Lord Salisbury to Sir Julian Pauncefote.
November 26, 1895.
Sir, On the 7th August I transmitted to Lord Gough a copy of the despatch from Mr. Olney which Mr. Bayard had left with me that day, and of which he had read portions to me. I informed him at the time that it could not be answered until it had been carefully considered by the Law Officers of the Crown. I have therefore deferred replying to it till after the recess.
I will not now deal with those portions of it which are concerned exclusively with the controversy that has for some time past existed between the Republic of Venezuela and Her Majesty’s Government in regard to the boundary which separates their dominions. I take a very different view from Mr. Olney of various matters upon which he touches in that part of the despatch; but I will defer for the present all observations upon it, as it concerns matters which are not in themselves of first-rate importance, and do not directly concern the relations between Great Britain and the United States.
The latter part however of the despatch, turning from the question of the frontiers of Venezuela, proceeds to deal with principles of a far wider character, and to advance doctrines of international law which are of considerable interest to all the nations whose dominions include any portion of the western hemisphere.
The contentions set forth by Mr. Olney in this part of his despatch are represented by him as being an application of the political maxims which are well known in American discussion under the name of the Monroe doctrine. As far as I am aware, this doctrine has never been before advanced on behalf of the United States in any written communication addressed to the Government of another nation; but it has been generally adopted and assumed as true by many eminent writers and politicians in the United States. It is said to have largely influenced the Government of that country in the conduct of its foreign affairs: though Mr. Clayton, who was Secretary of State under President Taylor, expressly stated that that Administration had in no way adopted it. But during the period that has elapsed since the Message [Page 564] of President Monroe was delivered in 1823, the doctrine has undergone a very notable development, and the aspect which it no presents in the hands of Mr. Olney differs widely from its character when it first issued from the pen of its author. The two propositions which in effect President Monroe laid down were, first, that America was no longer to be looked upon as a field for European colonization; and, secondly, that Europe must not attempt to extend its political system to America, or to control the political condition of any of the American communities who had recently declared their independence.
The dangers against which President Monroe thought it right to guard were not as imaginary as they would seem at the present day. The formation of the Holy Alliance; the Congresses of Laybach and Verona; the invasion of Spain by France for the purpose of forcing upon the Spanish people a form of government which seemed likely to disappear, unless it was sustained by external aid, were incidents fresh in the mind of President Monroe when he penned his celebrated Message. The system of which he speaks, and of which he so resolutely deprecates the application to the American Continent, was the system then adopted by certain powerful States upon the Continent of Europe of combining to prevent by force of arms the adoption in other countries of political institutions which they disliked, and to uphold by external pressure those which they approved. Various portions of South America had recently declared their independence, and that independence had not been recognized by the Governments of Spain and Portugal, to which, with small exception, the whole of Central and South America were nominally subject. It was not an imaginary danger that he foresaw, if he feared that the same spirit which had dictated the French expedition into Spain might inspire the more powerful Governments of Europe with the idea of imposing, by the force of European arms, upon the South American communities the form of government and the political connection which they had thrown off. In declaring that the United States would resist any such enterprise if it was contemplated, President Monroe adopted a policy which received the entire sympathy of the English Government of that date.
The dangers which were apprehended by President Monroe have no relation to the state of things in which we live at the present day. There is no danger of any Holy Alliance imposing its system upon any portion of the American Continent, and there is no danger of any European State treating any part of the American Continent as a fit object for European colonization. It is intelligible that Mr. Olney should invoke, in defence of the views on which he is now insisting, an authority which enjoys so high a popularity with his own fellow-countrymen. But the circumstances with which President Monroe was dealing, and those to which the present American Government is addressing itself, have very few features in common. Great Britain is imposing no “system” upon Venezuela, and is not concerning herself in any way with the nature of the political institutions under which the Venezuelans may prefer to live. But the British Empire and the Republic of Venezuela are neighbours, and they have differed for some time past, and continue to differ, as to the line by which their dominions are separated. It is a controversy with which the United States have no apparent practical concern. It is difficult, indeed, to see how it can materially affect any State or community outside those primarily interested, except perhaps other parts of Her Majesty’s dominions, such as Trinidad, The disputed frontier of Venezuela [Page 565] has nothing to do with any of the questions dealt with by President Monroe. It is not a question of the colonization by a European Power of any portion of America. It is not a question of the imposition upon the communities of South America of any system of government devised in Europe. It is simply the determination of the frontier of a British possession which belonged to the Throne of England long before the Republic of Venezuela came into existence. But even if the interests of Venezuela were so far linked to those of the United States as to give to the latter a locus standi in this controversy, their Government apparently have not formed, and certainly do not express, any opinion upon the actual merits of the dispute. The Government of the United States do not say that Great Britain, or that Venezuela, is in the right in the matters that are in issue. But they lay down that the doctrine of President Monroe, when he opposed the imposition of European systems, or the renewal of European colonization, confers upon them the right of demanding that when a European Power has a frontier difference with a South American community, the European Power shall consent to refer that controversy to arbitration; and Mr. Olney states that unless Her Majesty’s Government accede to this demand, it will “greatly embarrass the future relations between Great Britain and the United States.”
Whatever may be the authority of the doctrine laid down by President Monroe, there is nothing in his language to show that he ever thought of claiming this novel prerogative for the United States. It is admitted that he did not seek to assert a Protectorate over Mexico, or the States of Central and South America. Such a claim would have imposed upon the United States the duty of answering for the conduct of these States, and consequently the responsibility of controlling it. His sagacious foresight would have led him energetically to deprecate the addition of so serious a burden to those which the Rulers of the United States have to bear. It follows of necessity that if the Government of the United States will not control the conduct of these communities, neither can it undertake to protect them from the consequences attaching to any misconduct of which they may be guilty towards other nations. If they violate in any way the rights of another State, or of its subjects, it is not alleged that the Monroe doctrine will assure them the assistance of the United States in escaping from any reparation which they may be bound by international law to give. Mr. Olney expressly disclaims such an inference from the principles he lays down.
But the claim which he founds upon them is that, if any independent American State advances a demand for territory of which its neighbour claims to be the owner, and that neighbour is the colony of a European State, the United States have a right to insist that the European State shall submit the demand, and its own impugned rights to arbitration.
I will not now enter into a discussion of the merits of this method of terminating international differences. It has proved itself valuable in many cases; but it is not free from defects, which often operate as a serious drawback on its value. It is not always easy to find an Arbitrator who is competent, and who, at the same time, is wholly free from bias; and the task of insuring compliance with the Award when it is made is not exempt from difficulty. It is a mode of settlement of which the value varies much according to the nature of the controversy to which it is applied, and the character of the litigants who appeal to it. Whether, in any particular case, it is a suitable [Page 566] method of procedure is generally a delicate and difficult question. The only parties who are competent to decide that question are the two parties whose rival contentions are in issue. The claim of a third nation, which is unaffected by the controversy, to impose this particular procedure on either of the two others, cannot be reasonably justified, and has no foundation in the law of nations.
In the remarks which I have made, I have argued on the theory that the Monroe doctrine in itself is sound. I must not, however, be understood as expressing any acceptance of it on the part of Her Majesty’s Government. It must always be mentioned with respect, on account of the distinguished statesman to whom it is due, and the great nation who have generally adopted it. But international law is founded on the general consent of nations; and no statesman; however eminent, and no nation, however powerful, are competent to insert into the code of international law a novel principle which was never recognized before, and which has not since been accepted by the Government of any other country. The United States have a right, like any other nation, to interpose in any controversy by which their own interests are affected; and they are the judge whether those interests are touched, and in what measure they should be sustained. But their rights are in no way strengthened or extended by the fact that the controversy affects some territory which is called American. Mr. Olney quotes the case of the recent Chilean war, in which the United States declined to join with France and England in an effort to bring hostilities to a close, on account of the Monroe doctrine. The United States were entirely in their right in declining to join in an attempt at pacification if they thought fit; but Mr. Olney’s principle that “American questions are for American decision,” even if it receive any countenance from the language of President Monroe (which it does not), can not be sustained by any reasoning drawn from the law of nations.
The Government of the United States is not entitled to affirm as a universal proposition, with reference to a number of independent States for whose conduct it assumes no responsibilty, that its interests are necessarily concerned in whatever may befall those States simply because they are situated in the Western Hemisphere. It may well be that the interests of the United States are affected by something that happens to Chile or to Peru, and that that circumstance may give them the right of interference; but such a contingency may equally happen in the case of China or Japan, and the right of interference is not more extensiveor more assured in the one case than in the other.
Though the language of President Monroe is directed to the attainment of objects which most Englishmen would agree to be salutary, it is impossible to admit that they have been inscribed by any adequate authority in the code of international law; and the danger which such admission would involve is sufficiently exhibited both by the strange development which the doctrine has received at Mr. Olney’s hands, and the arguments by which it is supported, in the despatch under reply. In defence of it lie says:
That distance and 3,000 miles of intervening ocean make any permanent political union between a European and an American State unnatural and inexpedient will hardly be denied. But physical and geographical considerations are the least of the objections to such a union. Europe has a set of primary interests which are peculiar to herself; America is not interested in them, and ought not to be vexed or complicated with them.
Thus far in our history we have been spared the burdens and evils of immense standing armies and all the other accessories of huge warlike establishments; and [Page 567] the exemption has highly contributed to our national greatness and wealth, as well as to the happiness of every citizen. But with the Powers of Europe permanently encamped on American soil, the ideal conditions we have thus far enjoyed cannot be expected to continue.
The necessary meaning of these words is that the union between Great Britain and Canada; between Great Britain and Jamaica and Trinidad; between Great Britain and British Honduras or British Guiana are “inexpedient and unnatural.” President Monroe disclaims any such inference from his doctrine; but in this, as in other respects, Mr. Olney develops it. He lays down that the inexpedient and unnatural character of the union between a European and American State is so obvious that it “will hardly be denied.” Her Majesty’s Government are prepared emphatically to deny it on behalf of both the British and American people who are subject to her Crown. They maintain that the union between Great Britain and her territories in the Western Hemisphere is both natural and expedient. They fully concur with the view which President Monroe apparently entertained, that any disturbance of the existing territorial distribution in that hemisphere by any fresh acquisitions on the part of any European State would be a highly inexpedient change. But they are not prepared to admit that the recognition of that expediency is clothed with the sanction which belongs to a doctrine of international law. They are not prepared to admit that the interests of the United States are necessarily concerned in every frontier dispute which may arise between any two of the States who possess dominion in the Western Hemisphere; and still less can they accept the doctrine that the United States are entitled to claim that the process of arbitration shall be applied to any demand for the surrender of territory which one of those States may make against another.
I have commented in the above remarks only upon the general aspect of Mr. Olney’s doctrines, apart from the special considerations which attach to the controversy between the United Kingdom and Venezuela in its present phase. This controversy has undoubtedly been made more difficult by the inconsiderate action of the Venezuelan Government in breaking off relations with Her Majesty’s Government, and its settlement has been correspondingly delayed; but Her Majesty’s Government have not surrendered the hope that it will be adjusted by a reasonable arrangement at an early date.
I request that you will read the substance of the above despatch to Mr. Olney, and leave him a copy if he desires it.