In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pacifism in International Law

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works and Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Feminist Pacifism and International Law
  • European and Japanese Peace Movements from the 19th to 20th Century
  • The League of Nations and the Kellogg-Briand Pact
  • Antinuclear and Disarmament Movements
  • Just War Theory and Pacifism

International Law Pacifism in International Law
Jeremy Moses
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 August 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0193


The label of pacifism has been applied to a very wide range of political movements and ideologies that focus on nonviolence and the achievement of lasting peace. The varieties of pacifism, ranging from a commitment to absolute nonviolence to more contingent or non-absolute versions, cut across a range of ethical, political, and religious positions. The most famous and influential articulations of pacifism are found in the writings and work of revolutionary political activists such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but these bear little relation to international law in either theory or practice as they are primarily concerned with the establishment of new social relations within the state. In relation to international law, pacifism occupies a more limited and tangential position, with most of the focus falling on ambitious proposals for generating world peace through the development of international law, a field that is commonly given the label of “legal pacifism.” The aim of theorists and activists in this area is to bring about the outlawry or abolition of war through the development of international law and international institutions. Such proposals go further than existing arrangements under the United Nations insofar as they seek to avoid the authorization of war as an enforcement mechanism against aggressive states, but they fall well short of pacifist ideologies that reject all forms of violence. The practical highpoints for these approaches came with the establishment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration under the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 and the signing of a multilateral treaty aimed at banning the recourse to war, the Kellogg-Briand Pact, in 1928. Other literatures that draw connections between international law and pacifism are more marginal to the discipline of international law. The extensive literature on the relationship between just war theory and pacifism, for example, may be seen as being situated in close relation to the Law of Armed Conflict and International Humanitarian Law, but this literature tends to avoid international legal questions and focuses more on the philosophical challenges posed by pacifism. Similarly, the pacifist orientation of activist groups campaigning for nuclear weapons treaties and bans is illustrative of an intersection between pacifism and international law that is less obvious and explicit than what we find in relation to legal or juridical pacifism. All, however, share a broad preference for nonviolent means of dispute resolution and seek avenues within international law for advancing that agenda.

General Overviews

There are no general overviews of the literature specifically on pacifism in international law, as this is a relatively small and fragmented field within the field of international law. Brock 1998 provides a valuable overview of the main varieties of pacifism. Ranney 2018 is useful as a historical guide to efforts to outlaw war and offers a contemporary plan to achieve this. On the ethics of war and peace in a broad sense, Nardin 1996 offers a range of Western and non-Western approaches and Teichman 2006 provides an overview with detailed sections on pacifism. Wight 1991 represents one of the most influential typologies of international relations thought on war and peace, while Ceadel 2003 presents a useful categorization of different forms of pacifism.

  • Brock, Peter. Varieties of Pacifism: A Survey from Antiquity to the Outset of the Twentieth Century. Toronto: P. Brock, 1998.

    A brief historical overview of the main variants of pacifism. Touches upon a number of historical points at which the religious and moral convictions of pacifists intersected with debates about the legality and legitimacy of war.

  • Ceadel, Martin. “Pacifism and Pacificism.” In The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Political Thought. Edited by Terence Ball and Richard Bellamy, 471–492. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521563543.024

    An overview of pacifist thought focused on the distinction between morally absolute pacifism and the more contingent or conditional “pacificism.” Both, however, maintain an opposition to war and a determination to abolish it, in contrast to the mainstream arguments in favor of just war or defensive war.

  • Nardin, Terry. The Ethics of War and Peace: Religious and Secular Perspectives. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.

    Presents a range of religious and secular perspectives on the ethics of war and peace from a range of distinguished and influential authors. Relations between pacifism, religion, and international law are explored at some length, particularly in Part 3 of the book.

  • Ranney, James Taylor. World Peace through Law: Replacing War with the Global Rule of Law. New York: Routledge, 2018.

    Offers an historical overview of the development of the idea of world peace through law (WPTL) and proposes a new system of international legal dispute resolution based on a global rule of law that rejects the use of force.

  • Teichman, Jenny. The Philosophy of War and Peace. Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 2006.

    A comprehensive historical overview of theories of war and peace, with Part 5 focusing on antiwar philosophy and pacifism. Eastern and Western pacifist traditions are discussed, along with the pacifist thought behind conscientious objection and antinuclear campaigns.

  • Wight, Martin. International Theory: The Three Traditions. Edited by Gabriele Wight and Brian Porter. Leicester, UK: Leicester University Press, 1991.

    A highly influential typology of approaches to international relations based on the categories of rationalists, realists, and revolutionists. Chapters 10 and 11 focus on theories of war and international law from the three perspectives, with an extended discussion of pacifism as a form of “inverted revolutionism.”

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.