in a Revolutionary Age

By Edward McWhinney | Go to book overview

5 THE ROAD TO DETENTE
Security of Territorial Frontiers

In the past, and particularly between the two World Wars, disarmament was sometimes viewed as a sort of universal panacea for the assorted ills of the world community: by persuading competing states to reduce the size of their armies or the tonnage or fire-power of their battle fleets, you could keep the peace despite the justness or unjustness of the prevailing political settlement. It was one of the great illusions of the victors of World War I that the Versailles Treaty of 1919 — an essentially one-sided peace settlement that required (in its Article 231) defeated Germany to declare its sole responsibility for the War as the basis for the humiliating postwar military occupation and absurdly exaggerated financial reparations — could be artificially maintained by tying the beneficiary "succession" states to the main wartime victors in a series of interlocking military alliances, and by hemming in the defeated powers by all sorts of verbal constraints on their power to rearm in the future. Unlike the 1815 Congress of Vienna, which aimed at a just and sensible peace for victors and defeated alike, the Treaty of Versailles imposed a Carthaginian settlement under which the enemy must be destroyed or kept down at all costs. The Congress of Vienna built a century of peace in Europe, whereas the Treaty of Versailles contained within itself the seeds of its own rapid destruction. The lesson from this experience would seem to be that effective disarmament programmes should go hand-in-hand with just political settlements, or at least with timely and equitable revisions of political dispositions.

This truth was not lost upon continental European political leaders who realized, very early, that if détente were to become meaningful and normative in inter-bloc relations, it must proceed on the two fronts at once: first, and in the absence of a

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