1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Peace Conferences

PEACE CONFERENCES, the official title of the two international conferences held at the Hague in 1899 and 1907. Both were organized at the instance of the emperor Nicholas II. of Russia. The chief object of the first conference, as set out in the note of Count Mouraviev, the Russian minister of foreign affairs (Jan. 11, 1899), was to arrive at an “understanding not to increase for a fixed period the present effectives of the armed military and naval forces, and at the same time not to increase the budgets pertaining thereto; and a preliminary examination of the means by which even a reduction might be effected in future in the forces and budgets above mentioned.”[1] The conference, which was attended by representatives of 26 states, sat from the 18th of May to the 29th of July 1899.

When the subject of excessive armaments came up for discussion, the objections of the German military delegate led to its abandonment. Other very important matters, however, were dealt with, and three momentous conventions were adopted, viz. —

I. A convention for the pacific settlement of international disputes.

II. A convention relating to the laws and customs of war by land.

III. A convention for the adaptation to maritime warfare of the principles of the Geneva Convention of the 22nd of August 1864.

Three declarations on the following matters were also adopted: —

a. Prohibition of the launching of projectiles and explosives from balloons or by other similar new methods.[2]

b. Prohibition of the use of projectiles the only object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases.

c. Prohibition of the use of bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body, such as bullets with a hard envelope, of which the envelope does not entirely cover the core, or is pierced with incisions.

The conference furthermore passed the following resolutions: —

“The Conference is of opinion that the restriction of military budgets, which are at present a heavy burden on the world, is extremely desirable for the increase of the material and moral welfare of mankind.”

“The Conference, taking into consideration the preliminary steps taken by the Swiss Federal Government for the revision of the Geneva Convention, expresses the wish that steps may be shortly taken for the assembling of a special Conference, having for its object the revision of that Convention.”

The following vœux were adopted, but not unanimously: —

“1. The Conference expresses the wish that the question of the rights and duties of neutrals may be inserted in the programme of a conference in the near future.

“2. The Conference expresses the wish that the questions with regard to rifles and naval guns, as considered by it, may be studied by the Governments with the object of coming to an agreement respecting the employment of new types and calibres.

“3. The Conference expresses the wish that the Governments, taking into consideration the proposals made at the Conference, may examine the possibility of an agreement as to the limitation of armed forces by land and sea, and of war budgets.

“4. The Conference expresses the wish that the proposals which contemplate the declaration of the inviolability of private property in naval warfare may be referred to a subsequent conference for consideration.

“5. The Conference expresses the wish that the proposal to settle the question of the bombardment of ports, towns and villages by naval forces may be referred to a subsequent conference for consideration.”

Great Britain signed and became a party to the three Conventions, but not to all the declarations, &c.

The Conference of 1907, which was attended by representatives of forty-four states, sat from the 15th of June to the 18th of October. Again, in spite of the resolution and vœu on armaments handed down from the Conference of 1899 this subject was waived, but still more important conventions than in 1899 were adopted on other matters. These were as follows: —

I. Convention for the pacific settlement of international disputes.[3]

II. Convention respecting the limitation of the employment of force for the recovery of contract debts.

III. Convention relative to the commencement of hostilities.

IV. Conventions concerning the laws and customs of war on land.[3]

V. Convention respecting the rights and duties of neutral powers and persons in war on land.

VI. Convention relative to the status of enemy merchant-ships at the outbreak of hostilities.

VII. Convention relative to the conversion of merchant-ships into war-ships.

VIII. Convention relative to the laying of automatic submarine contact mines.

IX. Convention respecting bombardment by naval forces in time of war.

X. Conventions for the adaptation of the principles of the Geneva Convention to maritime war.[4]

XI. Convention relative to certain restrictions on the exercise of the right of capture in maritime war.[4]

XII. Convention relative to the establishment of an international prize court.

XIII. Convention respecting the rights and duties of neutral powers in maritime war.

XIV. Declaration prohibiting discharge of projectiles, &c., from balloons.[5]

A draft Convention relative to the creation of a judicial arbitration court was also drawn up in connexion with the first of the four following vœux: —

1. The Conference calls the attention of the signatory powers to the advisability of adopting the annexed draft convention for the creation of a judicial arbitration court, and of bringing it into force as soon as an agreement has been reached respecting the selection of the judges and the constitution of the court.

2. The Conference expresses the opinion that, in case of war, the responsible authorities, civil as well as military, should make it their special duty to ensure and safeguard the maintenance of pacific relations, more especially of the commercial and industrial relations between the inhabitants of the belligerent states and neutral countries.

3. The Conference expresses the opinion that the powers should regulate, by special treaties, the position, as regards military charges, of foreigners residing within their territories.

4. The Conference expresses the opinion that the preparation of regulations relative to the laws and customs of naval war should figure in the programme of the next conference,[6] and that in any case the powers may apply, as far as possible, to war by sea the principles of the Convention relative to the laws and customs of war on land.

Finally, the Conference recommended to the powers the assembly of a Third Peace Conference, and it called their attention to the necessity of preparing the programme of this Third Conference a sufficient time in advance to ensure its deliberations being conducted with the necessary authority and expedition.

In order to attain this object the Conference considered that it “would be very desirable that, some two years before the probable date of the meeting, a preparatory committee should be charged by the governments with the task of collecting the various proposals to be submitted to the Conference, of ascertaining what subjects are ripe for embodiment in an international regulation, and of preparing a programme which the governments should decide upon in sufficient time to enable it to be carefully examined by the countries interested,” and that this committee should further be entrusted with the task of proposing a system of organization and procedure for the Conference itself. (T. Ba.)

  1. At the Conference the Russian government, further developing the proposal, submitted the following details: —

    “1. Establishment of an international understanding for a term of five years, stipulating non-increase of the present figures of the peace effective of the troops kept up for home use.

    “2. Fixation, in case of this understanding being arrived at, and, if possible, of the figures of the peace effective of all the powers excepting colonial troops.

    “3. Maintenance for a like term of five years of the amount of the military budgets at present in force.”

  2. This Conference was held at Geneva in June-July 1906. The revised Convention, composed of 33 articles, is dated July 6, 1906.
  3. 3.0 3.1 This is an amended edition of that of 1899.
  4. 4.0 4.1 This is an amended edition of that of 1899.
  5. This was practically a re-enactment of that of 1899.
  6. This has since been done to a large extent by the Conference of London (1908-1909). See Blockade, Contraband, International Law, Peace.