Open Jagiellonian University lectures on the state published by the G. Gebethner and Company Bookshop, Kraków 1916, pp. 5–30.
Despite the fact that international law has lately been subject to a severe test and a number of its provisions have been violated, it has nevertheless not ceased to be what it should be, i.e. a mechanism that regulates relationships, whether between warring states or between them and neutral states. It has not ceased to be an instrument used for the legal assessment of the states’ conduct and breaches of its provisions have not become permissible acts; indeed, these continue, and will continue to be, unlawful. Therefore, in order to be aware of what is happening around us and what will happen in the future, it may be useful to recall the general framework in which international wars break out, are waged and end.
According to its contemporary definition, a war is solely an exception to the rule;
– it is an episode interrupting a peaceful era, which is considered the normal state of affairs;
– it is a painful and tragic episode, but still an episode after which the belligerents are meant to return to the normal state of affairs, i.e. friendly neighbourly relations.
The law of nations, which governs in times of peace, was developed and progressed to an unprecedented degree in the 19th and 20th centuries. Sovereign states, which know no overlord or supreme authority, did not hesitate to make significant sacrifices related to their fundamental freedoms and to undertake commitments, i.e. to restrict their will, by means of numerous treaties and conventions so as to facilitate mutual contacts between their peoples and to ensure the best possible conditions for international economic, intellectual and artistic exchanges. During congresses and conferences, entire codes of public or private law have been drawn up that are mutually binding on all participants; unions, i.e. international administrative relationships have been formed, which are meant to ensure the harmonious and parallel fulfillment of certain analogous state tasks. All civilised countries, and especially those countries that lead the civilisation movement, are bound by a network of diverse treaties which they must carefully observe in their internal actions for the convenience of foreign citizens who visit them and of their own citizens abroad.
Apart from the fact that in the event of a war breaking out, a certain code of conduct has also been drawn up that governs the conduct of belligerents and neutral states (however, this code has, incidentally, regulated land-based war much more fully and adequately than maritime war), in order to preserve peace, an entire array of non-violent means of settling disputes and international conflicts have been developed so that the moment of outbreak of war is at least postponed and peace-loving peoples have as many opportunities as possible to remove the mounting obstacles and remedy conflicts. If direct diplomatic action does not result in a settlement, the good offices of third countries may still be relied upon, and mediation is available as well. The system of international investigative committees has been perfected in order to examine the often disputed facts of the case.
Finally, as concerns legal disputes in which states differ in their assessment of how their mutual conduct should be qualified in legal terms, a special arbitration code has been developed and a great number of treaties have been concluded that are devoted to this particular issue. It is impossible to look without admiration at the hard work being done in this field, not only by the Hague Peace Conferences, but also by diplomatic offices which, in addition to these assemblies, have developed the international body of law in individual treaties. It must, however, be mentioned that these actions could only reduce friction between states and pave a comfortable road to the resolution of the dispute if there was mutual unwillingness to go to war or even mutual revulsion at the thought. They have not been able to eradicate war completely, i.e. prevent the armed resolution of conflicts where none of these measures are adequate or sufficient.
As concerns the origins of war, we can always examine the original conflict, and thus the difference in opinion between the two states, one of which does not want to do, acknowledge or tolerate what the other wants or demands. On both warring sides, war as an armed struggle becomes the means to implement an idea or thesis or to obstruct the implementation of the opposite idea or thesis by armed means.
The case becomes more complicated when the dispute between the two original opponents is joined on one or both sides by third countries – either as a result of a spontaneous, unforeseen decision or pursuant to the rules and treaties concluded before the war in the event of such a war breaking out. At such times, this grouping of states into two permanent or temporary camps is determined less by considerations that are immediately related to the original conflict, and more by general considerations of the powers’ politics and the sense of danger or benefits resulting from the potential victory of one side or the other.
And thus each war, even between the strongest power and the weakest statelet, always hides a certain risk, since the weaker opponent could find some as yet unknown powerful ally. The war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia is the best example of that. The fact that Russia sided with Serbia against Austria caused Germany to declare war on Russia and this in turn led to a war between France and England on the one hand and the Central Powers on the other hand. The further we went and the more the ranks of the belligerents swelled, the further we moved from the original Austro-Serbian conflict and the original purpose of the armed confrontation between these two states.
Even in a localised war which takes place between two states, i.e. in a war that is presented as a struggle between two opposing theses or ideas, one side’s victory is not always tantamount to the triumph of the thesis it proposes. This could be the case if the original antagonism were immediately resolved and removed (as the Italian war in 1859 or the Prussian-Austrian one in 1866 were quickly resolved).
However, when the war has dragged on for some time as more effort has been devoted to it and as subsequent victories have been won, and even more so when the external climate has changed and the political horizon has become broader, new ideas emerge, which differ from the original ones in connection with which the hostilities started. So-called goals of war are not a constant, but rather a variable that is subject to constant modification, and this explains the fact that the outcome of a war, even a victorious one, often does not correspond to original intentions – it either exceeds the original intentions of one party or the other or fails to reach them altogether.
Once unleashed, the forces present within the nations that have been dragged into the whirlpool cannot be easily restrained. Needs may grow as it becomes possible to satisfy them. The original conflict could well be considered removed, and yet the war goes on in order to satisfy new ambitions and to bring new loot. The confrontation of forces may result in one state or camp finding that it is so vastly superior to the other one that the former wishes to exploit this superiority immediately and secure a more comfortable position for itself for many years to come.
Beyond the goals achieved, there is also the intention to consolidate and secure the advantage only obtained through war and during the war. A great danger for the future era lurks in this ability to exploit the momentary advantage, and to dictate hard conditions to the opponent. It is not always the case that the size of the defeat corresponds to the relative superiority of the victor over the vanquished. It is often the case that even the slightest advantage results in a decisive win, and this in turn leads to the goals of the war being achieved and secured. When these goals are exaggerated and contradict material reality, they will not be permanent and will become the source of future hostilities even if they have been successfully incorporated in a peace treaty. The task of prudent diplomats is to maintain the necessary dose of moderation in the society – both in the event of failure, to avoid unnecessary embarrassment, and in the event of success, to avoid pressure from the public to implement solutions that will not ensure a long era of peace.
The very manner in which war is waged is governed by certain rules, which are primarily of a negative nature, i.e. rules that forbid some course of action to be undertaken against the opponent, and the guiding principles are as follows:
If the war entails evil, destruction and human misery, any means of hurting the enemy which are treacherous and do not further one’s cause are prohibited. Thus war should be guided by a certain chivalry and also by a purpose; without it, it becomes pointless cruelty.
History has given different answers to the question of against whom these means may be used. In contrast to the former barbaric claim that the entire enemy population may in equal measure be the subject of destructive measures during warfare, with time another theory was put forward, stating that war is not a relationship between populations but rather between states and consists in a struggle of one army versus another. Thus today, armed hostilities are in principle permissible only against the army and the groups incorporated into it, and also only against the enemy army.
However, apart from armed hostilities, a war with another state also involves a number of activities that are harmful to the enemy and that cannot always be considered as armed endeavours, but their purpose is to exhaust enemy forces or to prevent them from replenishing their strength. Such measures include cutting off contact with the outside world, cutting submarine cables, blockades, halting maritime trade, confiscating enemy merchant ships together with their cargo, etc.
The use of these resources goes far beyond armed hostilities and undoubtedly affects the widest masses of the population. The present war has not only failed to show any tendency towards concentrating the impact of war exclusively on direct combatants, but demonstrated just the opposite, i.e. a trend towards extending this impact much further than during any of the previous wars. If apart from the army in the field, the civilian population, feeling a patriotic duty, rushes with extraordinary enthusiasm to support its homeland by working in workshops or factories or even at home, in hospitals, in cheap kitchens, etc., only to uphold the nation’s strength as far as possible; if the need for making oneself useful and making sacrifices reflects the increase in solidarity among millions of human beings, then, on the other hand, the opponent has less scruples and conducts war in a manner that has a very severe indirect effect on these broad masses.
This important aspect – the mobilisation of almost the entire nation, which becomes active, although not necessarily in armed combat – has not been foreseen or sufficiently appreciated in the provisions of the Hague Conventions, which were overly influenced by the hypothesis that only armed personnel can fight. Thus the triumph of education and civic feelings running high have contributed to the quantitative expansion of the population affected by war, and these factors are already pushing the belligerents to include in their war objectives such measures related to the historical experiences of great powers and their groupings as to remove any dependence on foreign states for food, clothes and weapons and thus to avoid the future danger of starvation or attrition, which has played a role in the calculations of some groups of combatants in the current war.
The third principle of the law of war was that a war, being a direct relationship between the belligerents, should not in any way interfere with their relationships with neutral states or with relationships between the latter. This assertion has never been entirely true or absolutely correct, as neutral states have always felt to a greater or lesser extent the effects of a war waged between their neighbours: they have suffered losses or reaped undeserved profits. In the present war, in which the greatest world powers participate, neutral states, which are obviously smaller and weaker, has suffered additionally, since the inevitable losses and profits have been accompanied by their fairly ruthless and unceremonious treatment at the hands of the belligerents: onerous checks, inquiries, searches and even partial occupations, which have violated their sovereignty in an unpleasant manner.
The rules of neutrality, which were formulated in peacetime, were to some extent an attempt to find balance between the belligerents’ abstract interests and the neutrals’ abstract interests, since each state could find itself in either role. As concerns their enforcement, the assumption was that even if the belligerents wanted to abuse their prerogatives, there would be neutral states powerful enough to protest against this, and even establish a neutrals’ league. However, with the current grouping of states, this balance has been distorted. While large and powerful states have entered the belligerents’ camp, in the neutral camp there is just one large neutral state (and an only apparently neutral one at that) – the United States, which could have looked after the interests of weaker neutral states but has instead preferred to discreetly favour one of the fighting camps, leaving the remaining neutral states, which are weak and helpless, to their own sad fate. What the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, Greece, and even Spain and Portugal are experiencing, is hardly in line with the aforementioned guiding principle that during a war, neutral states maintain the same status as they enjoyed in peacetime in their relationships with the belligerents. The weakness of laws on the neutrals’ rights has been fully exposed here.
In the absence of any supranational authority, compliance with rules of international law is determined by the state’s own willingness to abide by the law and to meet its voluntary obligations. On the other hand, if this proves to be insufficient, the other side is allowed to use measures referred to as retorsion and reprisals, and which are two forms of retaliation. Retorsion is the application to the opponent or to its subjects of the same procedures (legal but highly onerous), which the opponent has deemed appropriate to apply to our state or our citizens. A state that engages in retorsion cannot be faulted.
Reprisals are another matter – these consist in responding to an illegal act that is contrary to the law of nations with an act that is also unlawful and it may be the same or similar as the original one, or it may be completely different. The danger of reprisals lies in the fact that while they may prove effective in some cases, in other cases they simply cause one state, and then another in succession, to commit ever more lawless acts – and the war, which was supposed to be regulated by law, turns into a brutal free-for-all. The institution of reprisals is the loophole that enables certain measures, which have been condemned by law, to be used in practice again. They supposedly serve the law, since they are intended as retaliation for lawlessness, but this is a double edged sword and the law ultimately gains little from it.
In the present war, retorsion and reprisals are widely used. Attempts by the coalition to starve the Central Powers have resulted in submarine warfare, this in turn led to merchant ships being armed with cannons in order to defend against submarines, and even to destroy them directly, and this pushed submarines to simply pursue a war of extermination against foreign ships. The bombardment of open cities, which only brings small military gains, but on the other hand causes great harm to vulnerable population, is the order of the day. The effectiveness of this kind of retaliation in upholding the law has not been confirmed so far.
However, a war, which is meant to be an episode, cannot last forever. It entails excessive costs and a considerable loss of human material, and it exhausts both sides regardless of whether their chances are equal or not.
Still, it does not cease at once, or does so only in rare cases. Between the era of the struggle and the era in which peace has returned, there is usually a certain transitional period that is a sort of a prelude to, and preparation for, future peace. The fewer countries are involved, the more decisive the victories are and the sooner the victorious side is satisfied with achieving the main goal of the war, and the vanquished side becomes convinced that further fighting would be pointless and expose it to even greater losses and perils, the sooner the war ends, all other things being equal.
Achieving this result with a large number of belligerents and with a more or less even distribution of their forces is much more difficult. There is perhaps no clearer example of this in history than the present war. The reason lies to some extent in the treaty of 4 September 1914, which was concluded at the very beginning of the war and under which England, France and Russia, and as of 1915 also Japan and Italy promised not to make separate peace or even to propose peace conditions without the consent of all allies.
The spirit of this treaty has undoubtedly changed over time. Initially, it was conceived as an arrangement between members of a syndicate who, being convinced of their eventual victory, protect themselves from uneven distribution of profits and reserve the right to jointly dictate conditions of peace in order to ensure equality.
However, as the war has developed further in a direction unfavourable for the coalition, and the exaggerated (and originally openly expressed) hopes have been dispelled, the very same treaty, in the same wording, may start to fulfil yet another function: that of alleviating losses by distributing them more evenly, since the allies all fear, albeit to an unequal extent, that some of them, left to their own devices, may be harmed too much and the others may suffer too little.
The knot of common interest, which has brought the allies together for good and for bad, has been very strong and highly effective in counteracting an attitude from forming that would be conducive to entering into peace negotiations. The coalition as a whole may still hope (we are not allowed to say: may still be deluded) that the fortunes of the war are going to turn and that the current losses can be recouped here or there.
For the states that have lost the most or risk losing the most in the end, their loyalty to the coalition is their last resort. So it is not so much the formal wording of the September treaty but rather their knowledge where their own interests lie that persuades them to continue to be part of the joint undertaking.
The position of these states which have suffered less or feel that they could buy peace less expensively than others is somewhat different.
Their own selfish interests would push them towards making a separate peace, but this road is closed to them by their own formal commitment and by the fear of revenge from their former allies whom they would abandon in this case.
The present situation appears to be unfavourable to peace, since there is no other way but to make a common, universal peace (this does not, however, apply to Belgium, Serbia or Montenegro, which did not accede to the September treaty).
In this state of affairs, we can see a (distant) prospect of a great all-European congress that would resemble those of Vienna from 1814–1815, of Paris from 1856 and of Berlin from 1878.
A congress such as these can never be a work of improvisation, but rather requires prior, and usually very careful preparation.
Let us now look at the arsenal of measures that the law of nations gives to diplomacy during this preparatory phase.
Even in times of war, the law of nations makes it possible to conclude military conventions with the enemy – the peculiar characteristic of such conventions is that they are usually made between military commanders without the participation of civilian diplomats, and even without any special authorisation on their part.
These are capitulations: of a fortress or of an army on the battlefield.
There are also (usually short) cease-fires, for example to bury the fallen.
Their common characteristic is the fact that they are apolitical, i.e. they are not a means to achieve a general political objective, but rather a manifestation of some momentary and localised military necessity or the fulfillment of a momentary and localised demand of hygiene or humanity.
The era of transition from war to peace also has some arrangements that pave the way for future peace, and which are very similar to those described above.
Here, I mean two primary kinds of arrangements:
The first one is a general cease-fire observed by both opponents, which differs from the one discussed above in terms of its territorial extent, since it encompasses the entire front, and not just individual sections, and also in terms of its political character, which is evident in the fact that it is signed by plenipotentiaries of governments.
Thus it is a manifestation of the demands of general state policy, and a symptom of the mood of both fighting sides; it is a means to achieve a certain goal that is common to both parties and broader in its nature.
The second kind is the arrangement that usually follows somewhat later, although it may also be concluded at the same time as the general cease-fire. This arrangement involves so-called peace preliminaries. These are par excellence political in their contents and concern the most essential concessions made by both counterparties, whether unilateral or bilateral. Thus they are an expression of mutual consent in principle as to certain points, with final details, secondary issues, enforcement procedures, etc. relegated to the final peace treaty.
Peace preliminaries are of paramount political importance. Although they do not result in peace themselves, they nevertheless determine the outcome of the war and provide a common legal and political platform that will become binding on both sides when negotiations for the final peace treaty start at a later date.
In addition to these two types of arrangements – the general cease-fire and peace preliminaries – there are two more ways of ceasing hostilities in a silent and informal manner:
1. The actual, but entirely voluntary and intentional, cessation of hostilities, based on the instructions received from both governments; this results from similar motives and has similar consequences for general sentiment as a cease-fire;
2. The second variant is engaging in warfare, but one that is only apparent and involves both sides deliberately avoiding confrontation, as was the case in 1809 between the Austrian and Russian troops; this is very clear evidence of the unwillingness to do harm to one another.
As we can see, the scale of these formal and informal measures is sufficiently broad so as to make it possible for an active and quick-witted diplomacy, even one that faces the prospect of a final general congress, to open the way for concluding temporary separate conventions with seemingly cohesive opponents and for obtaining extraordinary gains by making concessions in the right place and at the right time:
a) a gradual reduction in the actual number of opponents;
b) gaining acceptance in advance for peace and for certain items of one’s agenda from some opponents.
The purpose of these preliminary measures is to ensure that all possible political goals of the war are achieved before the peace treaty is signed so that even a possible general congress may take place after almost everything has been decided.
Can the European congresses mentioned above provide a political model to be imitated here? I do not think so.
The Congress of Vienna of 1814–1815 was an opportunity for the victorious coalition of four powers to share the spoils of the Napoleonic in matters where the agreement was not reached in the preceding treaty with France of 1814. So there was a single camp that was predominantly represented; vis-à-vis this camp, France acted as a disinterested witness, since its own fate had been already decided. The Congress of Paris in 1856 and the Congress of Berlin in 1878 were tribunals of sorts, before which Russia was tried – vanquished after the Crimean War and victorious, but also defenceless after the Russo-Turkish war.
It is difficult to see any political analogies between those and the next general congress. If this congress takes place, it will have to find its own way.
Future possibilities can be classified as follows:
I. A congress may not be convened at all. This would be the case if, for example, the Central Powers were able to object to such a meeting and would at the same time obtain such peace preliminaries from their opponents that would give them all the benefits they desire, and also pave the way for separate, individual peace treaties. Provisions of the treaty of 4 September 1914 will be observed as long as each member of the coalition informs its allies that it intends to agree to such and such conditions and it obtains their consent to these conditions. And consensus does not need to be achieved at a general congress; it may be achieved, as was the case when Bosnia was annexed, by way of negotiations between governments. Once such local treaties are concluded with all opponents individually, a general congress becomes unnecessary.
II. The second possibility is that the congress may be convened not just as a necessary event, but also as a desirable one.
It would introduce virtually nothing new to the contents of peace preliminaries, but as a solemn gathering of representatives of the belligerents, and maybe of a few neutral states as well, it would sanction (by achieving a general agreement) these new regulations concerning international relationships that are contained in individual treaties.
If the wish for a lasting peace – which does not conceal any hopes for a quick revenge – is shared by all contracting states, then signing a single common document will undoubtedly provide a better guarantee than the conclusion of separate local treaties could provide. It would provide a bulwark against any reckless attempts by those discontented and injured to undermine the treaty in the future; at the same time, however, it would pose no less of an obstacle to further appetites by the victorious states for whom it would determine the maximum gains to which their opponents could agree at the time. So such a congress could be in the political interest of both camps: not in order to revise the treaties already concluded or to amend them but rather to reinforce them by way of giving them the collective sanction of European powers.
III. Finally, the third possibility is that such a congress proves necessary. This will be the case if no counterparty agrees to sign even a separate cease-fire, and much less peace preliminaries unless the terms of bilateral or unilateral concessions are decided by negotiations at a general congress, or if it is provided in peace preliminaries that individual treaties may be revised at the congress; or finally if peace preliminaries only touch upon certain points and settle them definitively, but unanimously leave other disputed points or issues of a more general nature for the European congress.
In all these cases, convening a congress would be necessary in both legal and political terms – it would be the only way towards finally ending the war.
Not only the time and place for the congress would have to be agreed, but a very sensitive issue would have to be decided as well: which states would take part in it?
Would these be the states that are fighting the current war, and would all of them participate – or just some? (This is not a matter of indifference for Belgium, Montenegro and Serbia).
The belligerents only or neutral states as well? And if so, which?
The idea of mediation is already appealing to some neutral states: the United States, Switzerland, Netherlands and Spain would gladly undertake this conciliation mission.
But even in the case of mediation, there is a question that remains unanswered – will neutral states other than mediators also be allowed to participate in the congress?
And the final question is: should only states be participants? Possibly the Holy See could also take part as an impartial body whose role in pacifying the belligerents could prove highly beneficial.
Resolving these questions rests entirely in the hands of the belligerent powers. It is their unanimous consent that will determine the participants of the next European congress.
They will also define the competencies of the congress, which may either be very vague and broad, covering all the matters and disputes that are related to the present war, or more detailed, listing in advance the specific matters that have not yet been settled and the extent to which they will be discussed during the congress.
In order to imagine the workings of such a meeting, one should keep in mind that while great differences in aspirations and views are possible, and even inevitable in congress debates, it still would be unthinkable for a minority to be outvoted by the majority. Matters must progress differently than it is the case in parliaments. The aim of the congress is to obtain the unanimous consent of all participants, since no state represented at the congress can formally be coerced to do anything and no decision can be forced on it.
The measures that lead to this unanimity are all based on persuasion. Technically, things become easier when complex matters are broken down into a number of simpler ones and their resolution is entrusted to committees and subcommittees with narrower remits. Official, semi-official and seemingly non-binding negotiations serve to bring closer positions that were initially poles apart.
It is a laborious task which must involve all diplomatic talents as well as goodwill and thorough knowledge of one’s own and the others’ political traditions – a task in which today we have to be satisfied with a partial result in the hope that tomorrow will bring some more progress, and so on, until complete and universal unanimity is reached.
However, despite this formally reserved freedom of each participant’s decision, the issue of how many friends and opponents you have is not politically trivial at all. Here, the operative principle is: Vae soli! Woe to the lonely.
No state wants to be attacked by numerous other states and exposed to charges of obstinacy and ill will at this very point.
This is why the issue of allowing or not allowing one state or the other to participate in the congress is not a matter of indifference to those who are involved in the first place, since the important issue is whether these new participants increase the number of their supporters and clients, or quite the opposite – are drawn into the camp of prospective opponents. It is also understandable why some states could be interested in settling certain issues ahead of the congress and thus removing them from discussions, which could prove highly embarrassing for the state concerned if they were to take place during the congress.
Let us suppose, however, that such a congress, having successfully bypassed or overcome all difficulties, finally comes to an end. Its formal result will be a general treaty, which may or may not be accompanied by individual, more detailed treaties; these will all be considered components of the general instrument.
This treaty is primarily a peace treaty and as such it is meant to put an end to the war, close the transitional period and bring back the normal state of peace.
Its political contents may either be very limited if everything is to return to the status quo ante, or it may be abundant if it entails the shift of borders between the belligerents and contains so-called territorial cessions, i.e. the surrender of one state’s sovereignty over a part of its territory to an opponent or to a state newly created at the congress.
Provisions concerning such cessions must state the geographical boundaries of the areas surrendered, and will often require subsequent supplementary conventions known as border conventions.
Further, they include rules stipulating the populations that will change their allegiances, losing their former citizenship and gaining the citizenship of another country.
Will these populations only include the persons or families who are permanent residents of the area being surrendered?
Or will these be the persons born there?
Or maybe both groups?
Or, finally, only those who were both born there and are permanent residents?
The individuals’ right to choose may also be provided for here, i.e. the right to avoid the change of citizenship by means of submitting the relevant declaration, usually within six months; this, however, usually entails the forced emigration from the country whose fate the individuals in question do not wish to share.
A rare clause which is not legally required is making the effectiveness of the cession conditional upon the outcome of a plebiscite, i.e. the collective declaration of the population in question (submitted by way of a vote) whether it agrees or does not agree to the intended surrender of its province. However desirable such a clause, which gives rights to the population resident in the area being surrendered, may appear, the contracting states are under no legal obligation to adhere to this practice and a cession without a plebiscite remains valid.
Finally, the provisions concerning the cession govern the issue of participation in sovereign debt, specifying whether a portion of the state’s overall debt passes to the party acquiring the province which used to be part of that state or not.
Political provisions also include possible war contributions, their amount and instalments in which they are to be paid, guarantees in the form of temporary occupation of part of the debtor’s territory until the payment is made in full, etc.
Another group of provisions includes those that concern the hostilities which are being concluded: the mutual return of prisoners of war, the manner and date of delivering them, the payment of expenses incurred in connection with their accommodation and food, medical treatment, etc.
Finally, there are provisions concerning the fate of all or some of former treaties and conventions, which may be reactivated or replaced with new ones.
The purpose of this part of the peace treaty, which is devoid of political aspects, is to reconstruct the legal framework for future international relationships. Former arrangements, which were destroyed or suspended during the war, may either be revived or not. It may also prove necessary to settle contentious issues by way of completely new conventions. The peace treaty may settle such matters in general or contain references to further arrangements to be made later.
Finally, the peace treaty that is drawn up at a grand international congress may combine bringing back peace with making new steps towards perfecting the general law of nations – on the basis of fresh experience, certain practices may be condemned and prohibited in the future and certain new principles may be codified or made permanent. The present war has shown that it is in particular maritime law and the law of neutrality that need such revision and reform.
It is difficult to predict today whether the congress itself will take up this task or whether it will delegate it to the Third Hague Conference so that it continue the work of the two previous conferences. However, the latter solution appears more likely, since global Hague Conferences obviously include more participants than the congress, and also since nowadays formulating new provisions of the law of nations requires an extraordinary mastery of the codification technique, and therefore also special staff, which must necessarily be different from that taking part in the intended congress, which will be devoted primarily to concrete political issues and less to abstract legal principles.
Either way, the tasks before the congress – if it is convened at all – will be highly important.
If it does not give rise to more wars later on but instead ensures lasting peace, basing it on the principles of equity and respect for tradition and for the nations’ aspirations, and if it at least indirectly contributes to remedying the deficiencies detected in the law of nations, it will be a momentous historical event, providing immense assistance to new generations in their quest for an ever better future.