A New Kind of War

By Norman Angell

[The New Republic; July 31, 1915]

Must America either lamely accept with humiliating inertia a gross violation of her own right and dignity and of the common interest, or else take part in a war which, however successful, will not necessarily advance in the least degree the objects for which she fights—the future safety of her citizens and respect of their rights in war time, a better international law and its more scrupulous future observance—and which conceiveably might even render those objects more remote than ever? Is there no third course? Events have already pointed to a possible one.

Great Britain is at this moment engaged in negotiating with the merchants of neutral countries as to the conditions upon which they shall be allowed to trade with one another, the object of course being to prevent Germany securing supplies of any kind through neutral sources. This amounts obviously to an attempt to control the international trade of the world in such a way as to serve Great Britain's military purposes.

The United States government—as apart from certain of her merchants—has of course refused to take part in these negotiations, for obvious reasons. This claim to dictate the conditions of trade between neutrals, irrespective of blockade and contraband as heretofore understood, constitutes a very pregnant development of belligerent rights at sea. However much the American people may approve England's general cause in this war, the American government could not allow such development to become by precedent an accepted part of sea law, because in some future war such functions might be exercised by a power other than England on behalf of a cause of quite other character than that now being supported by England. Moreover, it is freely alleged by American merchants that British, control of neutral trade is not exercised impartially; that, while on the ground of preventing supplies reaching Germany Britain has excluded American merchandise from neutral ports, British goods of the same kind have been going to those ports in increasing quantities. Whatever of truth there may be in this allegation, it is evident that if ever belligerent right expanded into the formal recognition of the kind of control over neutral trade aimed at by Great Britain, it is just such abuses as these that neutrals would in future' suffer. The whole matter is at this moment the subject of very serious negotiation between Washington and London and the cause of some ill feeling between sections of the two countries.

Yet this very situation might, in the event of rupture of diplomatic negotiations between America and Germany, be so handled as to become not merely a means of solving the special and present American difficulties concerning neutral rights and interests, but of achieving the larger purpose of developing a really civilized international law and finding some means of enforcing it more efficient than the very clumsy instrument military force has proven itself so far to be.

Out of the Anglo-American negotiations might develop an understanding affording means of avoiding the absurd stultification which mere military cooperation with the Allies would involve for America—the position, that is, of fighting a war to assure the victory of one side, to find after the war, perhaps, that that side is as much opposed to any form of international law at sea which will really protect American and neutral right and interest as is the beaten side. For, if the suggestion which follows proves feasible, the constructive development of international law and of some sanction enabling the community of nations to enforce it, would not await the end of war nor be dependent upon a definite victory of one side, but would take place during the war and would later still be operative even though the Allies were not decisively victorious in a military sense.

Let us assume a rupture of diplomatic relations between America and Germany—a contingency which recent events seem to render altogether probable. America would in such an event in any case put her defenses in as thorough order as possible, though the likelihood of Germany sending an army across the Atlantic at this juncture is, to say the least, small. But American naval force would probably prepare to be in a position to convoy ships. America should certainly make it plain to Germany—and to the Allies, for that matter—that the absence of American military cooperation with the armies now fighting Germany was not due to mere indifference to the causes involved, still less to a desire selfishly "to avoid the cost and suffering of war in the achievement of her purpose, but because both her own and the larger and ultimate general interest could be more effectively achieved by another form of cooperation, which would be as follows:

America would offer to settle the whole contraband and blockade dispute with England on the basis of making international that virtual control of overseas trade of the world which England now exercises. That is to say, all that international trade now affected by British action should still be subject to control for the definite purpose of preventing Germany securing supplies; but that control should be exercised not arbitrarily by Great Britain, but by all the Allies plus the United States and with the unofficial cooperation of the remaining neutrals as well. Prize courts and courts of control should not be British but representative of all these powers. The arrangement would in the circumstances amount to an international control of the world's supplies, for the purpose of withholding them from Germany, and in such a way as to avoid difficulty between the combatants and between them and the neutrals, and as to render the blockade or siege of Germany effective not merely by sea power, but by cooperation between the nations of the world as a whole.

Such an international body made up of representatives of America, Britain and her colonies, France, Russia, Italy, Belgium, Japan and, less officially, of the Scandinavian and Balkan states, Holland, Switzerland and Greece, would not deal merely with matters of exports and imports, with trade between them, but with financial arrangements as well—with exchange and credit difficulties, loans, censorship of mails and all the thorny problems that have arisen during the war. From these matters it might perhaps proceed to deal with such problems as the disposal of German property—interned ships, businesses of various kinds, royalties on patents, bank balances and so forth—and, it may be, more remote arrangements as to the future control of German action in the world: tariff arrangements; the conditions upon which Germany should at the peace be once more admitted to the community of nations, whether on equal terms or not; whether the most efficient means of exacting some indemnification for damage done might not be by sequestration of German property throughout the world and possibly some surtax by tariff, ship and mail dues, all of course subject to due legal judgment of an international court.

In short, there would be in the bodies so created, the beginnings of the world organization of our common resources, social, economical and political, for the purpose of dealing with a recalcitrant member of international society, by other than purely military means—a starting point whence international law might be made a reality, a code, that is, not merely expressing the general interest but sanctioning processes which furnish means of enforcing respect for it.

This control would center at first mainly in America, since during the course of the war the activities and resources of the existing belligerent nations would more and more be absorbed by military operations, thus making America the largest single source of supplies, money and ammunition. If the United States were to assume the responsibility of furnishing munitions and material upon such terms as to sustain British credit and liberate an increasing proportion of the European manufacturing population for military service, this country could by purely economic cooperation make a decisive contribution to the coercion of Germany.

But though America's economic position would be dominant at such juncture, she should deliberately internationalize the control it would imply, not using it to impose an American view, but for the purpose of securing adherence to the common rules drawn; up for the common good.

Let us see how far the general method here indicated might apply to a later situation of the war. If Europe is to crush Germany within her own borders, and keep her crushed, it will be at the price of the Prussianization of the whole of Europe. To exact indemnities from Germany will mean the military occupation of her territories and that means the maintenance perhaps for many years of large armies by the Allies. To break up the German Empire would mean the annexation of some of her territory and the turning of the Allies into conquerors and military rulers of alien—German—populations, And yet the alternative for Europe is to allow Germany after the peace to build up her strength and wealth, so involving the possibility, five or, ten or fifteen years hence, of a recuperated Germany still dreaming of world domination. That is to say, that would be the alternative if the action of the western world were limited to military action. But if we can assume the international control of the world's wealth in some such a way as that above indicated, well established, having gone on for some time, there would be a situation in which the channels of trade would for prolonged periods have been turned away from Germany and a situation also in which, for instance, Germany's enemies would control virtually every pound of cotton grown in the world. And the needs of the war would have engendered between those enemies much mutual hopefulness in the way of loans, credit arrangements, etc., with their resources organized and their action coordinated by central international organs. If such a situation really existed, German aggression would be faced by forces that mere military power could not meet

Two or three obvious objections will be urged to the course just outlined. It will be, said that by the proposed action America would have sacrificed her neutrality and created a state of war with Germany. Of course; and if Germany cared to avail herself of existing international law to insist on that point it would simplify America's action. But it would be an academic point raised by Germany. She could hardly oblige America to send troops to Europe, and just for the moment she is not in a position to send troops here. The meaning which America shall give to a "state of war" is in the actual circumstances mainly America's affair; and if she cares to put the emphasis of her effort upon the development of other than military forces, how can Germany prevent that? And why should America worry as to the precise meaning which Germany may attach to "a state of war"?

It will also be urged that in cooperating in the suggested control over neutral trade America would be guilty of the very violation of international law of which she is now accusing England. But there would be no violation of law on America's part. America would have no right to dictate to Britain just what the latter should or should not sell to Holland—which is the counterpart of what Britain is trying to do to America; but America and England have a perfect right to agree together just what they will and will not export to Holland—which is the character of the world control embodied in the suggestion. And if, in arranging for the control of their exports, those nations and others desire to put Holland to as little inconvenience as possible and for that purpose offer to consult with her, they do violence neither to Holland's rights nor to international law. It is true that the ultimate outcome, and the one definitely aimed at by America, would be a radical change of international law, especially with reference to the future nature of neutrality, but that again would be by consent of the community of nations as a whole. The obligation of the individual to obey the law of the community does not exclude the right of the community to change the law, nor of individuals to work towards such change by general consent. An act which is absolutely inadmissible as the right of an individual acting with no reference to the community may be perfectly admissible as the act of the community sanctioned by the common will. It is these distinctions indeed which alone make society possible.

And a final objection: "Why not declare war in the ordinary way and aid in the military defeat of Germany by sending troops to Europe?" Because to do so, would be to identify this country with the military policy of the Allies, and that means ultimately with the political policy as well; it would mean adhesion to the arrangement by which no Ally makes a separate peace, and would thus tie American action to the political complications of Europe; it would prevent America's leaving the door open for the reestablishment at a later date of diplomatic relations with Germany; and so serving as mediator; it would, by dividing American energies between military and economic cooperation, Prevent her putting all the emphasis of effort upon that international economic organization which may be effective where, at least so far in history, mere military victory has been ludicrously ineffective. And finally the Allies need munitions, material and money, more than they need men.

But the major point is that America can at this juncture give what none of the combatants can give: a lead in the organization of at present unorganized forces that may lay the foundations of a new society of the nations. To that end she should direct her efforts.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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A Novel of World War One
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The Headlong Fury