The Ruhr Crisis and the Failures of International Law
No law is perfect. This is one of the most central facts of our Legal Systems. A law cannot feel, that is why we have juries, a law cannot see the circumstance, that is why we have Lawyers and Judges, and a law cannot evolve, which is why we have the Legislature. A law is akin to the Human Body and its organs; a beautiful gift given to us by our fathers and mothers, but something given to us by the past. To have something as mortal and as much a blunt tool as the law, there will always be mistakes. And international law is no exception.
The Ruhr crisis was one of the most dangerous crises of the 1920s. The Crisis was born out of the Treaty of Versailles, the treaty that ended the 2nd World War and brought into being the League of Nations, the first incarnation of the UN and a pacifist organization to the core. The Treaty was mainly crafted by the 3 most powerful of the Allies, The UK, the US and France. All of these heavy-hitters had different ideas as to how to deal with Germany, but they formed into 2 basic camps; the Revenge Faction (led by the French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau), who wanted to punish Germany and to permanently weaken her and the Peace Faction (led by Woodrow Wilson, the US President), who wanted Permanent Peace and an easier settlement. The Revenge Faction came out ahead. The Treaty had many clauses, but the most important for our purposes is the Reparations Clause. The Reparations Clause laid an astronomical amount of 132 Billion Gold Marks, equivalent to about 33 billion dollars today, on Germany, which was almost unpayable. A situation such as this could only end in conflict, and it did.
The Ruhr crisis was initiated when French troops crossed the German Border into the Ruhr Valley, a heavily industrial region. This was caused by a German default in resource payments, which was seen as a gigantic provocation. French troops moved quickly and managed to occupy the valley in a month. This blatantly aggressive move had zero arguments from the League, a passivist organization. This lack of a League response was born out of the fact that the occupation was technically legal under international law.
The French stayed in the Ruhr for 1 year, taking the resources the people of the Ruhr needed to survive, forcing them to work against their will and treating the Germans such as a tyrant would the oppressor. And this was all legal. The only reason why the Germans didn’t start World War 2 over this blatant invasion was the Demilitarization that was forced by the Allies, and the only reason why the French did eventually leave was International Pressures from the UK and the US, no word from the League.
The Ruhr Crisis is not the only example of a failure in International Law, but it is the most archetypal. It was born out of a treaty forced by vengeful states who did not take the rights of the Germans into account nor the morality of what they forced on a suffering people. This treaty arguably caused the Nazis and the war that they would start, a war where millions died. International Law may not change the lives of many in day to day, but neither do Hurricanes, yet they can have similar destructive capability…