Hague Conferences

Hague Conferences
(1899, 1907)
   International conferences formalizing the laws of war. Many contemporaries imagined that they would show the way to the abolition of war and its replacement by a system of arbitration. The Hague Conference of 1899 was called in response to an 1898 diplomatic note known as the Tsar’s Rescript, circulated by Tsar Nicolas II, who wanted to abolish war on Christian grounds. The idea was greeted enthusiastically by pacifists and liberals, with respectful circumspection by most governments, and with some derision in conservative and military circles. The 1899 conference produced some quickly obsolete provisions against dropping bombs from balloons, and some rapidly ignored prohibitions against chemical warfare, but it also led to the formation of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, still in existence, to which consenting states may submit disputes for arbitration.
   The 1899 conference led to the Second Hague Conference of 1907, which had more success in formalizing the customary laws of war, in particular those pertaining to the rights of neutrals, the conventions of land warfare, and the opening of conflicts. The 1907 convention also produced statutes pertaining to the longcontroversial topic of the status of prizes taken in naval warfare, a topic that submarines, torpedoes, and long-range gunnery shortly made anachronistic. A third Hague conference, planned for 1914, never took place. Initiated by the most autocratic monarch in Europe, the Hague conferences nevertheless attracted high hopes from many on the reformist left. They became the models for many future attempts at multilateral international diplomacy, their statutes on the laws of land warfare are generally accepted today, and the internationalist spirit of the Hague conferences was a precursor to the League of Nations and later the United Nations.
    Ceadel, Martin. Semi-Detached Idealists: The British Peace Movement and International Relations, 1854–1945. Oxford, 2000;
    Perris, G. H. A Short History of War and Peace. London: Williams and Norgate, 1911.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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