Peace Conference at the Hague 1899:
General Report of the United States Commission
Previous Document Contents Next Document

THE HAGUE, July 31, 1899.

THE HONORABLE JOHN HAY, Secretary of State,

Sir: On May 17, 1899, the American Commission to the Peace Conference of The Hague met for the first time at the house of the American Minister, The Honorable Stanford Newel, the members in the order named in the instructions from the State Department being Andrew D. White, Seth Low, Stanford Newel, Captain Alfred T. Mahan of the United States Navy, Captain William Crozier of the United States Army, and Frederick W. Holls, Secretary. Mr. White was elected President and the instructions from the Department of State were read.

On the following day the Conference was opened at the Palace known as "The House in the Wood, " and delegates from the following countries, twenty-six in number, were found to be present: Germany, The United States of America, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, China, Denmark, Spain, France, Great Britain and Ireland, Greece, Italy, Japan, Luxemburg, Mexico, Montenegro, The Netherlands, Persia, Portugal, Roumania, Russia, Servia, Siam, Sweden and Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and Bulgaria.

The opening meeting was occupied mainly by proceedings of a ceremonial nature, including a telegram to the Emperor of Russia and a message of thanks to the Queen of the Netherlands, with speeches by M. de Beaufort, the Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs, and M. de Staal, representing Russia.

At the second meeting a permanent organization of the Conference was effected, M. de Staal being chosen President, M. de Beaufort honorary President, and M. van Karnebeek, a former Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vice-President. A sufficient number of Secretaries was also named.

The work of the Conference was next laid out with reference to the points stated in the Mouravieff circular of December 30, 1898, and divided between three great committees as follows:

The first of these committees was upon the limitation of armaments and war budgets, the interdiction or discouragement of sundry arms and explosives which had been or might be hereafter invented, and the limitation of the use of sundry explosives, projectiles, and methods of destruction both on land and sea, as contained in Articles 1 to 4 of the Mouravieff circular.

The second great committee had reference to the extension of the Geneva Red Cross Rules of 1864 and 1868 to maritime warfare, and the revision of the Brussels Declaration of 1874 concerning the laws and customs of war and contained in Articles 5 to 7 of the same circular.

The third committee had as its subjects, mediation, arbitration, and other methods of preventing armed conflicts between nations, as referred to in Article 8 of the Mouravieff circular.

The American members of these three committees were as follows: of the first committee, Messrs. White, Mahan, Crozier; of the second committee, Messrs. White, Newel, Mahan, Crozier; of the third committee, Messrs. White, Low and Holls.

In aid of these three main committees sub-committees were appointed as follows:

The first committee referred questions of a military nature to the first sub-committee of which Captain Crozier was a member, and questions of a naval nature to the second sub-committee of which Captain Mahan was a member.

The second committee referred Articles 5 and 6, having reference to the extension of the Geneva Rules to maritime warfare to a sub-committee of which Captain Mahan was a member, and Article 7, concerning the revision of the laws and customs of war, to a sub-committee of which Captain Crozier was a member.

The third committee appointed a single sub-committee, of "examination," whose purpose was to scrutinize plans, projects, and suggestions of arbitration, and of this committee, Mr. Holls was a member.

The main steps in the progress of the work wrought by these agencies, and the part taken in it by our Commission are detailed in the accompanying reports made to the American Commission by the American members of the three committees of the Conference. It will be seen from these that some of the most important features finally adopted were the result of American proposals and suggestions.

As to that portion of the work of the First Committee of the Conference which concerned the non-augmentation of armies, navies, and war budgets for a fixed term and the study of the means for eventually diminishing armies and war budgets, namely Article 1, the circumstances of the United States being so different from those which obtain in other parts of the world and especially in Europe, we thought it best, under our instructions, to abstain from taking any active part. In this connection, the following declaration was made:

The Delegation of the United States of America has concurred in the conclusions upon the first clause of the Russian letter of December 30, 1898, presented to the Conference by the First Commission, namely: that the proposals of the Russian representatives, for fixing the amounts of effective forces and of budgets, military and naval, for periods of five and three years. cannot now be accepted, and that a more profound study upon the part of each State concerned is to be desired. But, while thus supporting what seemed to be the only practicable solution of a question submitted to the Conference by the Russian letter, the Delegation wishes to place upon the Record that the United States, in so doing, does not express any opinion as to the course to be taken by the States of Europe.

This declaration is not meant to indicate mere indifference to a difficult problem, because it does not affect the United States immediately, but expresses a determination to refrain from enunciating opinions upon matters into which, as concerning Europe alone, the United States has no claim to enter. The resolution offered by M. Bourgeois, and adopted by the First Commission, received also the hearty concurrence of this Delegation, because in so doing it expresses the cordial interest and sympathy with which the United States, while carefully abstaining from anything that might resemble interference, regards all movements that are thought to tend to the welfare of Europe. The military and naval armaments of the United States are at present so small, relatively, to the extent of territory and to the number of the population, as well as in comparison with those of other nations, that their size can entail no additional burden of expense upon the latter, nor can even form a subject for profitable mutual discussion.

As to that portion of the work of the first committee which concerned the limitations of invention and the interdiction of sundry arms, explosives, mechanical agencies, and methods heretofore in use or which might possibly be hereafter adopted both as regards warfare by land and sea, namely, Articles 2, 3, and 4, the whole matter having been divided between Captains Mahan and Crozier, so far as technical discussion was concerned, the reports made by them from time to time to the American Commission formed the basis of its final action on these subjects in the first committee and in the Conference at large.

The American Commission approached the subject of the limitation of invention with much doubt. They had been justly reminded in their instructions of the fact that by the progress of invention as applied to the agencies of war, the frequency, and indeed the exhausting character of war had been as a rule diminished rather than increased. As to details regarding missiles and methods, technical and other difficulties arose which obliged us eventually, as will be seen, to put ourselves on record in opposition to the large majority of our colleagues from other nations on sundry points. While agreeing with them most earnestly as to the end to be attained, the difference in regard to some details was irreconcilable. We feared falling into worse evils than those from which we sought to escape. The annexed Reports of Captains Mahan and Crozier will exhibit very fully these difficulties and the decisions thence arising.

As to the work of the Second great Committee of the Conference, the matters concerned in Articles 3 and 6 which related to the extension to maritime warfare of the Red Cross Rules regarding care for the wounded adopted in the Geneva Conventions of 1864 and 1868 were, as already stated, referred as regards the discussion of technical questions in the committee and sub-committee to Captain Mahan, and the matters concerned in Article 7, on the revision of the laws and customs of war were referred to Captain Crozier. On these technical questions Captains Mahan and Crozier reported from time to time to the American Commission, and these reports having been discussed both in regard to their general and special bearings, became the basis of the final action of the entire American Commission, both in the second committee and in the Conference at large.

As to the first of these subjects, the extension of the Geneva Red Cross Rules to maritime warfare, while the general purpose of the articles adopted elicited the especial sympathy of the American Commission, a neglect of what seemed to us a question of almost vital importance, namely: the determination of the status of men picked up by the hospital ships of neutral states or by other neutral vessels, has led us to refrain from signing the Convention prepared by the Conference touching this subject, and to submit the matter, with full explanation, to the Department of State for decision.

As to the second of these subjects, the revision of the laws and customs of war, though the code adopted and embodied in the third convention commends our approval, it is of such extent and importance as to appear to need detailed consideration in connection with similar laws and customs already in force in the army of the United States, and it was thought best, therefore, to withhold our signature from this Convention, also, and to refer it to the State Department with a recommendation that it be there submitted to the proper authorities for special examination and signed, unless such examination shall disclose imperfections not apparent to the Commission.

In the Third great Committee of the Conference, which had in charge the matters concerned in Article 3 of the Russian circular, with reference to good offices, mediation, and arbitration, the proceedings of the sub-committee above referred to became especially important.

While much interest was shown in the discussions of the first of the great Committees of the Conference, and still more in those of the second, the main interest of the whole body centered more and more in the third. It was felt that a thorough provision for arbitration and its cognate subjects is the logical precursor of the limitation of standing armies and budgets, and that the true logical order is, first, arbitration and then disarmament.

As to subsidiary agencies, while our Commission contributed much to the general work regarding good offices and mediation, it contributed entirely, through Mr. Holls, the plan for " Special Mediation, " which was adopted unanimously, first by the committee and finally by the Conference.

As to the plan for "International Commissions of Inquiry" which emanated from the Russian Delegation, our Commission acknowledged its probable value, and aided in elaborating it; but added to the safeguards against any possible abuse of it, as concerns the United States, by our Declaration of July 25, to be mentioned hereafter.

The functions of such commissions is strictly limited to the ascertainment of facts, and it is hoped that, both by giving time for passions to subside and by substituting truth for rumor, they may prove useful at times in settling international disputes. The Commissions of Inquiry may also form a useful auxiliary both in the exercise of Good Offices and to Arbitration.

As to the next main subject, the most important of all under consideration by the third committee-the plan of a Permanent Court or Tribunal-we were able, in accordance with our instructions, to make contributions which we believe will aid in giving such a court dignity and efficiency.

On the assembling of the Conference, the feeling regarding the establishment of an actual, permanent tribunal was evidently chaotic, with little or no apparent tendency to crystallize into any satisfactory institution. The very elaborate and, in the main, excellent proposals relating to procedure before special and temporary tribunals, which were presented by the Russian Delegation, did not at first contemplate the establishment of any such permanent institution. The American plan contained a carefully devised project for such a tribunal, which differed from that adopted mainly in contemplating a tribunal capable of meeting in full bench and permanently in the exercise of its functions, like the Supreme Court of the United States, instead of a Court like the Supreme Court of the State of New York, which never sits as a whole, but whose members sit from time to time singly or in groups, as occasion may demand. The Court of Arbitration provided for, resembles in many features the Supreme Court of the State of New York, and courts of unlimited original jurisdiction in various other States. In order to make this system effective a Council was established, composed of the diplomatic representatives of the various Powers at The Hague, and presided over by the Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs, which should have charge of the central office of the proposed Court, of all administrative details, and of the means and machinery for speedily calling a proper bench of judges together, and for setting the Court in action. The reasons why we acquiesced in this plan will be found in the accompanying report This compromise involving the creation of a Council and the selection of judges, not to be in session save when actually required for international litigation, was proposed by Great Britain, and the feature of it, which provided for the admission of the Netherlands with its Minister of Foreign Affairs as President of the Council, was proposed by the American Commission. The nations generally joined in perfecting the details. It may truthfully be called, therefore, the plan of the Conference.

As to the revision of the decisions by the tribunal in case of the discovery of new facts, a subject on which our instructions were explicit, we were able, in the face of determined and prolonged opposition, to secure recognition in the Code of Procedure for the American view.

As regards the procedure to be adopted in the International Court thus provided, the main features having been proposed by the Russian Delegation, various modifications were made by other Delegations, including our own. Our Commission was careful to see that in this Code there should be nothing which could put those conversant more especially with British and American Common Law and Equity at a disadvantage. To sundry important features proposed by other Powers our own Commission gave hearty support. This was the case more especially with Article 27 proposed by France. It provides a means, through the agency of the Powers generally, for calling the attention of any nations apparently drifting into war, to the fact that the tribunal is ready to hear their contention. In this provision, broadly interpreted, we acquiesced, but endeavored to secure a clause limiting to suitable circumstances the "duty" imposed by the article. Great opposition being shown to such an amendment as unduly weakening the article, we decided to present a declaration that nothing contained in the convention should make it the duty of the United States to intrude in or become entangled with European political questions or matters of internal administration, or to relinquish the traditional attitude of our nation toward purely American questions. This declaration was received without objection by the Conference in full and open session.

As to the results thus obtained as a whole regarding arbitration, in view of all the circumstances and considerations revealed during the sessions of the Conference, it is our opinion that the " Plan for the Peaceful Adjustment of International Differences," which was adopted by the Conference, is better than that presented by any one nation. We believe that, though it will doubtless be found imperfect and will require modification as time goes on, it will form a thoroughly practical beginning, that it will produce valuable results from the outset, and that it will be the germ out of which a better and better system will be gradually evolved.

As to the question between compulsory and voluntary arbitration, it was clearly seen, before we had been long in session, that general compulsory arbitration of questions, really likely to produce war, could not be obtained; in fact, that not one of the nations represented at the Conference was willing to embark in it so far as the more serious questions were concerned. Even as to questions of less moment it was found to be impossible to secure agreement except upon a voluntary basis. We ourselves felt obliged to insist upon the omission from the Russian list of proposed subjects for compulsory arbitration, international conventions relating to rivers, to inter-oceanic canals, and to monetary matters. Even as so amended, the plan was not acceptable to all. As a consequence, the Convention prepared by the Conference provides for voluntary arbitration only. It remains for public opinion to make this system effective. As questions arise threatening resort to arms, it may well be hoped that public opinion in the nations concerned, seeing in this great international court a means of escape from the increasing horrors of war, will insist more and more that the questions at issue be referred to it. As time goes on such reference will probably more and more seem, to the world at large, natural and normal, and we may hope that recourse to the tribunal will finally, in the great majority of serious differences between nations, become a popular means of avoiding the resort to arms. There will also be another effect worthy of consideration. This is the building up of a body of international law growing out of the decisions handed down by the judges. The procedure of the tribunal requires that reasons for such decisions shall be given, and these decisions and reasons can hardly fail to form additions of especial value to international jurisprudence.

It now remains to report the proceedings of the Conference, as well as our own action, regarding the question of the immunity of private property not contraband, from seizure on the seas in time of war. From the very beginning of our sessions it was constantly insisted by leading representatives from nearly all the great Powers that the action of the Conference should be strictly limited to the matters specified in the Russian circular of December 30, 1898, and referred to in the invitation emanating from the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Many reasons for such a limitation were obvious. The members of the Conference were, from the beginning, deluged with books, pamphlets, circulars, newspapers, broadsides, and private letters on a multitude of burning questions in various parts of the world. Considerable numbers of men and women devoted to urging these questions came to The Hague or gave notice of their coming. It was very generally believed in the Conference that the admission of any question not strictly within the limits proposed by the two circulars above mentioned would open the door to all those proposals above referred to and that this might lead to endless confusion, to heated debate, perhaps even to the wreck of the Conference and consequently to a long postponement of the objects which both those who summoned it and those who entered it had directly in view.

It was at first held by very many members of the Conference that under the proper application of the above rule, the proposal made by the American Commission could not be received. It required much and earnest argument on our part to change this view, but finally the Memorial from our Commission, which stated fully the historical and actual relation of the United States to the whole subject, was received, referred to the appropriate committee, and finally brought by it before the Conference.

In that body it was listened to with close attention and the speech of the Chairman of the Committee, who is the eminent President of the Venezuelan Arbitration Tribunal, nowin session at Paris, paid a hearty tribute to the historical adhesion of the United States to the great principle concerned. He then moved that the subject be referred to a future Conference. This motion we accepted and seconded, taking occasion in doing so to restate the American doctrine on the subject, with its claims on all the nations represented at the Conference.

The Commission was thus, as we believe, faithful to one of the oldest of American traditions, and was able at least to keep the subject before the world. The way is paved also for a future careful consideration of the subject in all its bearings and under more propitious circumstances.

The conclusions of the Peace Conference at The Hague took complete and definite shape in the final act laid before the Delegates on July 29th, for their signature. This Act embodied three Conventions, three Declarations, and seven Resolutions as follows:

First, a Convention for the peaceful adjustment of international differences. This was signed by sixteen Delegations, including that of the United States of America, there being adjoined to our signatures a reference to our declaration above referred to, made in open Conference on July 25, and recorded in the proceedings of that day.

Second, a Convention concerning the laws and customs of war on land. This was signed by fifteen Delegations. The United States Delegation refer the matter to the Government at Washington with the recommendation that it be there signed.

Third, a Convention for the adaptation to maritime warfare of the principles of the Geneva Conference of 1864. This was signed by fifteen Delegations. The United States representatives refer it, without recommendation, to the Government at Washington.

The three Declarations were as follows:

First: a Declaration prohibiting the throwing of projectiles and explosives from balloons or by other new analogous means, such prohibition to be effective during five years. This was signed by seventeen Delegations as follows: Belgium, Denmark, Spain, The United States of America, Mexico, France, Greece, Montenegro, The Netherlands, Persia, Portugal, Roumania, Russia, Siam, Sweden and Norway, Turkey and Bulgaria.

Second, a Declaration prohibiting the use of projectiles having as their sole object the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases. This, for reasons given in the accompanying documents, the American Delegation did not sign. It was signed by sixteen Delegations as follows: Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Mexico, France, Greece, Montenegro, The Netherlands, Persia, Portugal, Roumania, Russia, Siam, Sweden and Norway, Turkey and Bulgaria.

Third, a Declaration prohibiting the use of bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body, as illustrated by certain given details of construction. This for technical reasons, also fully stated in the report, the American Delegation did not sign. It was signed by fifteen Delegations as follows: Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Mexico, France, Greece, Montenegro, The Netherlands, Persia, Roumania, Russia, Siam, Sweden and Norway, Turkey and Bulgaria.

The seven Resolutions were as follows:

First, a Resolution that the limitation of the military charges which at present so oppress the world is greatly to be desired, for the increase of the material and moral welfare of mankind.

This ended the action of the Conference in relation to matters considered by it upon their merits. In addition the Conference passed the following resolutions, for all of which the United States Delegation voted, referring various matters to the consideration of the Powers or to future Conferences. Upon the last five resolutions a few Powers abstained from voting.

The Second Resolution was as follows: The Conference taking into consideration the preliminary steps taken by the federal government of Switzerland for the revision of the Convention of Geneva, expresses the wish that there should be in a short time a meeting of a special conference having for its object the revision of that Convention.

This Resolution was voted unanimously.

Third: The Conference expresses the wish that the question of rights and duties of neutrals should be considered at another Conference.

Fourth: The Conference expresses the wish that questions relative to muskets and marine artillery, such as have been examined by it, should be made the subject of study on the part of the governments with a view of arriving at an agreement concerning the adoption of new types and calibers.

Fifth: The Conference expresses the wish that the governments, taking into account all the propositions made at this Conference, should study the possibility of an agreement concerning the limitation of armed forces on land and sea and of war budgets.

Sixth: The Conference expresses the wish that a proposition having for its object the declaration of immunity of private property in war on the high seas, should be referred for examination to another Conference.

Seventh: The Conference expresses the wish that the proposition of regulating the question of bombardment of ports, cities, or villages by a naval force, should be referred for examination to another Conference.

It will be observed that the conditions upon which Powers not represented at the Conference can adhere to the Convention for the Peaceful Regulation of International Conflicts is to "form the subject of a later agreement between the Contracting Powers." This provision reflects the outcome of a three days' debate in the Drafting Committee as to whether this Convention should be absolutely open, or open only with the consent of the Contracting Powers. England and Italy strenuously supported the latter view. It soon became apparent that, under the guise of general propositions, the Committee was discussing political questions, of great importance at least to certain Powers. Under these circumstances the representatives of the United States took no part in the discussion, but supported by their vote the view that the Convention, in its nature, involved reciprocal obligations; and also the conclusion that political questions had no place in the Conference, and must be left to be decided by the competent authorities of the Powers represented there.

It is to be regretted that this action excludes from immediate adherence to this Convention our sister Republics of Central and South America, with whom the United States is already in similar relations by the Pan-American Treaty. It is hoped that an arrangement will soon be made which will enable these States, if they so desire, to enter into the same relations as ourselves with the Powers represented at the Conference.

This report should not be closed without an acknowledgment of the great and constant courtesy of the Government of the Netherlands and all its representatives to the American Commission as well as to all the members of the Conference. In every way they have sought to aid us in our work and to make our stay agreeable to us. The accommodations they have provided for the Conference have enhanced its dignity and increased its efficiency.

It may also be well to put on record that from the entire Conference, without exception, we have constantly received marks of kindness, and that although so many nations with different interests were represented, there has not been in any session, whether of the Conference or of any of the committees or subcommittees, anything other than calm and courteous debate.

The text of the Final Act of the various Conventions and Declarations referred to therein, is appended to this report.

All of which is most respectfully submitted:

ANDREW D. WHITE, President,

The Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907
A Series of Lectures Delivered before the Johns Hopkins University in the Year 1908
By James Brown Scott
Technical delegate of the United States to the Second Peace Conference at the Hague
In two Volumes
Volume II - Documents
Baltimore, MD : The Johns Hopkins Press, 1909.

Previous Document Contents Next Document
127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06511.