The Principles of International Law

Jeremy Bentham

Essay 3

Of War, Considered in Respect of its Causes and Consequences.

War is mischief upon the largest scale. It might seem at first sight, that to inquire into the causes of war would be the same thing as to inquire into the causes of criminality, and that in the one case as in the other, the source of it is to be looked for in the nature of man,---in the self-regarding, the dissocial, and now and then, in some measure, in the social affections. A nearer view, however, will show in several points considerable difference,---these differences turn on the magnitude of the scale. The same motives will certainly be found operating in the one case as in the other; but in tracing the process from the original cause to the ultimate effect a variety of intermediate considerations will present themselves in the instance of war, which have no place in the quarrels of individuals.

Incentives to war will be found in the war admiring turn of histories, particularly ancient histories, in the prejudices of men, the notion of natural rivalry and repugnancy of interests, confusion between meum and tuum between private ownership and public sovereignty, and the notion of punishment, which, in case of war, can never be other than vicarious.

In ancient times there was one system of inducements, under the feudal system another, and in modern times another.

The following may be enumerated among the inducements to war:---Apprehension of injustice---hope of plunder of moveables by individuals---hope of gain by raising contributions---hope of gain by sale or ransom of captives---national pride or glory---monarchical pride---national antipathy---increase of patronage---hope of preferment.

States have no persons distinct from the persons of individuals; but they have property, which is the property of the state, and not of individuals.

When an individual has a dispute about property with an individual, or has sustained what he looks upon as an injury in respect of his property from an individual, he applies for redress to their common superior, the judicial power of the state. When a state has sustained what it looks upon as an injury, in respect of property, from another state---there being no common superior ready chosen for them---it must either submit to the injury, as get the other state to join in the appointment of a common judge, or go to war.

Every state regards itself as bound to afford to its own subjects protection, so far as it is in its power, against all injuries they may sustain either from the subjects or the government of any other state. The utility of the disposition to afford such protection is evident, and the existence of such disposition no less so. Accordingly, if any individual subject of the state A, receive from a subject of the state B, an injury for which the state B forbears, after due proof and demand, to afford or procure adequate satisfaction, it is to the purpose of responsibility, the same thing as if the state B itself, in the persons of the members of its government, had done the injury.

The following may be set down as the principal causes or occasions of war, with some of the means of prevention:---

I. Offences real or pretended of the citizens of one state, towards the citizens of an other state, caused by the interests of the citizens---

1. Injuries in general. Means of prevention:---Liquidation of the pretensions of the subjects of every sovereign, with regard to the subjects of every other sovereign.

2. Occasional injuries from rivalry in commerce: interception of the rights of property. Means of prevention:---General liberty of commerce.

II. Offences, real or pretended, of the citizens of one state towards the citizens of another state, caused by the interests or pretensions of sovereigns:---

1. Disputes respecting the right of succession. Means of prevention:---Liquidation of titles: perfecting the style of the laws.

2. Disputes respecting boundaries, whether physical or ideal. Means of prevention:--- Liquidation of titles: amicable demarcations positively made: perfecting of the style of the laws: regulation.

3. Disputes arising from violations of territory.

4.Enterprises of conquest. Means of prevention:---Confederations of defence: alliances defensive: general guarantees.

5. Attempts at monopoly in commerce: Insolence of the strong towards the weak: tyranny of one nation towards another. Means of prevention:---Confederations defensive: conventions limiting the number of troops to be maintained.

No one could regard treaties implying positive obligations in this kind as chimerical; yet, if these are not so, those implying negative obligation are still less so. There may arise difficulty in maintaining an army; there can arise none in not doing so.

It must be allowed that the matter would be a delicate one: there might be some difficulty in persuading one lion to cut his claws; but if the lion, or rather the enormous condor which holds him fast by the head, should agree to cut his talons also, there would be no disgrace in the stipulation: the advantage or inconvenience would be reciprocal.

Let the cost of the attempt be what it would, it would be amply repaid by success. What tranquillity for all sovereigns!---what relief for every people! What a spring would not the commerce, the population, the wealth of all nations take, which are at present confined, when set free from the fetters in which they are now held by the care of their defence.

6. Fear of conquests. Means of prevention:---Defensive confederations.

7. Disputes respecting new discoveries--respecting the limits of acquisitions made by one state at the expense of another, on the ground of peaceful occupation; Means of prevention:---Previous agreement on the subject of possible discoveries

8. Part taken in intestine troubles. The refusal of a foreign power to recognise the right of a newly-formed government, has been a frequent cause of war; but no interest being at stake on either side, nothing as much as proposed to be gained, it is evident that on both sides, whatever mischief is produced, is so much misery created in waste.

9. Injuries caused on account of religion. The difference between religion and no religion, however grating, is not nearly so irritating as that between one religion and another. Means of prevention:---Progress of toleration.

10. Interest of ministers. Means of prevention: Salaries determinate, but effective.

Wars may be:---

I. Bona fide wars. A remedy against these would be found in ``The Tribunal of Peace''.

II. Wars of passion. The remedy against these,---Reasoning, showing the repugnancy betwixt passion on the one hand, and justice as well as interest on the other.

III. Wars of ambition, or insolence, or rapine. The remedies against these are---1. Reasoning, showing the repugnancy betwixt ambition and true interest; 2. Remedies of regulation, in the event of a temporary ascendency on the part of reason.

In all these cases, the utility with regard to the state which looks upon itself as aggrieved---the reasonableness in a word, of going to war with the aggressors depends partly upon his relative force, partly upon what appears to have been the state of his mind with relation to the injury. If it be evident that there was no mala fides on his part, it can never lie for the advantage of the aggrieved state to have recourse to war, whether it be stronger or weaker than the aggressor, and that in whatever degree;---in that case, be the injury what it will, it may be pronounced impossible that the value of it should ever amount to the expense of war, be it ever so short, and carried on upon ever so frugal a scale.

In case of mala fides, whether even then it would be worth while to have recourse to war, will depend upon circumstances. If it appear that the injury in question is but a prelude to others, and that it proceeds from a disposition which nothing less than entire destruction can satisfy, and war presents any tolerable chance of success, how small soever, prudence and reason may join with passion in prescribing war as the only remedy in so desperate a disease. For, though in case of perseverance on the part of the assailant, a successful resistance may appear impossible; yet resistance, such as can be opposed, may, by gaining time, give room for some unexpected incident to arise, and may st any rate, by the inconvenience it occasions to the assailant contribute in time or loss, to weaken the mass of inducements which prompt him to similar enterprises. Though the Spartans at Thermopylæ perished to a man, yet the defence of Thermopylæ was not without its use.

If, on the other hand, the aggression, though too flagrant not to be accompanied with mala fides, appear to have for its origin some passion or caprice which has for its incentive some limited object, and promises to be contented with that object,---the option is now, not between ruin avenged and unavenged; but between the loss of the object, whatever it be, and the miseries of a more or less hopeless war.

The Dutch displayed prudence while they yielded to the suggestions of indignation, in defending themselves against the force of Spain. The same people displayed their prudence in yielding to Britain the frivolous honours of the flag, at the end of the war of 1652; they would have displayed still more, if they had made the same concession at the beginning of it.

Lastly, if the aggression, how unjust soever it may appear, when viewed in the point of view in which it is contemplated by the state which is the object of it, does not appear accompanied with mala fides on the part of the aggressor, nothing can be more incontestable than the prudence of submitting to it, rather than encountering the calamities of war. The sacrifice is seen at once in its utmost extent, and it must be singular, indeed, if the amount of it can approach to that of the expense of a single campaign.

When war has broken out, a palliative for its evils might perhaps be found in the appointment of war-residents, to provide prisoners and to prevent violations of the laws of war;

Will it be said, that in quality of a spy such residents would be to be feared? An enemy known to be such, could scarcely be a spy. All the proceedings of such residents should be open, and all his letters subjected to inspection.

At present, foreigners are scarcely excluded from an enemy's country---scarcely even military men or ministers; and so soon as it is wished to employ a spy, could not a native be found?

A resident of this character could always he employed as a channel of communication if an accommodation were desired.

Back to: [Essay 2, The Principles of International Law] Of Subjects, or of the Personal Extent of the Dominion of the Laws.
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