The Russian Ambassador to the Secretary of State .
Washington , April 12, 1906.
Mr. Secretary of State: When it assumed the initiative of calling a second peace conference, the Imperial Government had in view the necessity of further developing the humanitarian principles on which was based the work accomplished by the great international assemblage of 1899.
At the same time, it deemed it expedient to enlarge as much as possible the number of States participating in the labors of the contemplated conference, and the alacrity with which the call was answered bears witness to the depth and breadth of the present sentiment of solidarity for the application of ideas aiming at the good of all mankind.
The first conference separated in the firm belief that its labors would subsequently be perfected from the effect of the regular progress of enlightenment among the nations and abreast of the results acquired from experience. Its most important creation, the International Court of Arbitration, is an institution that has already proved its worth and brought together, for the good of all, an areo-pagus of jurists who command the respect of the world. How much good could be accomplished by international commissions of inquiry toward the settlement of disputes between States has also been shown.
There are, however, certain improvements to be made in the convention relative to the peaceful settlement of international disputes. Following recent arbitrations, the jurists assembled in court have [Page 1630] raised certain questions of details which should be acted upon by adding to the said convention the necessary amplifications. It would seem especially desirable to lay down fixed principles in regard to the use of languages in the proceedings in view of the difficulties that may arise in the future as the cases referred to arbitral jurisdiction multiply. The modus operandi of international commissions of inquiry would likewise be open to improvement.
As regards the regulating of the laws and customs of war on land, the provisions established by the first conference ought also to be completed and defined, so as to remove all misapprehensions.
As for maritime warfare, in regard to which the laws and customs of the several countries differ on certain points, it is necessary to establish fixed rules in keeping with the exigencies of the rights of belligerents and the interests of neutrals.
A convention bearing on these subjects should be framed and would constitute one of the most prominent parts of the tasks devolved upon the forthcoming conference.
Holding, therefore, that there is at present occasion only to examine questions that demand special attention as being the outcome of the experience of recent years, without touching upon those that might have reference to the limitation of military or naval forces, the Imperial Government proposes for the programme of the contemplated meeting the following main points:
1. Improvements to be made in the provisions of the convention relative to the peaceful settlement of international disputes as regards the court of arbitration and the international commissions of inquiry.
2. Additions to be made to the provisions of the convention of 1899 relative to the laws and customs of Avar on land—among others, those concerning the opening of hostilities, the rights of neutrals on land, etc. Declarations of 1899: One of these having expired, question of its being revived.
3. Framing of a convention relative to the laws and customs of maritime warfare, concerning—
The special operations of maritime warfare, such as the bombardment of ports, cities, and villages by a naval force; the laying of torpedoes, etc.;
The transformation of merchant vessels into war ships;
The private property of belligerents at sea;
The length of time to be granted to merchant ships for their departure from ports of neutrals or of the enemy after the opening of hostilities;
The rights and duties of neutrals at sea, among others, the questions of contraband, the rules applicable to belligerent vessels in neutral ports; destruction, in cases of vis major, of neutral merchant vessels captured as prizes;
In the said convention to be drafted, there would be introduced the provisions relative to war on land that would be also applicable to maritime warfare.
4. Additions to be made to the convention of 1899 for the adaption to maritime warfare of the principles of the Geneva convention of 1864.
As was the case at the conference of 1899, it would be well understood that the deliberations of the contemplated meeting should not [Page 1631] deal with the political relations of the several states, or the condition of things established by treaties, or in general with questions that did not directly come within the programme adopted by the several cabinets.
The Imperial Government desires distinctly to state that the data of this programme and the eventual acceptance of the several states clearly do not prejudge the opinion that may be delivered in the conference in regard to the solving of the questions brought up for discussion. It would likewise be for the contemplated meeting to decide as to the order of the questions to be examined and the form to be given to the decisions reached as to whether it should be deemed preferable to include some of them in new conventions or to append them, as additions, to conventions already existing.
In formulating the above-mentioned programme, the Imperial Government bore in mind, as far as possible, the recommendations made by the First Peace Conference, with special regard to the rights and duties of neutrals, the private property of belligerents at sea, the bombardment of ports, cities, etc. It entertains the hope that the Government of the United States will take the whole of the points proposed as the expression of a wish to come nearer that lofty ideal of international justice that is the permanent goal of the whole civilized world.
By order of my Government, I have the honor to acquaint you with the foregoing, and awaiting the reply of the Government of the United States with as little delay as possible, I embrace this opportunity to beg you, Mr. Secretary of State, to accept the assurance of my very high consideration.