The Elements of Politics

Henry Sidgwick

Chapter 16

The Regulation of War

§4. Let us pass to consider the rules by which the relations of belligerents to neutrals are to be regulated. The main difficulty here arises from the necessity of applying together two principles, each of which seems clearly acceptable if considered by itself, but which, when applied, come inevitably into a conflict that can only be settled by a more or less arbitrary compromise. It is clearly the duty of a belligerent to avoid injuring communities that are not at enmity with him, and their members; and it is clearly the duty of a neutral neither to assist nor to hamper either belligerent in his warlike operations. And some deductions from either principle are obvious and uncontradicted. Thus, on the one hand, it is plainly the duty of a belligerent not to send his forces into the territory of a neutral government without the consent of the latter, however convenient he may find this for the purposes of his military operations,---and not to interfere with any members of neutral States whom he finds outside their countries, unless they are aiding his enemy. And, on the other hand, it is the duty of a neutral State to prohibit its subjects from engaging personally in the service of either belligerent, and to take measures to prevent their doing this to any material extent; and also to be impartial in either closing or opening its territory to both belligerents equally.

But in realising this impartiality difficulties arise: since regulations that are formally impartial, and are applied with strict equality to both sides, may practically give a decided advantage to one of the two belligerents, owing to his situation and circumstances. This being so, the safer course for the neutral is to refuse to both belligerents any use of his territory that may facilitate warlike operations; and this is what existing opinion would regard as his duty, so far as the admission of organised forces into his territory is concerned. But this rule can hardly be extended to the exclusion of ships of war from the territorial waters of a friendly State: since such ships may be in pressing need of provisions or coal, which they cannot otherwise obtain, and which, therefore, it would be inhumane not to allow them to purchase. On the other hand, it is obvious that, if the privilege of purchasing such supplies in neutral ports were granted without limit, the neutral territory might practically furnish the belligerent with a base of operations, enabling him to carry on naval war from which he would otherwise have been precluded. The neutral, therefore, has the delicate task of limiting the hospitality it extends to ships of war to the minimum that humanity---considering the inevitable conditions of navigation---may seem to require. Similarly, common humanity requires that a neutral State should extend hospitality to a beaten army flying towards its frontier; but it must not allow them to start from its country to resume hostilities: it would seem to be the neutral's duty to disarm and ``intern'' them, unless they accept the position of prisoners of war released on parole.

More serious difficulties arise out of the relations of trade which bind together modern States in time of peace to a continually increasing extent. For, on the one hand, any trade, even in things remote from warlike use, may actually contribute importantly to enable a belligerent to carry on his war: on the other hand, it would be a palpably exorbitant pretension in a belligerent to require all neutral States to put an end to their trade with his enemy. Only a Napoleon, at the giddy height of his predominance, could make such a claim; and it is not likely to be repeated. Some compromise, then, is needed between the claim of the neutral to be undisturbed in his trade, and the claim of the belligerent that his enemy shall not be aided.

The best compromise seems to be that no private trade---except to some extent trade in the actual munitions of war---should be regarded as an offence on the part of the neutral State of which the trader is a member; but that the belligerent should have a right to check such trade, and confiscate the wares, in all cases in which they are calculated to be of special utility to his enemy---i.e. either (1) when the commodities are of a kind adapted for military use by the enemy, or (2) when the belligerent's own military operations are effectively directed to the cutting off of all supplies from some part of the enemy's territory. In the former case the belligerent would be allowed to confiscate the commodities as ``contraband of war''; in the latter he would confiscate them on the ground of an attempt to break through a ``blockade''. The precise degree of adaptation to military use required to justify the treating of wares as contraband, and the precise conditions under which a blockade is to be considered, must be determined on the basis of experience by usage, or arrived at by agreement among the leading States.

I have said that no trade should be regarded as an offence on the part of a State, ``except to some extent trade in the actual munitions of war''. There is one special ease in which it certainly seems best, in the interests of peace, that this trade should be definitely prohibited; i.e. where the process of exporting munitions is easily perverted into the distinct violation of neutrality before noticed, which consists in allowing the neutral country to be used as a basis for military operations. The most important example of this is the trade in armed ships; since an armed ship sent forth as an article of export is so easily changed into a ship adequately equipped and manned for war, that a State which allows such export at the risk of the private exporter---like other contraband trade---will find it hard practically to prevent its country from being made the source of a hostile expedition.

In the above discussion I have said nothing of the formalities that should accompany the commencement of a war,---a point to which international jurists have given serious attention. I conceive that they have usually somewhat exaggerated its importance. It is no doubt desirable that any hostile act commencing a war should be preceded by a formal notice, and accompanied by a formal justification of the resort to violence; but it is more important that war should be really resorted to only when redress for wrong has been refused; and the process of asking for redress will involve a practical warning that war is impending in case of refusal.

[Back to:] [Forward to:] [Up to:]