Pacifism in A Generation of Materialism
By Bryan Caplan
On August 24 of the eventful year of 1898 the Tsar’s foreign minister, Count Muraviev, communicated to the diplomatic corps of St. Petersburg an “imperial rescript” declaring that “the preservation of peace has become an object of international policy” and inviting their respective governments to participate in a conference on “possible reduction in the excessive armaments which weigh upon all nations.” The move was sensational, and doubly so by reason of its being made by Russia.
The Tsar Nicholas II had not been generally regarded as either a liberal or a pacifist, and yet he was now giving point and crystallization to latent aspirations for international peace on the part of a considerable body of liberals and humanitarians…
The hidden motives:
Neither the Tsar nor his foreign minister quite merited the reputation for idealistic pacifism which their “rescript” gained them. They had been pushed into sponsoring it by the Russian finance minister, Count Witte, and he was actuated by very realistic considerations. Russia was a comparatively “backward” and hence a poor country… its finances were strained to the utmost.
The fruits obviously did not include lasting peace in Europe, but:
The Conference did do something… [I]t adopted a number of minor amendments and additions to the rules of war. The state and condition of belligerency were defined; better treatment of war prisoners and of sick and wounded soldiers was prescribed; the Red Cross convention was extended to naval warfare; gas attacks and dum-dum bullets were banned; the throwing of projectiles from balloons was prohibited for five years. But what finally aroused major interest and debate was the question of a permanent court of arbitration. There was general agreement that any such court should have no jurisdiction over cases which were “non-justiciable” or which involved any nation’s “vital interest” or “honor.” Over other cases, however, there was heated debate whether jurisdiction should be compulsory or voluntary. The German delegation for a time opposed the establishment of any court at all, and in the end agreed to it only after the other powers had accepted the voluntary principle. Even then the unbending Baron von Holstein resigned… as a solemn protest against what he deemed a sinister specter of international arbitration and a most dangerous flirtation with peace.
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