No. 496.
Mr. Schuyler to Mr. Fish.

No. 90.]

Sir: In my dispatch No. 55, of the 14th of December last, on the subject of the Brussels conference, I spoke of what seemed to me the possibility of the three great military powers agreeing on some project, and then in some way forcing the remaining states of Europe to submit to it. It would seem from an article lately published in the “Golos,” of an extract from which I have the honor to inclose to you a translation, marked 1, that this possibility may be realized. In this article it is pointed out that the three great powers may agree on some project on the laws and usages of war which shall be enforced with regard to each other, and that war only of the most barbarous character will be carried on against those powers who do not choose to consent to this.

[Page 1052]

The remarks of this article with regard to the refusal of England were so bitter that it was thought necessary to publish in the official journal a communication on the subject, a translation of which I inclose to you, marked 2. The few utterances of the Russian journals since that time have been marked by quite a different tone.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 90.—Translation.]

England’s refusal to attend the conference of the three great powers.

The “Golos,” in a long article on the refusal of England to attend the conference at St. Petersburg, after explaining the origin of the conference in the horrors of the French and German war, and what has really been accomplished, goes on to say that even if the common consent of the nations became impossible and very few powers attended the new conference, the cause would by no means be lost. Besides the way chosen by Russia there exist two other methods, either of which would have some advantage for Russia. First, Russia can elaborate a code of military laws and usages binding on the Russian armies with the proviso that they be applied only in wars with those countries who have declared that in a war with Russia they will keep to similar rules. With any country that did this we would carry on a war on a humane basis, but any country that would not do this would be obliged to excuse us from keeping such rules, and would have to bear all the penalty itself. A refusal to accept our rules would mean that it was determined to carry on a barbarous war, in which case let preparation be made to meet a barbarous war with all its horrible consequences. This new method of introducing fresh principles into international relations would, however, be nothing novel in Europe. Italy has introduced into its commercial code the following article: “The seizure by ships of war of merchant-vessels of the enemy is abolished on the basis of mutuality with regard to those powers who have taken the same measure respecting the Italian commercial fleet.” Introducing, therefore, a humane basis, Italy binds itself to apply it only to those powers who themselves apply it. Russia could do the same thing with the humanization of war by proclaiming that she allows it only on the basis of mutuality.

The second method is not new to Russia. The famous armed neutrality of the Empress Catharine II, directed against the maritime ravages of England, was introduced into the international law of Europe by means of the conclusions of separate conventions between Russia and the European powers. When the number of these conventions increased and the principles of armed neutrality received active force, England, who at the beginning had rudely refused to comply with the proposition of Russia, was was obliged nolens volens to submit to the new system of maritime law which had received international sanction. So also in the present case Russia could, by elaborating a project of military laws and usages, communicate it to all the other powers with the question whether they do not wish to conclude with Russia a convention for carrying out these laws and usages in their future wars. In this respect we should only need the signature of two or three of the military powers to this convention, since there exists a close friendly alliance between Austria, Germany, and Russia, and since the Brussels conference has shown that these three chief military powers are agreed with each other on all the existing questions of international law. In all probability, therefore, the conclusion of a similar convention with them would not meet with the slightest opposition. In what condition would then be placed those states which did not join in this convention? In case of a war between them and one of the states bound by the convention, the most barbarous methods of war would be allowed against them.

Whom, it may be asked, has England injured by her refusal? Materially she could not injure herself, because for some time, at least, she is protected by the sea from an attack of enemies. To her allies, if indeed she could ever find any in a given case, she will only show a very bad service, since in case of war they will be made the victims of the barbarous method of carrying it on. But morally, in the respect of all enlightened peoples, England, by her thoughtless refusal, has lost very much.

Our chancellor, at the end of the supplement to his dispatch of the 24th of January, (5th February,) ironically asks Lord Derby to explain what are those principles of international law in accordance with which England has up to this time constantly regulated her actions, and which she is determined to observe in the future. These principles are [Page 1053] well known. Defenseless Copenhagen saw them applied to herself when bombarded by English cannon. Their application is probably remembered to this day by the Finnish fishermen, whose boats were chased by English ships under the command of the famous Admiral Dun das. These principles have been elaborated by English statesmen and jurists into a very fixed system, according to which English armies must injure as much as possible the subjects of the enemy in order that they may force their government to make peace as soon as possible on the terms dictated by it. According to this system war means arbitrary acts of all kinds, force of all kinds, and the pillage without distinction of whatever falls into the enemy’s hands. By its refusal to take part in the labors of the St. Petersburg conference, England shows that it is difficult for her to discontinue barbarous methods of warfare, and that it is unpleasant to her that she should be placed under any kind of restraint.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 90.—Translation.]

Refusal of England to attend the conference, &c.

The documents exchanged between the imperial cabinet of Russia and the English government, concerning the conference on the laws and customs of war, have been, on the part of the press, the subject of opinions which do not agree either with the sentiments which have suggested to His Majesty the Emperor this magnanimous initiative of humanity, or with the essential character of our relations with the cabinet of London.

We deem it as well to recall to mind that the desire to mitigate the horrors of war is not exclusively a Russian idea, and has not at all in view only the interests of Russia.

At different times private initiative, with a view of attaining this end, has made numerous attempts which have been recognized as a true advance.

The United States of North America found it necessary to publish a rule which should serve as a guide to the armies of the Union, during the war of secession, in order to render less sensible to the whole country the weight of that unhappy intestine struggle.

After the war of 1870, and on account of the considerable armaments which were made everywhere, the necessity of defining with precision the laws and customs of war was universally felt to such a degree that, at the very moment when the imperial cabinet proposed to submit this question to examination, certain private philanthropic societies had already taken it up, and one of them, which occupied itself in ameliorating the condition of the prisoners of war, had even proposed to convoke a conference at Paris. The project of this society was published, and the best proof that the need of overcoming the uncertainty of international law had become a general feeling, is the fact that this project embraced nearly all the questions which have reference to the laws and customs of war.

The imperial cabinet did not think it possible to leave to private initiative the examination of these important questions which bear on the immediate interest of governments, and which can only, therefore, obtain from the latter a practical solution.

Moreover, the imperial cabinet thought that the first step in calling together an official meeting of delegates from the various states, for the study of questions of general importance, devolved in the first rank upon His Imperial Majesty, by reason of the high moral position reached in Europe by the Emperor, who, thanks to his home and foreign policy during nearly twenty years, has given the pledge of pacific, humane, and enlightened tendencies, which have earned for His Majesty universal sympathy and respect.

But, we repeat, His Majesty the Emperor had solely in view to contribute by his initiative to the realization of an object, the utility of which is common to all humanity. Russia interested herself in it, for what concerns her personally, in proportion as she makes part of the whole of the great family of civilized peoples. No private or personal consideration prompted her to urge this or that means of settling the questions which she has submitted to the examination of the European governments.

Whatever decision may be taken, provided that it be really beneficial to humanity, Russia will support it with zeal. The cabinet only sought a calm, benevolent, and elevated discussion which would cast a ray of light and truth on those interests of great importance and concerning everybody.

It follows, as a matter of course, that in the study of these questions all sincere opinions, all loyal objections should be received and respected, and that the only thing to be regretted is a refusal which would deprive a great nation of the possibility of making its voice heard in the deliberations.