No 487.
Mr. Schuyler to Mr. Fish.

No. 55.]

Sir: I have the honor to inclose to you a copy and a translation of the circular of the Russian government to its diplomatic agents abroad, dated 26th September, (8th October,) on the subject of the Brussels conference, by which you will see that it desires to obtain the opinions of the different governments on the propositions submitted to the conference, and the revised project as agreed upon there, in order to formulate these propositions in some definite international act or treaty. I also inclose to you abstracts of various articles from Russian journals, [Page 1023] as well as one from the Pall Mall Gazette, relating to the general subject of the conference, and the ideas entertained with regard to its action, which will, I think, be of great interest to you. The articles from the Journal de Saint Petersburg-may be regarded as official, and those in the Saint Petersburg Gazette were probably inspired from the foreign office. The Russian World is carried on in opposition to the ministry of war, and its articles must therefore be considered as subject to that influence.

The most of the governments which took part in the conference, and to which the circular above referred to has been presented, have already taken measures to discover what the action of each of the others on the subject will be. So far as I am at present informed matters are as follows:

The German government, while at first seeing difficulties in the way of the project, finally perceived that it contained many advantages for it, and has agreed to support the action of Russia.

It is now almost certain that the same course will be pursued by the government of Austria-Hungary.

The Spanish government states that it will agree to all those articles which were unanimously agreed upon at the conference, but as to the others it reserves its decision, although it might be willing to yield to a majority of votes.

The government of Holland wishes to adjourn the matter for some time in order to have the question fully discussed in the press, as without that it would be impossible to come to any decision.

The Swiss government states that the matter has not yet been presented to the Federal Council, and that it cannot return a definite answer until the question has been there discussed. It is probable, therefore, that it will merely acknowledge the receipt of the circular.

The Belgian minister for foreign affairs stated, on inquiry being made, that his government was not anxious to return a speedy answer. It considered that the Russian government had too soon forgotten the check it had met with at the conference, and was somewhat surprised at its so soon renewing the question. It was impossible for a constitutional government to decide the matter without consulting the chambers, and this could not be done at once.

The French government is in a very delicate position; it does not desire to agree to the project, and at the same time it is equally unwilling to chill the friendship and good-will of Russia, while it sees that Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary, will be able to adopt a rule of action which may in future be detrimental to the interests of France, as well as to those of the smaller states of Europe.

None of the governments above mentioned, except that of Germany, had, up to the date of my information, returned any definite answer to Russia.

The English government has also not yet answered, and, judging from the tone of the English press, it is scarcely probable that it will accept the Russian propositions.

I am of the belief that the Emperor Alexander, who is a very humane man, took up the idea of the Brussels conference from motives of humanity alone, though it would appear that the project had not then received sufficient reflection. But both Russian and German statesmen soon saw that a project like this would be an advantage to the strong military powers of Europe, and it is difficult to avoid the belief that the motives of humanity are now in the background, and that the project is pushed partly from a natural desire for success, and partly [Page 1024] from motives of state policy. The small states in conflict with the great ones would be swallowed up in any case, but this could be done much more easily and quickly should regulations be adopted which, by restricting the area of the operations of war, would also restrict the right of the populations to defend themselves. In view of this and of the feelings of the governments of the smaller states on this subject, it seems at present improbable that the wish of the Russian government can be realized, and that any treaty or declaration can be drawn up which will be signed by all the powers of Europe, and thus become truly international.

It is pertinent, however, to inquire whether, even without such an international act, a change has not really been made in international law by the Brussels conference? Should the three great powers of Northeastern Europe agree on any project of this nature, they will, in case of war against other states, have a possibility of putting it into execution, and of thus forcing other states to submit to it. Moreover, as international law has been founded on the universal consent of all countries, will not such a withdrawal of three great states from the international laws of war, as agreed upon up to this time, as is implied by their acceptance of this project, really deprive those laws in this respect—universal consent—of their validity?

The Russian government is, however, still very hopeful that its efforts will be successful. As will be seen from the newspaper articles, there is a tone of bitterness against all who question the motives of the Russian government, or the results obtained by its action.

So far as concerns the-project itself, Baron Jomini, the president of the conference, said to me the other day, in a private conversation, that the project was by no means so severe as the regulations prepared by Professor Lieber, and put into force by the United States during the recent rebellion.

You will see from what I have said that any talk about a future conference, either at St. Petersburg or elsewhere, or of the character of its members, is, for the present, premature.

I have heard that there has been some talk of the probable action of the United States; but no inquiries or remarks have been addressed to me on the subject by any member of the government. I shall not fail to keep you informed of the progress of the matter.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 55.—Translation.]

Circular from the Russian Government.

Several of the delegates at the Brussels conference have asked us about the further steps which will be taken with regard to the questions discussed there; that is to say, whether the imperial government will propose a new project on the basis of the opinions stated at the conference, or whether it will wait to know beforehand the judgment of the different governments on these questions.

I think it, in consequence, necessary to inform you of the manner in which this is received by the imperial cabinet.

The very result of the labors of the conference appears to us to clearly indicate the steps which are to be taken.

It made an investigation, (enquête.)

Its protocols reproduce all the opinions which were stated there, as well on the points on which an agreement was arrived at as on those on which there were divergences of opinion, or on which reserves were made. The project, as remodeled by the [Page 1025] commission, contains the forms of the articles as agreed upon by the compromises which were the consequence of the discussions.

Finally, the final protocol submits the whole of these labors to the examination of the respective governments as being able to serve for the base of a further exchange of ideas.

It follows from this, in our opinion, that the governments, once put by the government of His Majesty the King of the Belgians, in possession of the complete and authentic acts relating to the conference, will have to examine the proposed solutions, and to present either their conclusions on the articles which are susceptible of an immediate agreement, or their observations or propositions on those which furnish matter for divergences of opinion.

It seems to us that St. Petersburg would be the most suitable place for the reunion of all these conclusions, observations, and propositions.

As soon as the imperial cabinet shall be put into possession of all these materials it will consider the question of formulating the points agreed upon in an act destined to be the object of an exchange of declarations between the powers, or of submitting to them a new project, or finally of calling a new reunion of the delegates or representatives of the governments to bring the divergent opinions to a final agreement, which would be formulated in a definitive act.

Please bring the preceding to the knowledge of the government near which you are accredited, and ask it in consequence to transmit to us, as soon as can be done, the conclusions, observations, or propositions which will he suggested to it by the examination of the whole of the labors of the conference.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 55.—Translation.]

The Brussels conference.

[Abstract of the articles in the St. Petersburg Gazette.]

After commencing with some considerations on the meaning and importance of the conference, and rapidly sketching the course of its labors, the author enters upon the examination of the matters which were the object of deliberations.

Upon the proposal of the president there were first of all placed on the order of the day those articles of the project presented by the Russian government which could be expected to raise the least dissent, and with regard to which unanimous decisions were most probable. Such were the articles on the means of injuring an enemy, on bombardment, on spies, flags of truce, prisoners of war, and on the sick and wounded. At the time of the discussion of these matters, two currents of opinion soon made their appearance; some showed their desire to see all kinds of humane measures adopted, on condition, however, that they should be practicable in time of war; others, on the contrary, aimed at restraining violent means forcibly demanded by war to such a point that every military operation would thereby become impossible. There can be no doubt that the first opinion alone, possessing, as it does, a practical basis, should have finally prevailed. But is that not a true success, and a success much more solid than that which would have been considered as attained in making declarations of the most philanthropic kind, but incompatible with the state of our present civilization, which has not succeeded in eliminating war from the active means employed by states in their conflicts?

Regarded from this point of view, the decisions of the Brussels conference concerning the bombardment of towns, prisoners of war, &c., deserve complete sympathy.

We find in them not only principles clearly determined, and which are already admitted in theory by the science of the law of nations, but also declarations justly meriting consideration, as bold steps in the path of progress. Thus, the conference has resolutely pronounced itself against the pillage of towns taken by assault from the enemy; it has declared that only fortified and defended cities can be submitted to bombardment. Articles 23–35 of the declarations sanction the humane point of view with which the treatment of prisoners of war is inspired, while articles 12–15 enumerate the means which belligerant powers have the right to employ.

The protocols of the conference show us that respecting all these questions there has been success in coming to an understanding and in taking unanimous decisions, consequently in reconciling the two divergent opinions just mentioned.

But when more debated matters were afterward brought forward, the defenders of the idealistic point of view showed themselves less easy to convince; they formulated their opinions under all reserve, while waiting the ratification of them by their governments; this is what took place with regard to the questions on the rights of belligerent parties, on contributions and requisitions.

[Page 1026]

From the commencement of the sittings of the conference, the delegates from Belgium and the Low Countries believed it to be their duty to declare that they could not adhere to any measure tending to restrict the right of national defense, at the same time manifesting their firm attachment to peace. Declarations in the same sense were made by the delegates of Portugal, Spain, Denmark, and Switzerland, and partially, also, by those of Sweden and Turkey.

The representatives of all these states lost no opportunity of protesting against the restriction imposed on national defense.

We have attentively examined the protocols of the conference and must avow our inability to seize clearly the bearing of the protestations and desires formulated by the delegates of these governments.

In the project presented at the conference by the Russian delegates, there was found very clearly established the fundamental idea that if an enemy’s territory is subjected to occupation and the army of occupation is in fact in a position to maintain its authority, the legal power of the national government is suspended during the occupation.

This situation is to such point evident, and so conforms to the nature of things that a venerable practice has already assured its sanction, and that it would be vain to wish to protest against it.

Not to wish to adopt this point of view in which one ought justly to recognize the value of a political axiom, not only appears useless, but can give place to the gravest calamities for a country afflicted with an invasion. In fact what harm can be done to the enemy by an unarmed and unorganized civil population? To mention a recent example, were the hostile acts of the population of some French departments against the German invaders during the last war able to arrest the victorious march of the German army?

From the moment that the justice of this point of view is recognized we cannot but adhere to articles 1–8 of the declaration of the conference, which are its logical consequence. On reading these articles and comparing them with the practice, of the Franco-German war, we can be convinced that they reprove some of the measures employed by the German military chiefs, and that they oppose serious obstacles to the arbitrary conduct of invaders.

This explains why the representatives of some small states, little satisfied at first with the project, saw themselves finally obliged to avow that the declarations in question ought to be considered as a salutary limitation of the right of the force and calamities of war.

One point, which at the conference gave place to not less animated discussions, was that of knowing how to establish the quality of belligerent parties. This time the views of the Russian government again met with the opposition of those for whom to make the right of taking part in the defense of the country depend on exterior conditions is illegitimately to restrict a state’s means of defense. On reading the report of the debates of the conference we find the same arguments that we often hear emitted in discussions. No bridle, they tell us, ought to check the patriotism of citizens wishing to lend the support of their arm in defense of their native land, and it would be to do violence to the noblest sentiments of man if we wished to demand that only the organized forces should take part in the national defense.

Russian sentiment ought especially to repudiate these restrictions, and the glorious traditions of 1812 are there to attest that it will never submit to them.

It is easy, however, to discover how vicious is such an argument. That to which the Russian proposition tended did not, the least in the world, consist in restricting the means of national defense, but in holding aside from the struggle those elements which would, wish to sacrifice themselves in it uselessly, and would only succeed in drawing down upon the civil population the rigors of repression. Its object is to establish conditions in which defenders of their territory may be distinguished from marauders and pillagers, and escape the fate which in all justice the laws of war inflict on the latter. This is the aim which the Russian government pursued in proposing its project, and the adhesion which it has met with in the heart of the conference of delegates from powers jealous of their rights of defense well proves that the limits of the possible were not found overstepped.

Article 9 of the declaration stipulates that the laws, rights, and duties of war do not apply alone to the army, but also to the militia and to the bodies of volunteers uniting the following conditions:

Having at their head a person responsible for his subordinates;
Having a fixed and distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
Openly carrying arms; and
Conforming” themselves in their operations to the laws and customs of war.

In applying to Russia principles admitted by the conference, it will be seen that if, in case of war, a chief of a commune convoke the member of the communal assembly, enroll them, furnish them with a distinctive exterior sign, subject them to his command, and compel them to carry openly their arms, the troops thus organized would [Page 1027] enjoy incontestably the rights of belligerents, on condition, of course, that it observe the laws of war.

As far as we know, the practice of wars, even that of recent wars, has never been in conformity with principles more humane, and at the same time more easy to follow, than these.

During the war of 1870 the German military authority showed itself much more severe in demanding that the French volunteers should have not only nominative authorizations of enrollment, emanating from the minister of war, hut that they should besides be placed under the command of French officers.

Nothing like this is exacted by the declaration of Brussels.

Some foreign journals, in conclusion, have spread the opinion that Russia has experienced a check at Brussels. But, after having attentively studied the protocols, it is difficult for us to explain what could have given birth to such a rumor, and what could make it believed that the project presented by the Russian government was rejected.

Thus, as it appears from the protocols, the Russian delegates have constantly insisted that no formal treaty should be the result of the conferene; that Russia, in convoking the representatives of European powers for the examination of its project, only wished to ascertain preliminarily the points of view and the opinions of different governments in order to be able in the end, if possible, to conclude a formal and obligatory treaty. The purpose of the conference was then to proceed to an investigation of the questions raised by the Russian government, and not to give to those problems a definite solution. Accordingly, as it appears to us, this purpose has been completely attained’ at Brussels.

We consider as also erroneous the opinion of those who believe that Russia herself: will withdraw her hand from the work due to her initiative. To judge from the protocols, the delegates of Germany, of Austria-Hungary, of France, and of Italy have nearly always agreed with that of Russia, and it is to be believed that a definite arrangement between these powers will be able to be made at any day. If this supposition be right, necessity will consequently induce other states to adhere to the convention which the great powers will have concluded. In any case the definite solution of the questions to be examined at the Brussels conference is, then, as much in the interest of other states of Europe as in that of Russia. We believe even that if there is any one to whom it ought to be a matter of special importance to see harriers raised in the employment of force, and to see clearly determined the rights and duties of belligerents, it is precisely the small states limited in their means of defense. It is curious to notice that the representatives of these states did not cease to make protestations at the conference of the love of peace which animates their governments, at the same time declaring it impossible for them to adhere to the Russian propositions. It is against this pretension of being alone inspired by love of peace that the following passage from the report made by the president of the conference at its full meeting of the 26th August was directed:

“Permit me to end this statement by some personal considerations in my own name and in that of my two colleagues.

“Several of the delegates have believed it necessary on several occasions to profess the exclusively pacific views of their governments, resulting from the particular position which politics, history, and geography have given them.

“We can, gentlemen, tender the same assurances in the name of our country.

“Russia is a great power; great by her strength, by her extent, her unity, her national spirit; she is none the less profoundly devoted to the interests of peace. Her greatness even removes her from all idea of conquests or of aggressive wars, and her defensive force is such to-day that she has no fear of any attack.

It is, then, with an entire disinterestedness that our government has proposed the re-union of this conference and submitted a project to its deliberations. It has thought that there were grave questions which demanded a solution for the good of all. Russia feels herself too much involved in the general interest to withdraw herself from the-duties which result for her from her great and strong position in Europe.”

In fact the Brussel’s conference appears to us precisely as a work undertaken by Russia in view of the general welfare, and we ardently desire that Russia may conduct; it to a good termination. The skill displayed in her exterior politics is an earnest to us that she will succeed with it.

[Inclosure 3 in No. 55.—Translation.]

The Brussels conference.

[Abstract of an article in the “Russian-World.”]

We recall to our readers that we have always been adverse to the aim and practical bearing of the project of the Brussels conference, which, in our opinion, could only [Page 1028] render more sensible and could not lessen the defects of the law of war as it at present exists.

The results have fully justified our suppositions. The recent publication of the protocols of the conference removes all further doubt that that meeting, on which so many hopes were founded by persons little acquainted with the actual state of international law, has not attained and could not attain its purpose, even within the narrow bounds to which it was confined by the energetic objections and observations of the British cabinet.

After long and lively debates, in which the part of opposition belonged principally to the secondary states, who, it seemed, should yet have had an interest in the realization of all kinds of humane projects in international relations, we have obtained as the result a project of declaration partially sanctioning a practice established long since, and expressing, moreover, some general grounds substantially deprived of obligatory power for any one whatever. Each of the states which took part in the conference has rejected the articles touching its particular interests, and has shown more or less indifference with regard to the others, so that a general understanding has only been possible on questions about which there was not the shadow of a doubt, and which had never been the subject of any discussion. All that could be considered as an innovation has finally received a form so original that in the end there was no innovation at all.

Thus, as to what concerns the question of national defense, after having defined the conditions under which volunteers can assist in military operations, we have decreed, on the request of the Spanish and Swiss delegates, a supplementary rule, in virtue of which “the population of a territory, if on the approach of the enemy it take up arms spontaneously to resist the invading troops, without having had time to organize itself conformably to the preceding article, shall be considered as a belligerent if it respect the laws and customs of war.’

Who shall judge whether the population has had time to organize itself regularly, and if it respects the laws of war? It is evident that such a question can only he decided by force, the only argument that has always determined every kind of military problem.

The single difference is that acts which up to the present rested exclusively on force, will now have a weak ground of support in a universally recognized law.

In the same way the project of the declaration recognizing in one article the inviolability of private property admits in another the destruction or seizure of all kinds of property, in case of extreme necessity, for the operations of war, and the valuation of the worth of such property is made, as has always been the case, by the party who has taken a measure of this kind. Nearly all the articles of the project are followed by analogous reservations when they treat directly of the military operations, such as the damage caused by bombardment, the-means of raising contributions, &c. Only the part relative to prisoners of war, as not treating directly of military operations, is fully defined in its contents, although in reality it contains very little that is new.

In comparing the text of the articles adopted by the conference with the projects submitted to its examination, it is not difficult to notice that the latter, which had in view the strengthening of the advantages enjoyed by military superiority rather than the safe-keeping of the interests of national defense and of humanity, have been modified in a remarkable manner under the influence of the eloquent protestations of the delegates from small states, who considered the projects in question as an attempt on their rights and legitimate wants. The cause of this opposition is easy to understand when we take into account the general Character of the original projects, in which the first place was reserved for the rights of armies of occupation and the limitation of national defense. Even in its actual form the project of the declaration treats much more of the rights of the conqueror than was necessary, in view of the undoubtedly humane purpose of the conference.

We shall not be able to determine the place which the Brussels conference will occupy in the history of international law until we know the decisions of the cabinets with regard to the project of a declaration which has been submitted to them. Even supposing that this project be generally approved in its present form, we shall still only be able to attribute to the labors of the conference a very modest importance—at least quite as modest as that of the Geneva convention.

Every one who knows the conditions of our time and the actual state of international relations must have expected that the Brussels conference would have no other result than that at which it has arrived. In several of our previous articles on “jurists, theorists, and the Brussels conference,” we have already given our readers a sketch of the general movement of these times on the subject of law—a movement which aims at perfecting the present international laws and customs. The Brussels congress has no connection with this movement. Specialists have recognized at once that the forms of international law can only be codified in a very restricted measure, and specially in the sphere of ordinary peaceable relations, and then that the problem of international reform, having for its principal aim the prevention of rash wars and [Page 1029] the replacing of them by arbitration, ought not and cannot relate to a sphere where there is no room for any other argument or consideration than those of force and military science.

Among the questions which have made progress during these latter years in the science of international law, we find in the first rank that of the application of arbitration to the solution of numerous international conflicts, and that of the duties of neutral powers toward belligerents. All the other points disappear before these two chief questions, for they are but secondary or of little importance when compared with these. As to the character of military operations, their definition and limitation have only been seriously discussed up to the present by German publicists, who have proposed, among other things, that individuals not belonging to regular armies should be totally prevented from taking part in military operations, in order to avoid in future such difficulties as the Germans had to contend with during their last war with France in regard to the “francs tireurs.” Similar plans, whatever may be the fine phrases which surrounded them and the arguments in f aver of the security of the peaceable population by which they were accompanied, have failed to convince either publicists or impartial statesmen. Competent persons have perceived that it would be unjust to make too decided a distinction between the fate of armies and that of other inhabitants of the country, and that there is no room to talk of the interest of the peaceable population or of the welfare of some individuals where there are falling in defense of their country dozens, and even hundreds of thousands, of men who have been placed by blind chance in the ranks of permanent armies.

The bases which the Brussels conference could not give up are therefore doubly false: on the one hand, it had to codify on a subject which only admits of a private understanding, and not the institution of general formulas capable of being adopted without exception by all the powers; and, on the other, it was called to occupy itself with objects and questions the substantial nature of which escapes the definitions of law, and yet more so a general and uniform regulation.

[Inclosure 4 in No. 55.—Translation.]

The Brussels conference.

[Abstract of an article in the St. Petersburg Gazette (of the Academy).]

We have already summed up for our readers, in a series of three articles, the whole of the labors of the Brussels conference, and have endeavored to demonstrate the immense influence which they ought to have on the course of military operations.

Considering that to Russia is due the honor of having taken the lead, and that the aim of the conference has been entirely reached, as the protocols state, it is impossible for us not to occupy ourselves seriously and impartially with this question. Most of the organs of our press have done the same, with the exception, however, of the Russian World, which has adopted the special course of opposing all the new forms of military organization.

The Russian World commences by saying that the Brussels conference could only contribute “to render more sensible, and could not lessen, the defects of the present military law;” and, in order to demonstrate this truth, it cites the project of a declaration as sanctioning “a practice adopted long since,” and leaves it to be understood, besides, that the conference could only come to an agreement on questions which have never been the object of any doubt. In short, the paper in question finds that the check to the conference, a complete one according to its account, consists in the conference not having arrived at anything new.

After having given this opinion, the Russian World was bound, we think, to demonstrate the truth of it; but the reader, however, finds nothing of the kind in its article, unless he considers as a demonstration a general phrase like this, that the peaceable population ought not to enjoy inviolability, when dozens and even hundreds of thousands of their compatriots are perishing in defense of their country.

We have already had occasion to say that the aim of the conference was to specify the rules which are obligatory on combatants, and to lessen as much as possible in practice the calamities of war. Any one who is conversant with international law knows perfectly well that there exist several rules which are observed in time of war; that they are invoked by each combatant in turn; that they are due to the action of time; and that they have always given place to discussions without end, because the governments had never wished to speak decidedly on the question of rendering obligatory the laws of war.

It is true that the Russian World speaks, with its customary assurance, of incontestible rules which have never been brought into discussion. We should much like to know what are the principles of international law, or of the law of war, which [Page 1030] this journal has in view in speaking in this way, when it is precisely international law and international practice which show us that it is, on the contrary, only now, after the Brussels conference, that we can indicate several rules which can no longer he discussed in any manner or placed in doubt in time of war. The Russian World is thoroughly mistaken in believing that only some German publicists have insisted on the necessity of codifying the law of war. This idea has been sustained by French, American, Italian, and Russian authors, and several essays have even been undertaken in view of obtaining this end; and one among them, the statutes of military laws and customs, by a professor of the University of New York, was obligatory during the struggle between the Federal and Confederate States of North America. Also, when the Russian World affirms that the Brussels conference is in no way connected with the movement which is at present going on in the domain of international law, a movement destined to improve the existing international laws and customs, this observation is pardonable, considering the proved ignorance of this paper with regard to the actual direction of law, not only of international law, but also of the law of war.

It is true that the Russian World has certainly heard talk of an agitation in favor of the arrangement of international disputes by means of arbitration; it affirms, even, that it is in this sense that international reform should be accomplished. It would certainly render a great service to humanity if it succeeded in inducing states to have recourse to arbitration instead of settling questions by force of arms; but, so long as the Russian World does not reach this result, it only rests with scientific and practical men to seek to arrive at the same end by pointing out, for the present, measures by which the calamities inseparable from war can be reduced. With this point of view the Brussels conference had neither to invent new laws nor new customs, but to specify and to define the basis already existing and capable of being applied in time of war. Good sense ought, then, to dictate that the more we specify the limits of the rights and duties of the conqueror, that is to say, of the strongest, the better shall we attain the aim which tends to render less harsh the calamities and sufferings caused by war; but the Russian World is of another opinion, and it distinctly reproaches the declaration of Brussels with having treated too much of the rights of the conqueror.

With such a false idea of the question, it is perfectly comprehensible that this paper entirely approves the attitude of England with regard to the Brussels conference, and the protestation of small states against the desire to defend in an effective manner the interests and the security of the peaceable population. In reality, England, thanks to her insular position, is almost guaranteed against every invasion of an enemy. Only being able incase of continental war to play the part of conqueror, she could not have great interest in limiting in advance the operations of her army on the territory of any continental state.

If the British government has demanded that at the conference no mention should be made of questions relative to maritime war, this demand is explained by the conviction of the English people that it ought to rule the seas and dictate laws to all other nations in regard to them. The Russian project submitted to the Brussels conference made, besides, no allusion to maritime war. The Russian World is also mistaken in affirming that the energetic representations of the English cabinet have confined the power of the conference within very restricted bounds. If this paper had given itself the trouble to become acquainted with the protocols of the conference, it would have seen that not only has the Russian project been the subject of discussions in its entirety, and without any exception, but that there have even been added to it some articles relative to the wounded on neutral territory, articles proposed by Belgium. If the “fundamental bases” which figure at the head of the Russian project have not been discussed by the conference, that evidently arises from the fact that those bases were for the exclusive purpose of expressing the fundamental point of view of the entire project. In their quality of purely scientific bases, they naturally could not serve as topics of discussion in a conference composed of military men and diplomats, and where science had at the most two or three representatives.

The praise which the Russian World lavishes on the delegates from the small states at the conference is not the less strange. Their conduct is partially comprehensible.

The small states of Europe have much more chance of being conquered and of seeing their territory invaded by the enemy than of being able to invade themselves the territories of others. From this point of view their tendency to raise as many obstacles as possible to the power of the conqueror was perfectly legitimate. They would have been willing to regulate war so as to thoroughly tie the hands of the invader. But this point of view and this tendency of the small states are entirely inadmissible in practice. In fact, if the party which defends itself has unlimited rights, it is natural also that the invading party should not wish to consider itself restricted by anything whatever; it is impossible to declare that the defense is unlimited and that the invasion is limited by all kinds of laws and customs of war. But if the relations between the belligerents ought to remain entirely undefined, and if each one among them ought [Page 1031] to enjoy in time of war rights proportionate to its strength, it is evident that weak nations would alone have to suffer from it. It is therefore of all interest to these that the abuse of strength should be prevented as much as possible by a definition of the limits which such strength ought not to overstep, so as not to descend into barbarity and violence. In any case, we positively do not see at all why the point of view taken by the small states should be obligatory upon the large ones, and why the first should dictate laws to the second.

The great powers have all been by turns in the position of invaders and invaded, so the understanding has promptly established itself among them with regard to the rights and obligations of the army of occupation relative to the territory occupied by the enemy, and to its population.

As for the rest, the Russian World approves none the more of the decisions of the Brussels conference concerning the inviolability of the unarmed and peaceable population, and it demands that the fate of the army should not differ in too sensible a manner from the situation of other citizens of the country; but as the Russian World has recognized the necessity of defending the interests and the security of the populations which does not take a direct part in the military operations, it only remains for us to expect that this paper should let us know the means which it would like to see employed to guarantee the security of peaceable and undefended citizens, and that it should point out to us the limit where “the too sensible a difference” ends between these citizens and the army.

It remains for us to add one single observation. The Russian World wishes indeed to admit, in conclusion, that the Brussels conference has something of an importance, very modest, it is true, “at least quite as modest as that of the Geneva convention.” First of all, if the conference really has a modest importance, the cause of it is in the present conditions of international relations, and their modesty is a rare quality in our time, especially when it concerns the discussion of questions of international law. Consequently it is not at all necessary to disdain it.

Lastly, the Geneva convention has already rendered, during ten years of existence, very considerable service in saving the lives of thousands of individuals.

[Inclosure 5 in No. 55.—Translation.]

The Brussels conference.

[Abstract of an article in the “Journal de St. Petersbourg.”]

Without wishing to intervene in this discussion, we must call attention to the fact that the opinion given by the Russian World is identical with that expressed by the Times. The English journal equally reproaches the Brussels conference for only having formulated principles already acquired and universally recognized as axioms by international law, such as, for example the interdiction against bombarding open towns, and against pillaging cities taken by assault. However, the acts committed in 1855 against the city of Kertch and against the boats and villages of poor, inoffensive Finland fishermen, are not very ancient history, and sufficiently attest that international law is very far from being so firmly established, and especially so universally observed as the Times maintains.

This paper condemns the great armies and supports the small states in their protestations against the military exactions of the period. England, however, perfectly organized the defense of her territory according to the very conditions laid down at Brussels when she believed herself to be threatened with an invasion in 1857. Besides, w e do not see that the fervor of the English press for obtaining the reduction of military forces extends itself to demanding the diminution of fleets, to commence with that of Great Britain.

It seems to us, in any case, that if these points of view are explicable in the columns of an insular journal, they have reason to cause surprise in those of a Russian journal. Russia not having the advantage of being an island, and having, on the contrary, to provide security for an immense line of territorial frontiers, exposed to aggression from all parts.

[Inclosure 6 in No. 55.]

The military powers and the usages of war.

The announcement that Russia “contemplates the re-assembling of the International War Code Conference at Brussels,” (an announcement which we made many days [Page 1032] ago, and which is now repeated,) will surprise no one. We were told, indeed, before the meeting of the former congress that the Russian project to be submitted to its consideration was “only a starting-point for ulterior deliberations,” which Prince Gortschakoff trusted “would prepare the way for a general understanding.”, It is true that the debates at Brussels showed clearly enough what sort of a prospect there was of any “general understanding” being arrived at; and if this new movement on the part of Russia were taken as implying that she saw her way to a consummation which appeared so exceedingly remote a few months ago, our curiosity to know more would indeed be strongly excited. But Ave suspect that the understanding for which Russia has succeeded in preparing the way is not exactly a “general” one; and brief as is the telegram in which the news reaches us, it contains a significant sentence to confirm this suspicion. A draught treaty is, we are told, to be submitted to the conference; and it is added that “the Berlin and Vienna governments are more inclined to entertain the Russian proposals than some of the smaller states.” This is more than probable. The “smaller states” showed at the former conference a remarkable indisposition to remodel the laws of warfare in accordance with the interests of the great military powers, and to deprive themselves prospectively of their only chance of equalizing a struggle between themselves and their stronger neighbors; and further reflection is likely to have confirmed rather than weakened their repugnance to a policy of national suicide. On the other hand, there is much probability in the announcement that the Berlin and Vienna government are more favorably disposed to the Russian proposals, a fact, moreover, which Russia would be likely” to ascertain before proceeding further in the matter. The character, then, of the “general under-Standing” which has been the result, if not the object, of Prince Gortschakoffs philanthropic efforts seems to be pretty fairly within the reach of prediction. It is a “general understanding” between the great military powers to reconstruct the laws of war in their own interests and, with or without their consent, against the interests of the weaker powers. That without such consent they can practically effect their object we shall, if we consider the matter a little more closely, see good reason to believe. Those who attach a paramount and overruling importance to the general consent of nations in any reconstruction of military law, and who fancy, on these grounds, that a combination of military powers would feel bound to acquiesce in the rejection of their proposals by the rest of the European community, seem to us to be misled, either by undue faith in the force of international opinion or by the illusory associations which have gathered round the term “international law.” As to the latter, it is enough to remark that rules which avowedly rest upon no other basis than universal consent must be already severely shaken even in moral authority, by the mere withdrawal of a section of their adherents; while, if this withdrawal can be based upon any plausible pretext of morality, it is possible to evade in a great measure any conflict with international opinion, even while claiming a right to modify without general consent the existing obligations of international law, and it is not sufficiently remembered that Russia has provided herself with a very plausible pretext for the course she is apparently meditating.

We doubt, indeed, whether an extreme humanitarian could consistently oppose even the most exorbitant of the claims which were put forward in the Russian project. Undoubtedly if there were nothing of greater value to a state than the lives of its citizens, and if the mitigation of human suffering were the sole object to be considered in the settlement of the usages of war, then it would be impossible to resist the adoption of the bulk of the rules submitted by Prince Gortschakoff to the former conference. To restrict the area of combatancy as narrowly as possible, to make war as completely as possible an affair of professional fighting men—this is, unquestionably, to humanize war; and if it happens at the same time to give an overwhelming advantage in warfare to the nation which can muster the greatest number of professional fighting men, that Prince Gortschakoff may say is merely an accident, fortunate or unfortunate, as the case may be. If we, the military powers, in our disinterested exertions for the good of humanity, chance also to assure and consolidate our joint mastery over Europe, it only proves that virtue does not always go unrewarded, even in this world. Russia, indeed, to do her justice, has never shown any nervous anxiety to reconcile her policy with the convenances of public morality, and therefore might disdain any excuses of the kind; but to Germany, who has always had some traits of the sanctimonious Ironside about her military genius, and has always been desirous to show that her sword is of the Lord as well as of Gideon, the pretext of humanity and civilization will be invaluable.

But there is little need to speculate on the justifications adduced or adducible for a line of action which has probably been long since definitely resolved upon. The very futility of the late conference, considered as an attempt at a “general agreement,” and the obvious certainty, from the outset, that it would be futile, sufficiently show that it was intended as a mere preliminary formality to the adoption of a policy independent of any such agreement. We cannot think, either, that Prince Gortschakoff could have believed in the possibility of reconstructing the laws of war in the joint [Page 1033] interest of such powers as Russia, Germany, and Austria, and of such powers as Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland, or that, not believing this himself, he could have imagined it possible to delude the weaker powers into believing it. The former hypothesis would do injustice to the prince’s understanding, while the latter would credit him with too cynical a contempt for the understanding of others. There seems every reason to believe that the convention of the first conference was intended merely as a means of “fixing” Europe “with notice” of the various changes which certain powers think ought to be introduced in the laws of warfare, and that the projected conference (held after the various governments of Europe have had time for reflection on the matter) is to be made the occasion for a substantial restatement of these views as representing the rules upon which, on the occasion of future warfare, the reforming powers intend to act. They intend, in fact, to offer for the acceptance of the other European powers a code of rules for “humanizing warfare;” and if the latter are so blind to considerations of humanity as to refuse to accept it, they will at least have had fair warning what they may expect at the hands of more humane nations when next they come to be engaged in war with them. The humane rules will be carried out with rigorous humanity, with truly merciful severity. Civilians will be, in their own truest interest, summarily executed if they attempt to take up arms in defense of their country. The area of bloodshed “will be beneficently restricted, and every one will be shot who trespasses within it or too near its borders. Perhaps, in order to restrict it as closely and beneficently as possible, the doctrine of constructive occupation” will be adopted, so that “the presence of flying columns” in a country will entitle the invader to “hand over to justice” any “individuals belonging to the population of the country who shall rise in arms against him.” Thus will the humanization of warfare be achieved, and, at the same time, the supremacy of the greater military powers be assured.

We need not trouble ourselves to speculate on the exact details of .the new arrangements, or to consider whether the picture above sketched out will be found correct in every particular. The general spirit of the draught-treaty which Russia is about to propose can be predicted with sufficient certainty; and if it is to be accepted, as we are led to expect, by Germany and Austria, the European prospect is forbidding indeed. Optimists, unable to shut their eyes to the menacing aspect of affairs on the Continent, have been wont to console themselves and us by the reflection that the disturbing spectacle was only of an evanescent kind. If Germany maintains and increases her armaments, if France makes haste to restore hers, that, it has been said by some, is merely the expression of a temporary phase of international politics. Germany is jealously watchful over her new conquests, France dreaming idly of her revenge. Time will change all that; hostilities will subside and armaments be reduced. As to Russia, she is at present our very good friend, and too much occupied (so runs the talk of the day) “in the consolidation of her vast empire” to have time for schemes of conquest. Her preparations, however mysterious their object, mean mischief to no one. Such are the explanations which we have been wont to give and receive of the disquieting symptoms in the condition of Europe. But what is to become of these explanations, when we see the great military powers meditating an agreement which directly contemplates and assumes the maintenance of the status quo for an indefinite period of time, an agreement which absolutely shuts the door to any future possibility of disarmament, except by mutual consent, an agreement which could not be advantageous, or even prudent for any state to enter into, unless prepared to perpetuate, for its own part, that exhausting military competition by which the continental peoples are already so heavily burdened? It is not so long since one European power could reproach another with “turning Europe into a camp;” but we now perceive that the situation is established. The great military powers make their arrangements, it would seem, on the assumption that Europe is not only a camp now, but is to remain under arms for the next generation at least.

[Inclosure 7 in No. 55.—Translation.]

The Brussels conference.

[Abstract of an article in the “Journal de St. Petersbourg” 30th November, (12th December.)]

The Saturday Review lately published an article on the “Brussels conference,” and pronounced itself, like the Times and the Standard, in a very hostile sense. We will recapitulate its opinions.

The perseverance .of the Russian government in pursuing the project which has partially failed at Brussels is much more significant and more suspicious than the first idea of the project. If it be true that a second conference on the same question is about to be convoked at St. Petersburg it must be supposed that the three imperial courts have some definite aim in view. The invitation given to the different governments to send to St. Petersburg their observations on the resolutions passed at Brussels [Page 1034] is apparently superfluous. The English government can at least reply that it has nothing more to say with regard to propositions to which it has refused its consent. The Saturday Review maintains that, besides belligerents, there is another class which is far from being unimportant, and which demands assistance and protection against the encroachments of diplomats, who consider the state of war as the normal condition of humanity. Neutrals, although they have been the favorite objects of American and German invectives, ought not to be treated as if they existed at the mercy of belligerents.

An inoffensive community cannot consent to part with all its rights, because its neighbors are engaged in a quarrel which does not at all concern it. If it continues its commercial relations with the two parties in dispute, one of the belligerents will probably gain more than the other by the commerce, but that in no way implies that trade with the two adversaries should be suspended. Having adopted, before all other nations, a systematic policy of peace, England is particularly interested in protecting the rights of neutrals, and in resisting every interference in their domain. The modern liberal party occasionally inclines toward an opposite error in exaggerating the obligations of neutrals and the rights of belligerents, but the grave experience acquired at Washington and Geneva has convinced prudent politicians of the risks involved in an alteration of international law. The reserve which Lord Derby has manifested with regard to the propositions of Russia is judicious and at the same time courageous, and an immediate renewal of this attempt cannot tend to lessen its suspicion.

This unanimity of the English press, not very unanimous in general, in condemning the work undertaken at Brussels is very easy to understand. It is explained, as we have already said, by the insular position of England. It creates for it interests which are distinct from those of the Continent. Protected by its shores and its fleet, England has little fear of being invaded. If it makes war, it can therefore only be for the purpose of invading others. It is consequently moderately interested in limiting, while regulating, the laws of war.

We should have nothing to complain of in this point of view if the English press only spoke of England. But the pretension of applying its judgments to continental states, which are not isolated, which have vast territorial frontiers exposed to invasion and numerous contacts, which can enter into hostilities with neighboring states, and which are bound to the community of interests of the Continent by a close and immediate bond, this pretension is inadmissible. The illogical reasoning can only be surpassed by the simplicity of the continental states who allow themselves to be seduced by these egotistical theories.

That granted, the Saturday Review contains from the continental point of view as many errors as words.

The project presented at Brussels has in no way failed. Its aim was to excite a general discussion on questions of common interest. This discussion has taken place— a serious, honest, and profound discussion. Among the questions many were settled. As to others diverse opinions have been registered, and additional instruction requested. This will be the object of the second reunion. But whatever may be its result, principles have been established, governments have morally bound themselves by their declarations, international law has acquired a solid and practical basis, and the legislation of some countries has already applied the rules which have been laid down. The work is begun; it will follow its onward course and receive from time its consecration and development.
We should be glad if the Saturday Review would define what it means by the “secret purposes” which are pursued by the three imperial courts. These three courts are continental; they are open to suffer from, or to make, war. Therefore, in trying to render it regular, they are very impartial, and we cannot perceive that they have any other interest than that of humanity.
The Brussels conference by no means disregarded the importance of the rights of neutrals; it devoted several sittings to the subject, and several articles resulted from its deliberations. But collateral with these rights there are also duties. England, who, by reason of her insular position, can easily remain neutral, and who, by the extension of her merchant and military marine, can derive great profit from this neutrality, would, no doubt, like to specify only the rights and to render them unlimited. But it is an exclusive point of view which cannot be admitted by the generality of states. Moreover, maritime questions have been excluded by England herself from the programme of the Brussels conference. The melancholy way in which, the Saturday Review expresses itself on the experiences of Washington and Geneva points out well enough the reason of it. This is a sufficient reply to the utopists who would have been glad to see the conference pronounce the principle of international arbitration. England, who has given an example of it, condemns it to-day, because she has gained nothing thereby. But since we must renounce the prevention of wars, what remains to be done but to regulate their operations? If it pleases the English press to isolate in this respect the interests of England from those of the Continent, it cannot complain of continental states for regulating their mutual interests apart from England.