A School History of the Great War - Chapter 4
International Law and the Hague Conferences
International Law. - In the civilized world to-day each community is made up of citizens who have a right to the protection of the laws of their community and who in turn have the duty of obedience to those laws. During recent centuries improved means of communication and transportation have brought all parts of the world closer together, and there’ has grown up in the minds of many enlightened thinkers the idea that the whole civilized world ought to be regarded as a community of nations. In the past the relations of nations to one another have been very nearly as bad as that of persons in savage communities. Quarrels have usually been settled by contests of strength, called wars. Believers in the idea of the community of nations argue that wars would cease or at least become much less frequent if this idea of a community of nations were generally accepted.
The body of rules which nations recognize in their dealings with each other is usually spoken of as international law. As to certain rules of international conduct the civilized nations of the world have been in general agreement for many centuries. Among such rules are those for the carrying out of treaty obligations, the punishment of piracy, the protection of each other’s ambassadors, the rights of citizens of one country to the protection of the laws, of the country they are visiting, the protection of women and children in time of war.
As in community law so also in international law rules have frequently grown up as matters of custom. In the second place agreements have sometimes been reached through negotiation and written out in the form of treaties between the two nations concerned. In the latter half of the nineteenth century several attempts were made to strengthen international law by means of general conferences of the nations. One of the most famous of these was the Conference of Geneva in 1864, which reached a number of valuable agreements on the care of wounded soldiers and gave official international recognition to the Red Cross. At the very end of the century occurred the first of the two famous international conferences at The Hague.
Toward this growing movement in the direction of the setting up of a community of nations in which each has equal rights and equally recognizes the force of international law, the German Empire took an attitude of opposition. She steadily refused to accept her place as a member of a family of nations. Her leaders took the ground, as explained in Chapter II, that strong nations should control weaker nations whenever it is to their own interest. As a principle this is just as barbarous as if in a community the man with the strongest muscles or the biggest club should be permitted to control the actions of his neighbors who happened to be weaker or less effectively armed. Just as the strong brutal man must, be taught that laws apply to him as well as to the weaker members of the community, so must Germany learn to respect the laws of nations and the rights of weaker peoples.
The Call for a World Peace Conference. In spite of the rapid growth of armaments in Europe after 1870 there was growing up among many of the leading thinkers of the nations a movement looking toward permanent peace in the world. The movement soon gained great strength among all classes. Peace societies were formed, meetings were held, and pamphlets were prepared and distributed. Toward the close of the century public opinion in most countries was leaning more and more toward the idea of universal peace. Governments, however, were slower to take up the problem. Strangely enough the first government to take action in the matter was that of Russia, at the time the most autocratic of all the nations of Europe.
Two years before the close of the century Czar Nicholas II sent out an official invitation calling upon the nations to send representatives to an international conference to discuss the problem of the prevention of wars. The Czar pointed out the dangers which must surely result if the military rivalry of the nations were not checked. He referred to the fact that European militarism was using up the strength and the wealth of the nations and was bringing about a condition of military preparedness which must inevitably lead in the end to a war more disastrous and terrible than any war in the history of mankind. The Czar did not go so far as to suggest complete and immediate disarmament. Every one knew that Europe was not ready to consider so violent a change of policy. The Russian invitation merely proposed that the conference should try to agree upon some means for putting a limit upon the increase of armaments. It suggested that the nations should agree not to increase their military or naval forces for a certain limited period, not to add to their annual expenditure of money for military purposes, and to consider means by which later on there might be an actual reduction of armaments. It was necessary to avoid the jealousies which might arise among the great powers if the capital of one of them were selected for the conference, so the Czar suggested that the meeting take place at The Hague, the capital of small, peace-loving Holland.
The First Hague Conference. - The conference called by the Czar met on May 18, 1899. All the great nations of the world sent delegates, as did many of the smaller nations. In all, twenty-six governments were represented, twenty of which were European. The United States and Mexico were the only countries of the New World which sent representatives. The queen of Holland showed her appreciation of the honor conferred upon her country by placing at the disposal of the conference, as its meeting place, the former summer residence of the royal family, the “House in the Woods,” situated about a mile from the city in the midst of a beautiful park.
Disarmament. - Although the menace of the tremendous armaments of Europe had been the chief reason for the conference, absolutely nothing was accomplished toward solving that problem. This failure was largely due to the opposition of Germany, which, as the strongest military power in Europe, would listen to no suggestion looking toward the limitation of military force. At one of the early meetings of the con ferrous a German delegate brought out clearly and unmistakably his government’s opposition to any consideration of the subject. In a sarcastic and arrogant speech he defended the German system of compulsory military service and her expenditures for military purposes. While it is extremely doubtful, in view of the difficulties in the way of any general policy of -disarmament, that much could have been accomplished by the conference even under the most favorable circumstances, this stand on the part of the German goverment meant the immediate and absolute defeat of the suggestion. The other nations of Europe had established their large military systems as a measure of defense against Germany, so that in the face of that government’s refusal to agree to the policy of limiting armaments, no neighboring country on the European continent could adopt it. In the conference, the matter was dismissed after the adoption of a very general resolution lution expressing the opinion “that the restriction of military charges . . . is extremely desirable for the increase of the material and moral welfare of mankind.”
Arbitration. - The conference met with a somewhat larger measure of success when it came to discuss the question of the peaceful settlement of international disputes, though here also the attitude of the German government stood in the way of complete success. The United States from the days of John Jay had taken the lead among the nations of the world in the policy of’ settling international disputes by peaceful means. Quite different has been the traditional policy of Prussia, which throughout its history has relied upon force to accomplish its purposes. All the German wars of the nineteenth century could easily have been averted if the Prussian government had honestly desired to settle its quarrels by peaceful methods. She took the ground, however, that arbitration could only work to her injury, since she was better prepared for war than any other nation and could mobilize her army more rapidly than any of her neighbors. “Arbitration,” said one of her delegates at The Hague, “would simply give rival powers time to put themselves in readiness, and would therefore be a great disadvantage to Germany.’ This point of view shows clearly how the German leaders placed the growth of German power far above such considerations as right and justice.
The Hague Peace Tribunal. - The struggle in the conference over the question of arbitration centered about the establishment of a permanent tribunal or international court of arbitration to which nations might bring their disagreements for settlement. The United States delegation favored making a definite list of the kinds of disputes which nations would be compelled to bring to the tribunal for settlement. On the other hand, the Kaiser himself sent a dispatch from Berlin in which he spoke strongly against anything in the nature of an arbitration tribunal. Largely through the efforts of Mr. Andrew D. White, head of the American delegation, the German government was brought to modify its stand. Germany finally agreed to the creation of the tribunal, but only on condition that in no case should the submission of a dispute to it be compulsory. The tribunal was to be established, but it would have the right to render a decision only in those cases which the disagreeing nations might decide to submit to it.
The Hague Tribunal Is not made up of permanent judges like an ordinary court. It consists of persons (not more than four from each country) selected by the various nations from among their citizens of high standing and broad knowledge of international affairs. From this long list any powers between whom there is a disagreement may choose the persons to form a court or tribunal for their special case.
The Second Hague Conference. - The conference of 1899 bad proved an absolute failure so far as disarmament and compulsory arbitration were concerned. In about the establishment of a permanent tribunal or international court of arbitration to which nations might bring their disagreements for settlement. The United States delegation favored making a definite list of the kinds of disputes which nations would be compelled to bring to the tribunal for settlement. On the other hand, the Kaiser himself sent a dispatch from Berlin in which be spoke strongly against anything in the nature of an arbitration tribunal. Largely through the efforts of Mr. Andrew D. White, head of the American delegation, the German government was brought to modify its stand. Germany finally agreed to the creation of the tribunal, but only on condition that in no case should the submission of a dispute to it be compulsory. The tribunal was to be established, but it would have the right to render a decision only in those cases which the disagreeing nations might decide to submit to it.
The Hague Tribunal is not made up of permanent judges like an ordinary court. It consists of persons (not more than four from each country) selected by the various nations from among their citizens of high standing and broad knowledge of international affairs. From this long list any powers between whom there is a disagreement may choose the persons to form a court or tribunal for their special case.
The Second Hague Conference. - The conference of 1899 bad proved an absolute failure so far as disarmament and compulsory arbitration were concerned. In War, accepted those conventions by formal treaty, thus binding herself to observe them.
Results of the Hague Conferences. - Leaders of the movement for universal peace felt that in spite of the small success of the Hague Conferences a definite beginning had been made. Many of them were very hopeful that later conferences would lead to larger results and that even Germany would swing into line. There were plans to hold a third conference in 1914 or 1915. As we look back upon the years between 1907 and 1914, it seems hard to understand the general blindness of the world to the certainty of the coming struggle. Armaments were piled up at a faster rate than ever. Naval armaments also entered into the race. From the point of view of bringing about permanent peace in the world we must view the conferences at The Hague as having hopelessly failed.
They did accomplish something, however. Arbitration was accepted by the nations of the world, in principle at least. Moreover, the conferences helped the cause of international law by showing how easily international agreements could be reached if all the nations were honestly in favor of peaceful decisions. Some day, now that the war has taught the world the much needed lessons that the recognition of international law is necessary to civilization, and that the nations must join together in its enforcement, the work begun at The Hague in 1899 and 1907 will be taken up once more with larger hope of success.
Suggestions for Study. -1. How are ordinary laws enforced? How is international law carried out? Why the difference? 2. Enumerate the instances in which questions of international law have been brought up during the present war. 3. Look up the history of the Red Cross movement. 4. Why did the Hague Conferences fail to attain their great objects? 5. Summarize what was actually accomplished by the Conferences. 6. Has the history of the Hague Conferences any lessons which will be of value after this war?
References. - War Cyclopedia (C. P. I.), under “Red Cross,” “Hague Conferences.” See also publications of the World Peace Foundation; International Conciliation (C. P. I.); War, Labor, and Peace (C. P. I.).