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Wars may arise from a variety of causes which well-nigh baffle and of pretexts which actually defy classification. No difference is too trifling for war if the nations in controversy wish war; none is too great for peace if the nations concerned desire peace. As a great statesman and wise counselor of our day has aptly said: the dispute is nothing; the spirit in which we approach it is everything. But the spirit must needs be aided; the passion which obscures the issue must be appeased; the fire must not be fanned into flame; the conflagration, if it can not for the moment be extinguished, must be confined. All this takes time, and if time is lacking, peace is doomed. Therefore, when direct negotiations of the parties have failed, the interposition of some new means, such as the good offices or mediation of third parties, tends to prolong discussion and to avert the break; the reference of the dispute to the award of arbiters not only prevents the break, but leads to adjustment; the submission of the controversy to a court of justice, if one there be, decides the difference according to principles of law and enables the litigants to go their several ways without resorting to arms and disturbing the peace of the community of nations. But time must be given, the means must be at hand; the agencies can not be created in the storm and stress of controversy; the door must be wide open, whether it lead to the chancellery of a third Power, as in the case of good offices or mediation; to the chamber of compromise, as in the case of arbitration, or to the court room, in the case of a justiciable dispute.
In controversies between nations, a refusal to accept good offices or mediation at the hands of third parties, a rejection of a proposal to arbitrate, an unwillingness to employ judicial means in an appropriate case, indicate a readiness to proceed to extremes, and coupled with the demand on either side of a settlement within a short period, such as forty-eight hours, for example, can only be looked upon as a declaration of war to become effective at the expiration of the time limit. Therefore, any existing agency which prevents the final break is to be commended; any new agency which procures time for the parties and brings an enlightened public opinion from without to bear upon the issue is to be welcomed.
In addition to direct negotiation between nations in dispute, the First Hague Peace Conference of 1899 recognized good offices and mediation, commissions of inquiry and arbitration as methods of settling international differences which direct negotiations between the contending parties, technically called diplomacy, had failed to adjust. The Second Conference of 1907 added to these agencies judicial settlement, without, however, hitting upon an acceptable method of appointing the judges, and thus constituting the proposed court in which the causes between nations were to be decided by due process of law, as are ordinary suits between man and man.
Mr. Bryan's treaties for the advancement of peace, of which thirty were negotiated and signed by him as Secretary of State, twentynine advised and consented to by the Senate, and twenty actually proclaimed by the President, aim to supplement, not to supplant existing agencies by bringing to discussion any and all outstanding differences, not adjusted by these or other agencies, in the belief that the immediate and therefore the ultimate danger of war would be averted through an agreement of the parties to refrain from hostilities pending investigation, for which a twelvemonth is allowed, by a careful discussion before a permanent commission of five members, in which each of the contending countries is represented by a citizen or subject of its own choice, created in advance of the dispute or existing at its outbreak. Such treaties would facilitate settlement by ascertaining the facts and suggesting the principle of solution, even although the report of the commission should not bind the parties or decide the controversy.
Let us briefly consider these different phases of peaceable settlement in order to see the nature and scope of the Bryan plan and its place in the peace movement.
First, of good offices and mediation.
By the Pacific Settlement Convention of 1899, drafted by the Hague Peace Conference of that year, composed of official representatives of twenty-six nations, and recommended for adoption to those and all other civilized nations forming the society of nations, increased to forty-four in 1907, the nations agreed “to use their best efforts to insure the pacific settlement of international differences” in order to obviate "as far as possible recourse to force in the relations between States."
To render this agreement effective they further agreed, "in case of serious disagreement or conflict, before an appeal to arms ..., to have recourse, as far as circumstances allow, to the good offices or mediation of one or more friendly Powers." Here is a clean cut, definite agreement weakened if not rendered 'nugatory by the clause "as far as circumstances allow," by virtue of which one or other of the Powers decides for itself whether the circumstances of the particular case allow a recourse to good offices or mediation.
This is a right which the States always possessed, but the Russian Government was able to assert in justification of the provision that in the forty years succeeding the Congress of Paris "there has not been a single case where the States in controversy have addressed a request for mediation to neutral States." Therefore, the express approval of it in this Convention was of vast importance, as the approval of the principle by all the States, as distinct from a progressive few, even although no State was bound unless it wanted to be.
But the Convention does not stop here; it goes further and takes a step in advance by recommending "that one or more Powers, strangers to the dispute, should, on their own initiative, and as far as circumstances may allow, offer their good offices or mediation to the States at variance"; that "Powers, strangers to the dispute, have the right to offer good offices or mediation, even during the course of hostilities.” It further specifically provides that “the exercise of this right can never be regarded by one or the other of the parties in conflict as an unfriendly act.”
To the captious critic this seems a small matter, as States possessed this right before and exercised it at their pleasure and in their discretion. True, but the clauses in question constitute an approval of such action, on their part, which they were admittedly free to take and a recommendation that it be done "as far as circumstances may allow," that is to say, if the offer would not in their opinion be hopeless, or, in other words, if the offer is one which they would be prepared to consider if made to them instead of by them.
Again the Convention recommends that the offer be made "even during the course of hostilities," and wisely, as nations are often as embarrassed to stop hostilities as they were anxious to begin them, and
1 Proceedings of the First Hague Peace Conference, part 1, p. 123; Scott, Reports to the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907 (1917), p. 96.