The First Hague Peace Conference
A look back to 1899 and its aftermath served both as a guide and warning to the organizers of The Hague Appeal. The First Hague Peace Conference was not driven by the sudden conversion of Europe's rulers to pacifism, but by Russia's desire to escape the crushing burden of keeping up with Germany and England's armament pace in Western Europe. Although certain idealistic motives played roles, no progress was made on disarmament at the end of each day.
Nevertheless, the Conference was not without important results: First, it produced a convention for the Pacific Settlement of Disputes-which resulted in the establishment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration; secondly, an issue on Laws and Customs of War on Land known as "The Hague Convention" remains as the most important source of humanitarian law today; and a third concerning Maritime Warfare. The conference adopted "Declarations" to the effect that throwing projectiles from balloons and other aircraft had an indiscriminate effect on civilians, and the use of asphyxiating gases and dum dum bullets should be forbidden because of their inhumane nature (defenders of nuclear weapons, please note). They further expressed that another conference be held to deal with the unfinished portions of the agenda.
Civil society played a considerable role both before and after the first conference. It helped to overcome the initial reluctance of most governments to accept the Czar's invitation. The various peace societies led by the indefatigable Baroness Bertha von Suttner, kept up a veritable drum roll of urgings and entreaties. In England alone, over 750 resolutions endorsing the conference were sent to the Foreign Office by peace societies, religious groups, town and county councils, and in some cases, simply 'The People of Bedford' or 'Public Meeting at Bath'. At the conference, the voice of the people made itself heard. Belgium weighed in with a petition bearing 100,000 signatures, only to be bested by the Netherlands with twice that number.
The chief American delegate-Andrew White, noted in his diary that he was inundated by plans, schemes, nostrums, notions and whimsies of all sorts. He was forced to admit that they were evidence of a feeling more earnest and widespread than anything he had ever dreamed. Several weeks of conviviality in the auspicious atmosphere of the Huis den Bosch greatly contributed to a gradual diminution of the skepticism that most of the delegates had originally arrived with. William Stead, the British peace campaigner noted in his diary: a month of amicable discussion of the gravest problems has worked the happiest change in the spirit of the conference. The fact is; the intrinsic absurdity and unreasoning of the existing international anarchy is something honest men cannot seriously consider, without the growing conviction that good faith and sincere efforts are needed for a great step toward a happier future.
The Second Hague Peace Conference
It is a little known fact that the initiative for the Second Hague Peace Conference came from civil society in the United States. Prompted by a petition in 1903 from the American Peace Society in Boston, the Massachusetts legislature passed a resolution requesting Congress to authorize the President of the United States to invite the governments of the world to join in establishing a regular international congress to meet at stated periods to deliberate upon the various questions of common interest. The idea was taken up in St. Louis in 1904 by the Interparliamentary Union that recommended a conference to deal with the subjects postponed at The Hague in 1899. It led to the negotiation of a series of arbitration treaties among the various nations and the consideration of plans for a series of congresses-the kind recommended by the Massachusetts legislature.
President Theodore Roosevelt responded to this invitation by convening the Second Hague Peace Conference. It was held on June 15, 1907, after being formally convened by the Czar. This time, Russia proposed an agenda limited to improvements in arbitration and humanitarian law, while America suggested discussing the limitation of armaments and the use of force in the collection of debts.
Civil society was present in much larger numbers than at the first conference. The International Council of Women submitted a petition signed by two million women from twenty countries. The Belgian delegate reminded his colleagues of public opinion. Sovereign Baroness von Suttner in an excess of enthusiasm declared that public opinion should express itself with appropriate vigor, so that there is nothing the conference would not try to accomplish. Public opinion is the Master and God of the conference. While some progress was made on other agenda items, the disarmament issue again came up short.
America's Secretary of State, Elihu Root believed that successive failures were necessary for success. He responded to the criticism of disappointed peace activists in these terms: The question about each International Conference is not merely what it has accomplished, but also what it has begun and moved forward. Based on this belief, he instructed the American delegate-Joseph Choate, to obtain a resolution calling for a third conference to be held within another seven to eight years. The guns of August 1914 rudely interfered with the implementation of this resolution.
The Unfinished Business
The Third Conference envisioned by Secretary Root was held in The Hague in May 1999, at the initiative of the Russian and Dutch governments. It was not a treaty-making conference like the first two, but a centennial commemoration on the theme, "The Peaceful Settlement of Disputes: Prospects for the Twenty-First Century."
Rather than hover in the wings of the following year's conference as in 1899 and 1907, civil society this time held its own conference, "The Hague Appeal for Peace 1999." It sent a clear message to the world's policy makers on issues with which they failed to address in the first two rounds: (How to eliminate the causes of war; including racism, colonialism, poverty and other human rights violations, the limitation of arsenals to a reasonable level for territorial defense, the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction including nuclear ones, the establishment and utilization of conflict resolution mechanisms (as an interim measure on the way to abolish war), improvements in humanitarian law, and most importantly, the creation of a culture of peace for the world's war-oppressed people.
The Hague Appeal was inspired by the past work of peace activists, including Bertha von Suttner who said, "Whatever is expressed by the Peace Movement is not a dream by people far removed from reality; rather it is civilization's drive to sustain itself."
4/19/98 Carnegie Foundation, op.cit., p.91 Barbara Tuchman, The Proud Tower, p.257 Id. Carnegie Foundation, The Peace Palace, p.35 Id., p.77 Id., p.81 Tuchman, op.cit., p.288