No. 492.
Mr. Schuyler to Mr. Fish.

No. 82.]

Sir: The Russian government has finally permitted the publication of the proceedings of the Brussels congress in the Russian papers. Up to this time they had only been published in a supplement to the French “Journal de Saint Petersbourg,” of which only a limited number of copies were printed.

The publication of the dispatches in the “Invalid” is accompanied by an official communication, a translation of which I send to you, marked 1, on a slip cut from the London “Times,” to which paper it was telegraphed. With the exception of an article in the “Russian World,” translated in the accompanying’ paper, marked 2, which, as before, criticises the Brussels congress and approves the policy of England in the matter, the Russian press of late has done nothing more than reprint the dispatches and protocols. Public interest on the subject seems to some extent to have died out. I may remark that the Invalid is the official organ of [Page 1039] the minister of war, and that the Russian World is managed by a clique in opposition to him.

The government of Sweden has replied to the circular of Mr. de Westmann of September 26, (October 8,) that it accepts the final project of declaration as agreed upon at Brussels, and will, be most happy to co-operate with the Russian cabinet in any further measures it may take, reserving to itself, however, the right of withholding its consent should the project be changed in any way. This adhesion, being from one of the small states, is said to have given great satisfaction to the imperial cabinet.

The Queen’s messenger last week brought a long dispatch from Lord Derby, which, though in some measure anticipated, is of a more unpleasant nature. The English government refuses to take any further steps in the matter, and states that in case of war England and her allies will not consider themselves bound by any propositions which may be agreed upon by other powers, and which may in any way change the customs or usages of international law or the laws of war, as they at present exist. I am told that the dispatch states at great length the reasons that have led the English cabinet to this decision, one of which is that the Government of the United States has not taken part in the deliberations. The dispatch itself I have not yet had an opportunity of seeing.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 82. —Translation from the London Times.]

The Brussels conference.

[From the “Russian Invalid.”]

A few words will suffice to vindicate the aims and objects of the conference against its adversaries. War is a last resource which no civilized state ought to have recourse to unless honor, safety, and existence are imperiled by tin justifiable demands on the part of an enemy. In such cases all minor considerations are silenced by the voice of patriotism. All European states have suffered the infliction of war, and there is no telling when and where this terrible trial may be renewed. Such being the case, the various governments, thanks to the steady progress of humane ideas and the growth of international relations, have long thought it their duty to obviate war if possible, or at any rate to confine its fearful consequences to the narrowest limits, if unfortunately hostilities could not be avoided. The rules and usages developed under the influence of these philanthropic principles are known as the laws of war, and have been much commented upon by jurists and philosophers. Despite, however, the undeniable merit of the professors of international law in mitigating the horrors of war, science alone can never hope to attain the end in view. Science has no power to enforce its verdicts, and what is worse, the opinions of its various representatives do not always agree with each other, or are based upon untenable premises, or in some instances unknown to those who ought to be guided by them. Hence the laws of war, as fixed by international usage, prove hut a very feeble and obscure code whenever put to the test. All wars lead to mutual recriminations on the part of the belligerents, and though certain broad principles might be generally recognized, the mode of observing them was always a matter of doubt. The natural result of this sorry state of things was exasperation on both sides, and universal indulgence in barbarous reprisals. To remove these evils must be doubly desirable at this time of all others.

The material resources of all nations having been considerably developed, war is more intensely felt than formerly, and the means at the disposal of the governments being so very much greater than they were, any armed conflict in these modern days necessarily assumes a particularly cruel and destructive character. It is, therefore, to be devoutly wished that the laws of war be codified and rendered at once more intelligible and obligatory. To do this was the task of the Brussels conference. The primary object of this conference was not at all to lay down fresh regulations to be observed in the conduct of war, but only to select from the traditional and uncodified [Page 1040] body of international law those rules and usages adapted to the present times, and to convert them into generally-acknowledged and binding statutes, without closing the door to such ulterior reforms as are likely to be recommended by the progress of civilization, the conference mainly aimed at defining old but ambiguous rules, and giving them the dignity and force of treaty stipulations. If, in comparing the much-con-tested principles of international law with the exigencies of modern warfare, the members of the conference found it difficult to agree, this only proves how very ambiguous those principles are, and how very differently they may be interpreted. It is, therefore, high time to do away with a state of intellectual confusion which allows nations to go to war with one another without an exact knowledge of their mutual rights and obligations, and which necessarily leads to violence and arbitrary proceedings that might be easily avoided. We may thus hope to put a stop to the practice of belligerents of charging each other with breach of international law, and we may even aim at preventing those measures of repression which, though sometimes harsher than the provocation given, are yet justified by the stern necessities of war. The draught declaration made up by the Brussels conference begins by enumerating certain well-known and generally-recognized principles on which the meeting easily agreed. All that was required was to give these principles a definite and unmistakable expression, calculated to obviate the doubts occasionally thrown upon them in time of war. If sanctioned in their present form by the various governments, the rights and obligations of belligerents will have been firmly established at last. Rules which have supplied so much matter for dispute will be laid down in a tangible shape, and effectually enforced by officers initiated in the new code in the military schools and ordered to observe them like any of their other instructions. Other questions were not solved at the conference, but the various opinions to which they gave occasion were put down in the protocol. The draught declaration, therefore, does not presume to settle finally and definitively all the questions mooted, the text of that document only aiming at effecting a compromise between the various views enunciated at the conference. The governments have since been invited to study the materials submitted to their consideration and give utterance to any remarks they may think it expedient to Offer. When these remarks shall have been received, it may be necessary to hold another conference for the final settlement of the agreement to be entered into. It is superfluous to add that the questions mooted at the conference are not new; they have arisen at all times in all wars. While it is impossible to improve them, it is equally impossible to say that international law has settled them satisfactorily and with sufficient clearness. To leave these questions unanswered is to leave the door open to the abuse of power and the violence of warlike passion. What the Brussels conference wished to effect was merely to prevent useless suffering and do away with the cruel reprisals occurring under the present régime, to define the laws and usages of war, to protect the defenders of their country, the wounded and the prisoners from unnecessary hardships, and to secure the unconditional recognition of the personal rights of every soldier in acquitting himself of his military duties. These were the only objects of the Brussels conference. The conference likewise thought it their duty to alleviate the sufferings of the civil population not taking an active part in the war. It is the interest of the weak which the Brussels development of international relations has not a little promoted by its labors.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 82.—Translation.]

The Brussels congress.

[From the “Russian World.”]

It is beyond all doubt that the suspicion entertained of the sincerity and frankness of British diplomacy, which had some practical foundation under the régime of Lord Palmerston and his followers, is at the present moment extremely unjust and arbitrary; the firm, energetic, and at the same time excessively circumspect and restrictive mode of action of the cabinet of St. James does not justify the doubts with which public writers of the Continent have been accustomed to regard English policy.

The invariable sobriety of judgment, stern and inflexible, the fixity of tendency and aim, the business-like and practical foresight, and, lastly, the predominating lucidity of logic and common sense, all these qualities of the English are as conspicuous in the sphere of politics as in other provinces of human activity.

At the same time, it is just these valuable qualities of English policy that evoke bitter accusations and reproaches; cruel egotism is discerned in the resolute moderation of England, and apathy to the ideal of humanity in her sound sense and worldly wisdom. Many similar reproaches were lavished on England last year on her refusal [Page 1041] to join the Brussels conference. It is these threats that show most forcibly the complete falsity of the traditional views of the continental public with regard to the policy of England.

It is a well-known fact that perfect unanimity of opinion prevailed throughout the whole English press on the question of the Brussels conference. After a close study of all the arguments adduced in the English papers with reference to the opinions “evoked at the conference and the principles involved, we think it impossible to discover in them anything but a true expression of apolitical logic and of ordinary practical tact. England could not have been influenced by any special motives in her resistance in view of her isolation from all the military interests of the Continent and of the exclusion from the programme of deliberations of the conference, of the only questions in which her interests were involved, namely, those of maritime rights.

The criticisms of the English press against the conference, which was summoned with the view of regulating the laws and customs of war, clearly show that with its characteristic practical sense, it at once perceived the weakness of some of the important points of the project, which the continental press discussed mostly only from an abstract humanitarian aspect, without paying attention to its expediency and to the possible practical consequences on the mutual relations of governments and peoples.

The question of offensive and defensive operations interests England much less than it does the continental powers; within European limits, she is the country least likely to play an aggressive or defensive part. The English consequently could have no positive motives for opposing the realization of any humanitarian projects within the region of international law; consequently the politicians of England were in a position to discuss the matter with calm impartiality, which, unfortunately, in this case, did not distinguish the continental press.

Every one who is acquainted with the present condition of international law cannot fail to see that the opinions expressed in England on the labors of the congress are in perfect unison with the views entertained by the greatest authorities on the subject of the international military problems of our time; while giving just credit to the humane initiative of the Russian cabinet, these views point to the impractical bility of the philanthropic intentions of Russia by the means selected. While also indicating the inexpediency of the limitations of natural defense under the present conditions of peace and war, they recognize only one important and timely matter for discussion which has been brought prominently forward by recent international political movements, and in which English statesmen and public men have played such an active and honorable part. This point consists in the greatest possible extension of the principle of arbitration which has been already recognized by the majority of European parliaments, and among them by the Parliament of Great Britain.

The eloquent fact of the adoption of Mr. H. Richards’s resolution in the House of Commons in 1878, with regard to international arbitration may, it would seem, serve as a sufficiently forcible reply to the reproaches and assertions of those who accuse England of callous, egotistical indifference with respect to the problems and successes of real progress in the sphere of international rights.

Had the question of international arbitration been comprised in the programme of the Brussels conference, the people of England and her government would of course have assumed a different attitude towards the congress and would have been the first to respond to the call of the great northern power. The fact alone of the recognition of the principle of arbitration by the two most practical nations in the world, England and America, serves to a certain extent as a guarantee of its practicability and of the possibility of its adoption.