The Elements of Politics

Henry Sidgwick

Chapter XV


§6. So far we have had in view States supposed to possess substantial internal cohesion. We have now to consider a new class of questions which arise from the fact that this internal cohesion is liable to be broken, so that States undergo a process of internal disorder caused by the insurrection of a part of the community. This process may aim either (1) at revolution, substituting a new government for the old over the whole community; or (2) at the disruption of a part of the community from the rest, with a corresponding portion of territory; and in either case it may be more or less slow and prolonged, and may end either in failure or success.

What then is the duty of other States in relation to these processes? On the principle of the mutual noninterference of States, which we have hitherto been applying, the process of revolution is an internal affair with which foreign governments are not concerned;---except transiently, if the conflict between the party of order and the revolutionists is sufficiently obstinate and prolonged to assume the dimensions of civil war, so that other States, in order to carry out the rule of non-interference, are forced to take up towards both contending parties the attitude of neutrals towards belligerents. This latter point of international duty will be more conveniently considered in the next chapter. In any case, when the process of revolution is over, the international rights and obligations of the State that has passed through it will revive unchanged, whether that State be under its old government or under a new one.

The case is different with disruption. If this process be successfully carried through, it will be the duty of other States who wish to adopt an attitude of perfect neutrality, to recognise at a certain point of time that a new political community has come into existence, to which they must accord the ordinary rights of an independent State, while claiming from its government the fulfilment of customary international obligations. And it may often be a delicate matter to determine the exact point of time at which this recognition is to take place; since to accord it too soon would be showing undue partiality to the disruptionists, while to delay too long would be an offence to the new-born State. If the government of the old State itself recognises the independence of its revolted province, as soon as its struggle to retain it is substantially over, the difficulty will be removed; but if it clings to the claim of supremacy after it has ceased to make serious efforts to realise it, its obstinacy cannot justify other States in postponing recognition. They must judge for themselves when the substantial struggle is over, and must recognise the government of the insurgents as having succeeded, generally speaking, to the international rights and obligations of the previous government, in respect of the persons and territory that are de facto under its control at the time of its recognition. Some difficulty, however, may arise as to the division of obligations---especially debts. It is clear that the government of the new State must be held responsible for all such debts of the old State as were specially connected with the disrupted province-having been either contracted for local purposes or secured on local revenues. On the other hand, it seems clearly just, under ordinary circumstances, that the general debt of the old State, so far as this debt was incurred while it included the disrupted province, should be divided equitably between the two independent States that have resulted from the process of disruption. But it would seem that the division ought to be made by treaty between the disrupted communities; and that if no such treaty is made, the community that claims to represent the previously existing State must be held responsible for the whole debt, as for any other obligations arising out of contract, where the possession of a certain territory was not an express or implied condition of the contract. Only, if no one of the disrupted fragments claimed a continuity of existence with the previous State, would a division of the obligations of the previous State among the fragments have to be undertaken by foreigners to protect their own interests; but this case is likely to be rare.

Hitherto I have assumed that the duties of foreign States are to be determined on the principle of non-intervention. But the analogy between States and individuals, on which we have been working throughout, fails in a marked manner when a State is torn by violent civil dissensions: foreign States---if they would not have their conduct regulated by empty fictions---must recognise that in this case the quasi-personal unity which international morality attributes to States has vanished; and that they have practically to deal with two bodies instead of one, each accusing the other of violations of right grave enough to justify a resort to force. The principles on which violent insurrection and violent repression of insurrection are respectively to be justified have already been partially considered, and will be further discussed in the concluding chapter of the treatise: but---assuming that there are some cases in which the insurgents would have right on their side and others in which they would be in the wrong---we may here note certain general considerations bearing on the expediency of foreign intervention on either side in such cases.

An attempt to change violently the government of a country may arise in two ways; either from a dispute between two of the recognised organs of government, in which neither will give way, or from an insurrection of the governed generally---or a portion of them---against the government as a whole. In the former case the conflicting organs, in endeavouring to enforce their respective claims by arms, are appealing to the people governed to decide the point at issue: and the people to whom appeal is thus made, if sufficiently coherent to deserve the name of a nation, must generally be far better qualified to decide it than foreigners can be; so that the intervention of the latter is likely to be simply mischievous. The mere fact that the claims of one of the contending organs are traditionally established, while those of the other are revolutionary, does not materially affect the case; for the change may still be opportune and desirable,---the ripe fruit of time, though needing to be violently plucked. There is further a serious danger that if intervention be tolerated, the intervening State or States will take advantage of their neighbour's weakness to,secure some unjust gain at its expense; and that this ill-gotten gain will carry with it the seeds of future bitterness and strife. Such intervention, therefore, should generally be viewed with reprobation.

There are, however, special grounds on which, even in this case, intervention may be justified:---thus, e.g., the revolutionary party may adopt an aggressive attitude towards foreigners, by acting avowedly on principles which they not only profess to be applicable to other States, but actually threaten to aid in applying elsewhere if they succeed at home. Only, to give the required justification, the aggressiveness ought to be definite and unmistakable; otherwise the foreign intervention will be justly open to the charge of causing the evil that it is designed to avert.

The case of an insurrection by the governed against the government as a whole differs from that just discussed, chiefly because it is more likely to occur in what has been called an ``inorganic'' I State;---i.e. one in which the rule is that of an alien element supported by an army divorced in feeling from the rest of the population. The community thus artificially held together lacks the kind of cohesion that constitutes a nation; and this is also likely to be the case where the aim of insurgents is what I have called ``disruption'',---i.e. to secede from the State to which they belong with a portion of its territory. In either of these cases the intervention of a foreign State on the side of the insurgents is not equally open to the objection of interfering with an the nation, as the proper final arbiter of internal disputes: and if it appears that the contending parties are deeply and irreconcilably divided in national sentiment, such intervention seems admissible, under such conditions as would render it expedient in wars between independent States: i.e. if it seems likely to be effective to secure peace and tends to prevent injustice. The observance of these conditions, however, is likely to confine such intervention within narrow limits; in view of the danger that---being designed, or believed to be designed, to further the aggrandisement of the intervening State or States---it may arouse the jealousy of others, and cause an extended war.

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