The Obligation to Keep the Peace

By Theodore Marburg
(Former United States Minister to Belgium)

[The Independent; June 14, 1915]

NOTE.—The present discussion of a League of Police was started by Mr. Hamilton Holt in The Independent, September 28, 1914, Mr. Holt having previously dealt with the subject at the Third American Peace Congress, 1911. The question was recently examined at four round-table conferences in New York, composed of students of international law, men prominent in the peace movement and of men of wide, practical experience called together for the purpose of ascertaining how much of the "desirable" plan, worked out at the previous gatherings, was in their opinion a "realizable" project.—T. M.]

The failure of existing institutions to prevent war points to the need of sanction. All the present Hague institutions for the settlement of international disputes are voluntary. Nations may or may not resort to the Permanent Court of Arbitration, to the International Commission of Inquiry, to Mediation and Good Offices, according as they see fit.

Many men formerly satisfied with these voluntary institutions now believe that the element of obligation must be added. It is only a question of how far they are willing to go. Shall we, thru the united action of the nations, forbid war, or should we simply compel disputants to resort to institutions already in existence or hereafter to be set up in the honest endeavor to compose their quarrels before they are allowed to make the appeal to arms?

On the threshold of the inquiry we are met by the consciousness that the leagues of the past have not had signal success either as instruments of justice or as preventives of war. The recurrent meetings of the Quadruple Alliance were on the whole fruitless. The Holy Alliance, far from fulfilling its purpose of promoting the Christian religion, occupied itself with supporting royal authority, notably in Naples (1821) and Hungary (1849), and in one instance, with France as its mandatory, threw down liberal institutions (Spain, 1823), which the country had wrung from its reluctant monarch, and restored despotism.

The Concert of Europe has done some creditable things. It smashed the Turkish fleet at Navarino in 1827 and liberated Greece. It has mitigated the unhappy lot of the Armenians in Turkey. It has prevented more than one Balkan war. But how many failures are registered against it and what disaster has overtaken it now! To the existence of the Triple Alliance and Triple Entente, formed ostensibly for peace, the very extent of the present cataclysm is traceable.

In planning a new league manifestly a first duty is to ascertain why the leagues of the past have failed. And our search need not carry us far afield. We are confronted at once with the fact that each of these leagues was composed of a small number of powers, so small as to permit of collusion to prey upon nations outside the league, or of the wilful triumph of selfish interests to the injury both of its other members and of the world at large.

Within the state the cause of justice is advanced under a democratic regime by the play of opposing interests, the interests of one individual against the interests of another individual, of one class against another class, and by the united thinking of the many. This leads to the conclusion that if we can set up a league which shall embrace all the progressive nations, big and little, we may look for wise and just action from it. But which are the progressive nations? To measure progress in terms of numbers—growth of population, yards of cotton, or pounds of steel—is to set up a false standard. True progress lies in the growth of the spiritual and intellectual forces, of things other than the material, above all, in growth of justice; justice of man to man, justice of employer to employee, justice written in the law, justice interpreted by the court, justice of the state toward its people, and justice of nation to nation. No nation which fails habitually to protect the life, liberty and property of the people within its own borders can bring strength to the league. Persistent injustice within a state is almost certain to involve that state sooner or later in foreign war even tho it escape civil war. Injustice on the part of a league will involve the league in war, precisely as illegal and inhuman practises in the conduct of war tend to draw into the conflict an ever wider circle of nations. Justice is the growing purpose of the world. War is to be condemned principally because it is a source of such wholesale injustice. Justice, rather than the suppression of war, is the real end to be sought. War, with all its horrors, is preferable to gross and protracted and widespread injustice.

The progressive nations, then, may be said to be those in which there exists a measure of good laws fairly well administered.

Specifically, this would give to the league the eight great powers—including the United States—the secondary powers of Europe, and the "A B C" countries of South America. In this group we find three great peoples with common political aspirations, namely, those of Great Britain, France and the United States, peoples which no longer regard democracy as a passing phase of political experiment, but as a permanent fact of politics. We find in it two powerful nations, Great Britain and the United States, which may be said to be satisfied territorially. We find, moreover, a group of smaller nations with no disturbing ambitions.

It is believed that if such a league could be formed substantial justice would emerge from its united action just as under the Federal Government substantial justice results to the forty-eight states, originally sovereign entities, now composing the American Union. And unless justice results the league cannot endure. Unless justice results we do not want it.

Now, a desirable plan would embrace such a broad league, a league which should not itself attempt to pronounce upon international disputes but would refer the disputants to certain institutions for the settlement of controversies and insist that they may not resort to war.

In such a project we find four progressive stages:

First Stage. Institutions such as we now have, supplemented by a true court of justice, all of which institutions shall be purely voluntary or facultative.

Second Stage. The element of obligation added in so far as the nations shall bind themselves to resort to these institutions.

Third Stage. The further addition of an agreement to have the league act as an international grand jury to hale the nation law-breaker into court and to use force to bring it there if recalcitrant.

Fourth Stage. The final addition of an agreement to use force, if need be, to execute the award of the tribunal.

Now, how much of this "desirable" plan is a "realizable" project?

The difficulty that faces us with regard to the last two steps is the reluctance of nations to make the surrender of sovereignty and independence which they involve. It means that the signatories bind themselves to make war, under certain conditions, in the common interest. Can the United States Senate be brought to such a view of its duty to mankind? The last step that of enforcing the award, involves likewise the danger of oppression unless the league charged with such a duty should embrace all or nearly all of the progressive nations. On the other hand, the demand that controversies be referred to a tribunal and that the decision of such tribunal be awaited before making war involves no danger of oppression. It is a reasonable demand. A project which included bringing a nation into the presence of a tribunal but made no attempt to execute the award could therefore be safely instituted by a league embracing all, or nearly all, of the great powers without awaiting the adherence of the secondary powers, tho the presence of the latter would make the league all the stronger.

As the nation which consented so to refer its disputes to a tribunal would not be obliged either by its own promise or by the will of the league to observe the award, the proceedings would be much in the nature of a mere inquiry. But since publicity tends to correct not only illegal practises but unjust ones, too, and does it without resort to a court of law or even to a tribunal of arbitration, it is felt that in the majority of cases the controversy would be stilled by investigation alone.

It will be observed that the plan here proposed moves forward the present practise in two particulars, namely, in binding the signatories to resort to international institutions for the settlement of controversies before making war and in compelling them so to do if recalcitrant.

This is as far as some men of wide practical experience are willing to go. They are unwilling, for example, as part of a realizable plan, to take the fourth step, namely, bind the league to enforce the award. Moreover, it is felt that out, of the more "modest'' project the greater project may grow, that if nations acquire the habit of submitting their controversies to a tribunal, presently the world will become impatient of failure to respect an award made under such conditions.

The balance-of-power theory, which has so long governed European politics, would fall before the security promised by a league, in fact must fall if the league is to operate successfully. That theory presupposes rival nations or groups of nations whose potential strength and whose influence, therefore, balance each other. This can only lead to the formation of a group outside the league sufficiently strong to oppose the will of the league. That spells war.

Baltimore, Maryland

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



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