Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
BALANCE OF POWER. By this term, in public law, is understood an organization intended to effect among nations forming part of one system, such a distribution and an opposition of forces that no state shall be in a position, either alone or united with others, to impose its own will on any other state or interfere with its independence.
—One power can not extend its territory, increase its strength, or largely add to its resources, without giving umbrage to neighboring powers. If its growth assumes alarming proportions, the spur of interest suffices to induce other nations to unite, in order to oppose its impending domination over them. This very simple fact, which has appeared at all times and in all places, was the first germ of the theory of the balance of power. The idea which sprang from it is that of an association of several states against the aggrandizement, grown dangerous, of a single state; but only of a temporary association during actual danger, and while the danger lasts. If we suppose the association more extended; that instead of being a league of certain states against one state, it unites a system of states in a common understanding—more lasting and firm in this, that instead of being temporary it assumes a permanent character and tends not only to defend each one of the states thus united into a system, against the ambition of a single state, but to establish and guarantee among all, such a balance of forces as will maintain them in peace—we have a second form of the same idea, much more advanced than the first, one in which the theory of equilibrium or the balance of power is clearly perceptible.
—It would not be correct to say, with Sully, (Economies royales, ou Mémoires de Sully, collection Petitot, t. vii. p. 94), that this balance consists in rendering all potentates "nearly equal in power, as to kingdoms, wealth, extent and dominion." That balance tends rather, according to a memoir of count Hauterive, drawn up by the order of the first consul, "to balance the respective rights and duties of a great number of states unequal in power, and in more or less direct relations with each other." (De l'état de la France, à la fin de l'an viii. p. 36.) It is, in fact, in the efficacy of the common guarantee in that arrangement, which, in case of necessity, balances each force in the system, by the resultant of all the others; in one word, in the rights upon which the association rests, that the balancing of the inequality of facts is to be found.
—We may conceive the idea of equilibrium or balance of power applied to different groups of states, united afterward into one great system, in such a way that each partial equilibrium becomes an element in the general equilibrium; thus, the equilibrium between the ancient states of Italy, between the German states, the equilibrium of the north, that of Europe, of America, of the world. This same idea may have as its object the forces of the most varied nature, which constitute the power of states: hence, military equilibrium; commercial, industrial, financial equilibrium; equilibrium of population, of territory, continental or colonial; maritime equilibrium. But it is territory, above all, that is most generally considered in the theories or practical questions of the balance of power. Indeed, territory, one of the principal instruments of the power of nations, is a physical, material element, susceptible of measurement and limitation, while the other forces are more especially connected with moral causes. We have, therefore, to deal with the territorial equilibrium or balance of power here.
—The policy of the balance of power presented itself in its first and most simple form, in the resistance to a power which increased in an alarming manner and threatened other powers with its rule. This happened during three very notable periods in European history: 1, in the period of resistance to the house of Austria which had succeeded by inheritance to the throne of Spain and to the German empire, from Charles V. to Philip IV., in the case of the Spanish branch, and from Charles V. to Ferdinand III., in the case of the German; 2, in the resistance to the house of Bourbon, under Louis XIV.; and 3, in the resistance to Napoleon in the time of the republic and the empire.
—It was the policy of resistance to the immoderate increase and the aspirations to domination of the house of Hapsburg, that caused the wars of Francis I. against Charles V., and those which followed, notably the thirty years' war. This period was terminated by the peace of Westphalia in 1648.
—The antagonism of the house of Bourbon and the house of Austria in Spain and Germany is well known. The duke de Rohan, in his famous work on the interests of princes, dedicated to the duke de Richelieu, and written in 1633, during the species of exile to which the king had sentenced him at Venice, sums up the policy of the time as follows: "We must lay it down as a principle that there are two powers in Christendom which are like the two poles, from which the influences of peace and war come to other states, to wit, the houses of France and Spain. Spain's power having suddenly increased, it has not been able to conceal the design it cherished to rule and to cause the sun of a new monarchy to rise in the west. The house of France forthwith decided to act as a counterweight. The remaining princes joined one or the other side, as their interests dictated." (Preface to the Intérêts des princes. Cologne, 1656). At this period very little was said of the people, and much of princes; men wrote of the interests of princes, of the maxims of princes, and spoke not of rights, but interests. "Princes command the people, and interests command princes," wrote the duke de Rohan, at the head of his book. The policy of the balance of power was then openly a policy of interest; it had not been elevated into a legal theory.
—The second period was in like manner filled up with efforts of resistance, to an ambition for aggrandizement which had become menacing to the neighboring states. The danger now no longer lay in the house of Austria, but in the house of France; not Charles V. and his successors but Louis XIV. it was who alarmed Europe. "Francis I. had struggled with difficulty against the house of Austria," says Mignet; "Henry IV. had triumphed over its attacks; Richelieu and Mazarin had humiliated it; it only remained to dispossess it. This Louis XIV. did" (Négociations relatives à la succession d'Espagne, Introduction, v. 1, p. liii.) And in fact, at this period it was not the house of Austria that occupied simultaneously the throne of Spain and the imperial throne of Germany, but the house of Bourbon which occupied the thrones of France and Spain. The system of the European balance of power was developed despite this, and strengthened as a principle of conventional international law; and the struggle ended in a new and grand practical realization of this system, at the peace of Utrecht (1713). We must pass over a period of nearly 80 years to meet again in European history a coalition of states of the same character, against the danger of a dominant power which was rising up, and advancing, ostensibly, to a general supremacy over all others. It is true that the first coalition against France (that of 1791) was based on the pretense of interfering with the internal forms of the French government. But when the armies of the republic, in retaliation for the aggression, began to take the offensive, the struggle assumed the character of resistance on the part of different powers to a domination threatening to them all.
—Such are the three periods, each epitomized in one of the three names: Charles V., Louis XIV., Napoleon I., during which the policy of the balance of power appeared in its simplest and most energetic form: that of common resistance to threatening domination. It is after these wars, and as a consequence of the treaties of peace which put an end to them, that the second form assumed by the theory of the international balance of power, was produced.
—This second form, whose distinctive characteristic is one of agreement, a species of general association of the powers to constitute and guarantee in common a certain condition of territorial possession, regulated conventionally, received, in the positive international law of Europe, three great practical illustrations—the first in the treaties of Westphalia (1648); the second in the treaty of Utrecht (1713); and the last in the treaty of 1815.
—But, previous to the first of these practical illustrations we meet with the projects of Henry IV., and of Sully, which have sometimes, too lightly perhaps, been styled utopian. The abasement of the Spanish faction, the close of the wars of religion, the promotion of an association among all the states "who feared or had reason to fear the insatiable avarice of the house of Austria," were a continual source of solicitude to Henry IV.
—This solicitude he had entertained ever since 1589. An understanding had been come to at different times by this king with other princes; propositions were agreed upon in 1603, between his delegates and those of the sovereigns of England, Denmark and Sweden; deputies, agents and negotiators, were sent out by him all over Germany from 1608 to 1609, with general instructions. In consequence of steps taken by these agents, a public assembly of 18 or 20 princes, connected by friendship with Henry IV, was convened at Hall, in Swabia. "A confederation of kings, princes and states shall be formed and the confederates agree to call it the most Christian association; the three most numerous creeds in European Christianity shall be chosen and expedients shall be found to enable them to agree and live together in peace; the empire shall be restored to its rights and privileges; the electors shall regain their free suffrage, and two emperors of the same house shall never be elected in immediate succession. Austria shall be restricted, so far as its hereditary dominion in Europe is concerned, to Spain and the neighboring islands; the possessions of which she shall be deprived, shall be distributed according to principles agreed upon, and the limits of the various powers of the Christian association determined by agreement among the confederates." (Economies royales de Sully, collection Petitot, t. viii. et ix.) These were the lofty and magnificent designs of the king, as Sully calls them. It is true that this minister to whom Henry IV. confided his projects and intrusted the care of the details of them, as well as the means of executing them, went further than his sovereign in this organization. The projected confederation was to be established universally and perpetually in Europe, under the name of the Most Christian Republic. It was to comprise 15 dominions, of which 5 were elective royalties: that of the pope, the emperor and the kings of Poland, Hungary and Bohemia; 6 hereditary royalties: those of France, Spain, England, Denmark, Sweden, and Lombardy, a new kingdom to be established for the duke of Savoy; and finally 4 dominions republican in form. Venice, a second, to be composed of the duchies of Genoa, Florence, Mantua, Parma, Modena, several small sovereign states of Italy, Switzerland considerably increased, and the 17 provinces of Holland Between these dominions there were to be placed "limits so sure and well adjusted that none of the 15 could undertake to trespass upon them without bringing on itself an attack from the other 14." Sully saw in this arrangement liberty of individual conscience, understood in the sense of the free and public exercise of three kinds of religions only, the Roman, the Protestant and the Reformed; freedom of trade, freedom of navigation, and freedom of the sea. Finally, independently of a number of particular councils, a general council, "composed of a proportional equality of the 15 dominions," was to be the perpetual sovereign arbiter of common interests and on disputed questions. To the picture of this general republic, the minister of Henry IV. added this last characteristic: "that always at peace with Christians, it should ever be at war with infidels, and maintain a continual struggle against them, in order to recover what they had usurped in Europe, and to go beyond this if fortunate progress should afford the opportunity" (Œconomies royales).
—The plans of Henry IV. anticipated a theory of political equilibrium under the form of an association of states, with a distribution of territory, agreed upon in common, in a system of counterweights and general interests, and sanctioned by the guarantee of all the powers. Carried to its utmost limits this theory verged upon plans of general and perpetual peace, brought forward later by abbe St. Pierre under the title of the Project of perpetual peace, formerly proposed by Henry the Great; afterward by J. J. Rousseau, under the name of a project of perpetual peace by abbe St. Pierre; later still by Bentham, and by other writers. It has assumed at present a more expanded form, in the minds of many.
—The transition from the projects thus prepared by Henry IV. and by Sully, to the treaty of Westphalia, is not without logical connection. What is found in this treaty is, at bottom, a partial realization of those ideas of Henry IV. which were more closely connected with the general necessities of that time; a compromise and guaranty of equality, in Germany, for the exercise of the three religions which had struggled so long against one another; a more certain determination of the rights of the states of the empire, especially in their relations with the emperor; a diminution of the power of Austria, in the Spanish and in the German houses; a recognition by this last power of the republics of Holland and Switzerland, both long since founded and strengthened by being freed from its domination; certain arrangements, and territorial concessions in Italy, principally in favor of the duke of Savoy; even the idea of henceforth preventing wars and putting an end to future differences by means of amicable compromises. But the ruling fact was a preliminary discussion by the plenipotentiaries of the principal European powers, covering a great number of international questions, the first example of a congress or diplomatic council which had the character of an agreement determining, by precise stipulations, certain bonds of existence and common co-ordination among the states and Europe; an engagement which made every private question, touching the maintenance of these stipulations, a question for all, and which, in this way, introduced, for the first time, conditions of political equilibrium by means of a conventional system organized by treaties and founded on the principle of a species of permanent association of the states.
—Consequently the treaty of Westphalia has been justly considered as the foundation of positive international law in Europe, and this treaty has been taken as the point of departure of this law. It is to be remarked that, from the same epoch are dated regular continuous diplomatic relations, and the use of legations or permanent embassies from one power to another.
—Nevertheless this first provision for a certain territorial and political balance had not the extent and character of unity which is essential to such a system. On the one hand, several European powers did not agree to it: Russia had not yet entered the general current of affairs. Prussia was of too little importance at that time to figure in affairs otherwise than in a secondary and passive capacity. England held aloof. The pope protested. The sultan was not included in the Christian group. Besides, the arrangement was not effected by a single and general treaty, but by several separate treaties, the treaty between Spain and Holland entered into Jan. 30, 1648, at Münster, which forms no diplomatic part of what is called the treaty of Westphalia, although it is an important prelude to it; the treaty between Sweden, the emperor, and the states of the empire, Oct. 24, 1648, at Osnabrück, being the first part of the treaty of Westphalia; finally, a treaty between France, the emperor and the states of the empire, Oct. 24, 1648, at Münster, being the second part of the treaty of Westphalia. This peace was not even general. France and Spain continued in a state of war until the peace of the Pyrenees, (Nov. 7, 1659,) which was thus a complement to the treaties of Westphalia. The former brought peace to Germany and the north, the latter to the south.
—The second practical illustration of the system of the conventional balance of power was that of the treaties of Utrecht. The course of political events and especially the question of succession to the Spanish throne, made vacant by the extinction of the Spanish-Austrian dynasty, had deranged the equilibrium created by the treaties of Westphalia and necessitated a new arrangement of power and territory. But the emperor Joseph I., having died, (April 17, 1711), and having left as his successor to the empire, his brother, the archduke Charles, the rival of Philip of Anjou, the fear of seeing the power of Charles V. reappear, by the union of the crown of Spain and the possessions of the house of Austria and the empire of Germany, was of much greater importance to Europe than the elevation of a younger branch of the house of Bourbon, at a time when France had just been so considerably weakened. Between these two dangers the policy of the balance of power had no room for hesitation. It sufficed for it to take precautions to prevent the future union of the crowns of France and Spain, to reduce these two powers, by strengthening, through a distribution of territory taken from them, those states which were especially destined to serve as a counter-poise to them. Such was the meaning of the various provisions contained in the treaties of Utrecht. The dominant idea in men's minds was the establishment of a new balance of the powers. This idea has been developed and consolidated in international practice since the time of the treaties of Westphalia. That this idea was uppermost in the political thought of the time appears clearly from the correspondence of the English minister, lord Bolingbroke, in the preparatory conferences, as well as from the reciprocal acts of renunciation made by the king of Spain and the princes of France, in which they mutually abdicated their eventual rights to the crown of the other country (see
—Nevertheless, the peace of Utrecht was not yet presented under the sanction of a general treaty between the powers. It was made up of two series of different treaties: those of Louis XIV. with Great Britain, with the states general of Holland, with Portugal, with Prussia, with Savoy, signed the same day, April 11, 1713, at Utrecht; and those of the king of Spain, Philip V., with the same powers, the conclusion of which only took place later and at different periods. The common bond existed especially in the stipulations of England, who signed the principal treaty of peace with Louis XIV., and with Philip V., and took under her guarantee the particular engagements made with the other powers. The emperor continued the war; he made peace with France by the treaties of Rastadt and Baden, in 1714; and several years later, with the king of Spain. The differences between the treaties of Westphalia and those of Utrecht, both in the personnel of the contracting parties, and in the object of the stipulations, are noteworthy. France and Sweden were at the head of the allied states, at the time of the peace of Westphalia; England stood aloof. At the peace of Utrecht, Sweden figured no longer, it was England that lead in the negotiations, and it was under the preponderant guarantee of this power, now placed on a level with France and Austria in the balance of Europe, that the new equilibrium was established. Louis XIV. recognized in it the hereditary right of the dynasty of Nassau; Frederick, of Prussia, appeared in it with his new title of king; Victor-Amédée, the duke of Savoy, received by it the kingdom of Sicily, which he was obliged 7 years later to exchange for Sardinia, and took the title of king, which Henry IV. had wished to bestow on one of his ancestors. There was no longer a question as to the interests of the three religions (admitted to a footing of equality by law in Germany) and to those of the states of the German empire in their relations with the emperor. But, under the policy of Louis XIV., France had lost the position of protectress of these two interests; this rôle passed over to Prussia, which, in the future, was destined to hold the house of Austria in check in the affairs of Germany. Finally, Great Britain obtained important colonial possessions, and hastened to conclude, under favor of the influence which she had acquired in the negotiations, treaties of commerce and navigation with several powers. Territorial equilibrium was now the object of concern, and maritime and commercial domination, which was soon to appear, was not perceived.
—The last application of equilibrium regulated by common consent between the powers, and at the same time the most absolute, the most general application made of it up to the present day, is that of the treaties of 1814 and 1815. Without entering into an examination of the events which took place from the peace of Utrecht up to that epoch, let us remark, simply, that Russia had had her Peter the Great, as Prussia her Frederick, and that the equilibrium of Europe had to be established between five great powers: France, Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia, with the addition of second rate powers, to which Spain, Sweden and Holland had descended, (Italy at that time was a geographical expression).
—The arrangements of 1814 and 1815 result from three series of principal acts: 1. The treaties of Paris, of the 30th of May, 1814, four identical treaties, a consequence of the victory of the allied powers and the first restoration concluded by separate acts, between the king of France, Louis XVIII., and each one of the four great powers, Austria, Russia, Great Britain and Prussia, stipulating for themselves and for their allies. Article 32, of these treaties, referred the complementary arrangements to a general congress of all the powers, which was to open at Vienna within two months.
—2. The final act of the Congress of Vienna of June 9, 1815, whose last resolutions had been precipitated by the news of the return of Napoleon to France, and by the events of the hundred days, with all the treaties, conventions, declarations, rules and other particular acts, were joined as annexes to this final act.
—3. The treaty of Paris of Nov. 20, 1815, a result of the new victory of the allied powers and of the second restoration, four identical treaties, more rigorous toward France than the preceding, concluded also between king Louis XVIII. and each one of the allied powers—Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia—which stipulated for themselves and their allies.
—Of all these documents that which remains with a leading and constitutive character for the states of Europe is the final act of the congress of Vienna; the treaties of Paris of 1814 had determined its basis; those of Paris of 1815 had modified its dispositions relative to the new reductions of territory imposed on France; but the principal regulation is in the act of the congress. This act is much more complete than those which had already twice settled the great territorial arrangements of Europe: as to the personnel of the contracting parties, with the exception of the Ottoman empire, all the European powers, even those of the second order, were represented. Nevertheless, the deliberations and the general resolutions were intrusted to a committee composed of the five great powers, and three secondary powers—Spain, Portugal and Sweden. As to the form of the contract, the final act of the congress was a general and common act signed by all the powers, and consequently imposing reciprocal obligations on all of them in regard to all of the others, a great difference as compared with the form of distinct, though analogous or identical treaties signed separately by the different powers, as was done at the peace of Westphalia and Utrecht.
—Lastly, as to the extent and nature of its provisions, the final act embraces all Europe: the systems of Westphalia and Utrecht were destroyed. It created a new territorial system, not only for some states, but for all. It is the greatest collection of arrangements relative to the regulation of limits, of boundaries and territories, which has ever been made by treaty. Independently of territorial questions, the final act of the congress of Vienna regulates, for certain countries, questions of organization or internal constitution, the most notable example of which is that of the Germanic confederation; and under the title of general provisions, it brought into conventional public law certain general principles, regulating the free navigation of rivers, the abolition of the slave trade, and even a regulation concerning the rank of diplomatic agents, a delicate question, which more than once had caused serious difficulties.
—But if the treaties of 1814 and 1815 can be justly considered as closing, in these external conflicts, the period of the French revolution, of which they are in this regard the conclusion, they have still left in existence important causes of dissolution in the work of international arrangement which they endeavored to accomplish. More occupied with the equilibrium of material forces and the restoration of dynasties than with the sovereignty of nations, the plenipotentiaries of the congress of Vienna measured the territory of countries and numbered their inhabitants without taking into sufficient account the affinities or the natural repulsions of their peoples; they regulated, even with a view to pacification, internal questions which pertain exclusively to the sovereignty of each people. The triple partition of Poland executed in violation of, and in the name of the principles of the balance of power, though attacked in the congress, was none the less sanctioned in the final distribution of European territory, an injustice which was further increased by the union of the Polish provinces as an integral part of the Russian empire in 1832, and by the absorption of Cracow into the Austrian empire in 1846.
—The effects of these vices of organization were not slow in making themselves felt, and modern diplomacy, approaching nearer to the sound ideas of international law, had to admit several consequences issuing from these manifestations and accustom itself to accord a larger place to the principle of national sovereignty. Thus, the Bourbons no longer reign in France; events that have taken place in Italy from 1859 to 1870 have removed other families restored in 1815, and overturned the temporal power of the pope; Belgium has separated from Holland; Austria has lost her Italian provinces; and Savoy has been reunited to France; the Swiss cantons have increased their cohesion, by giving more power to the central government; Germany has established its unity and has appropriated to itself, by conquest, Alsace and a part of Lorraine. Other changes destined to react on Europe, are developing in the east, which was not comprised, it is true, in the arrangements of 1815. France possesses Algeria; Greece is freed from Turkey; Egypt, but especially Roumania and Servia, have conquered an independent position.
—Still it is not less exact to say that the treaties of Westphalia and Utrecht and the congress of Vienna determine the present territorial condition of Europe. Since the peace of 1648 politics has placed more and more under the protection of the principles of balance of power, its negotiations relative to disputes, the losses and acquisitions of territory; and when, to-day, questions of the same order are raised, they are based on these great international acts; for it is in their stipulations, completed by less important treaties attached to them, that we must look for the principal titles to property or possession of the different powers.
—We have just seen how the theory of balance of power was established de facto in the positive law of nations. What is to be thought of these principles, if they are separated from the motive of political interest, and judged exclusively from the point of view of the just and the unjust?
—In spite of the hesitation and differences on this subject, it may be said that up to the treaties of 1815, juridical writers generally appeared little inclined to erect the theory of balance of power into a law. Grotius, in his treatise on "The Rights of War and Peace," written before the peace of Westphalia, refutes the opinion of those who pretend that, according to the law of nations, it is permitted to take up arms to weaken a prince or a state whose power is increasing day by day, lest if it were allowed to increase too much, it would enable such a state to injure others if an opportunity offered. He admits, however, that this consideration may enter as a determining motive in the resolution to make war, provided there be a just cause for taking up arms. Pufendorf, in his work on "The Law of Nature and of Nations," published before the treaties of Utrecht, also thinks that the fear caused by the aggrandizement of a neighboring state is not a legitimate reason for war, unless there is a moral certainty of evil designs formed against some other power. Le supplément à l' examen de conscience sur les devoire de la royuaté, written by Fénelon for the duke of Bourgoyne, contains a chapter still more explicit, concerning the condition of the balance of power, but whose chief purpose is to illustrate the danger of a universal monarchy. Bynkershoek, in his Quæstionum juris publici, libri duo, which he published in 1747, opposes, energetically, the system by which princes divide among themselves the kingdoms and wealth of other sovereigns, basing themselves on reasons of state, which he defines with the poet, monstrum, horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lumen ademptum. Vattel, who wrote eleven years later (1758), after having examined the question from the same point of view as his predecessors, Grotius and Pufendorf, solves it in the same sense, and devotes several paragraphs to what he calls "this famous idea of political balance, or the balance of power" He condemns the arrangements which would consist in producing this balance by an almost even distribution of force, it being impossible to effect such a distribution without injustice and violence; but, in his opinion, it is proper to have recourse, according to circumstances, to confederations, amicable interventions, or defensive alliances.
—After the treaties of 1814 and 1815, the system of equilibrium having attained the greatest extension it ever had as a practical theory and a conventional right, no publicist of any note could write, after that period, about the whole of international law, without devoting special attention to this system. The most common tendency was to treat the question as one of positive law, and in this regard it is necessary to recognize certain obligatory consequences which the regular clauses of a treaty may produce between the contracting parties. But from the point of view of pure science, most modern writers have maintained the former traditions and refused to see the character of a rational and general right in the political principles of the balance of power. Martens lays down as a principle the right of each state to increase its territory by legitimate means. Nevertheless, he admits that other states have the natural right to watch over the maintenance of an equilibrium among themselves, and to oppose, even by arms, either aggrandizement, or a weakening of power incompatible with this equilibrium. Pinheiro Ferreira, in annotating this passage, attributes the differences of opinion on the question of the balance of power to the circumstance that each writer had in view a different means of aggrandizement. This publicist does not see in the facts which give place to these extensions a question of the balance of power, but a question of justice or of injustice in the means of aggrandizement, a question of the independence and sovereignty of each state.
—Schmalz, while declaring himself a partisan of the system of equilibrium, by no means rests on legal reasons.
—Klüber considers the system of equilibrium as not founded on the law of nations, unless it is established by public convention, and he wished that this equivocal word should be banished from the language as well of politics as of international law.
—Wheaton sees no limit to the right of a state to aggrandize itself by all innocent and legitimate means, except that of the corresponding and equal right of other states, which flows from the right of self-preservation. When the aggrandizement must cause direct injury to the rights of other states, the limit is certain and precise; but if it is merely a question of fear as to eventual danger, it is a question of equilibrium and intervention which Wheaton considers as belonging rather to political science than to public law. Nevertheless, he inclines to the belief that grave and serious fears may, in rare cases, give birth to this right, while he rejects, in the case of America, the theories of European powers in this matter.
—According to Heffter, political equilibrium means that a single nation can not depart from the principles of justice in international law, without exposing itself to the opposition, not only of the threatened states, but also of all the states which form a part of the same political system. From this results a sort of moral equilibrium, engendering a great security in the observance of rules of justice among nations; but a material equilibrium of the relative forces of different nations among themselves, is an impossibility.
—These doubts as to the right of maintaining equilibrium, the differences of opinion on this question among statesmen and publicists also, exist because the question is a pre-eminently complex one. It is connected, on one side, with the material necessities of the organization of nations, and on the other, it involves the questions of the just and unjust.
—The first essential condition of the existence of nations or states, such at least as they have been conceived up to the present, is the right of external sovereignty or independence, that is to say, the right by virtue of which a state, existing of itself, recognizes no power on earth superior to itself The exercise of the right of independence of each power can not, therefore, be maintained except by the voluntary carrying out, on its part, of the precepts of justice But if, in a conflict between two states, they do not put the same estimate on abstract principles, or if they do not fear to sacrifice justice to their interests or their passions, assuming before God all the responsibility of their acts, they are not subject to any other law in the world than that of force, to no other judgment than that resulting from the fate of arms. Such is the inflexible consequence which logic draws from the principle of the independence of states: the abstract sentiment of rational legal right is certainly very much shocked at this, but, to avoid the endless calamities of war, in the absence of any other solution, it must needs be considered as positive law, as a mere procedure, and the result it brings must be given the authority of a judicial settlement.
—Another consequence of the right of independence is the obligation of each state to respect the internal sovereignty of other nations, and, consequently, to admit their internal constitution without dispute. Whatever may be the vices of organization of the public powers in the state, and even if, either by reason of a backward civilization, or for any other cause, these public powers are not really the sincere expression of the internal sovereignty of the state, they must, nevertheless, externally, so long as they are the constituted powers, be considered as representing legitimately the state in its relations with other nations. The sentiment of rational legal right may be wounded by this, but, unless a nation isolates itself from other nations or pretends to exercise over them the right of sovereignty, it is absolutely necessary, in the relations it maintains with these nations, to take them as they are, with their different modes of government. This de facto recognition of established governments, (all questions of privilege being reserved), is one of the proper characteristics, and one of the first obligations of diplomacy. It results from this, that owing to the constitutional vices of states, at different times, and also by virtue of the international principle of the independence of these states, positive law has been obliged to admit, as sufficiently justified externally, means of aggrandizement little conformable to rational legal right, such as successions, reversions, testaments, marriages, sales, personal cessions, unions imposed by conventional arrangements, accessions obtained by fraud, etc., means which are summed up in this: violation of the internal sovereignty of the state by the public powers, which alone can be the expression of external sovereignty.
—It is easy to conceive that in presence of the necessity of having recourse to war to decide questions of legal right, nations attach the greatest importance to maintaining a balance of forces among the different states, lest the strongest should not always be found the most just. It is this organization, intended to produce a balance of power among nations, with a view to guard the independence of each, that constitutes what is called political equilibrium, or the balance of power.
—The interest of all nations that there should be a balance of power, once demonstrated, can a nation be justly restricted in its freedom of extension, in order to reach the realization of this balance? This is the question of right. Let us examine the different cases that may present themselves.
—A state becomes more powerful by the development of its faculties and its internal resources, because it believes in enlightenment, in science, in industry and population. Can it be said that other states have the right to set a limit to this internal increase, and oppose, even by force in the name of a balance of power, the passing of this limit? Certainly not. It is for each people to follow this impulse, to profit by the example given, to endeavor to make like progress. The desire of equilibrium may be a cause here of emulation, but it can never be a legitimate cause of hindrance.
—Do things change, if it is a question not of development of internal power, but of external growth? Let us suppose that this extension has taken place by means entirely legitimate; for example, by appropriation, by the colonization of a territory belonging to no one; by a free and regular cession of territory, the right of individuals and the sovereignty of each people having been respected; by a union of two nations, the consequence of their collective will: by what right do other states oppose it? It is possible that their interest, that their feelings of rivalry or jealousy may be offended; but these feelings no more in this than in the preceding case justify the right of opposition. It is for the people who fear lest these legitimate external advances made by other powers should place them in a condition of comparative inferiority of strength, to draw from their desire of equilibrium an impulsion to a similar progress, that will strengthen them in turn. The desire of equilibrium may be here also a cause of emulation, but can not degenerate into a right of hindrance.
—If, on the contrary, we deal with the question of external aggrandizement effected by means contrary to the idea of justice, as well as the usage of international law, no doubt that all states have the right to oppose such aggrandizements by force, the moment they judge it proper or useful for them to do so, because they have an undeniable right to take part against a violation of law.
—The consideration of equilibrium may furnish them with a determining motive for opposition, while reasons of justice may justify this opposition; the one constitutes the interest, the other legitimacy. Both, instead of being in antagonism, here work to the same end: the repression of international injustice.
—Thus, if the extension results from legitimate means, the reason of the law will not permit opposition even in the interests of equilibrium; and if the aggrandizement is produced by unjust means, the right of setting up an obstacle to it exists in an absolute manner, the maintenance of equilibrium not being in this case the foundation of the right, but simply a plausible reason for its exercise.
—Still a third more delicate hypothesis may be conceived. Let us suppose an aggrandizement resulting from one of those means, which, admitted by the necessities of positive right, are still not conformable to the rational idea of legal right; for instance, if it is a question of war or conquest. The motive of the war may be legitimate or illegitimate. No state and no nation, if it wishes to remain neutral, has the right to judge whether the demands of the belligerent states are well or ill founded, for this would be to arrogate a right of sovereignty over them. And yet does it follow that these states, because they have remained neutral, are obliged to respect the results of the war, whatever may be the consequences which it brings? We do not think so. War is only an imperfect means of settling disputes, a means contrary to rational justice, accepted as positive justice merely in default of another mode of solution. We are then outside of real law, and the opposition of nations, whose interest in equilibrium is injured by aggrandizements of this kind, may offer obstacles to its disturbance. We can not say that these aggrandizements are just, according to rational law, and we can not say that they are unjust according to positive law, but this law does not admit them, except in so far as considerations of equilibrium justify them. It would be the same if it were a question of extension in consequence of inheritance, marriages, sales, personal cessions or other means of reunion, in consequence of which the internal sovereignty of nations would have been disregarded. These modes of addition being illegitimate from the point of view of rational law, the nations which would have to fear the consequences of them have the right to oppose them. And although according to time and place they might be received as positive law, this last law in accepting them nevertheless imposes a limit to them: that of political equilibrium. We shall consider then, in these different cases, the law of equilibrium as constituting customary international law, justified by the imperfect condition of public institutions, and intended to limit the modes of aggrandizement or the development of external power which usage admits, although they are not conformable to the abstract truths of rational law. Positive international law, sanctioning the defective means of aggrandizement or of development, sanctions the corrective also.
—To sum up, from the political point of view, the realization of a balance between the powers is a chief interest in presence of the principle of the independence of nations; from the point of view of justice, we can not find in this motive of utility, the right of maintaining the balance of power by opposing the legitimate, internal or external, progress of other nations. A balance of power may be justly produced: 1, by all the pacific means resulting from internal or external progress; 2, by all the means of constraint employed against the aggrandizement of other nations accomplished by ways contrary to justice and international law; 3, finally, by all means of constraint even against aggrandizements admitted in other cases, by the positive law of nations, if, from the point of view of rational right, they are really unjust.
—It remains for us to say something of the binding force of a formal and general convention, concurred in by the states which form one same system, and establishing between these states a certain arrangement intended to produce equilibrium. Certainly the agreement of powers discussing and treating together amicably to solve difficulties that have arisen between them, and decide, in concert, on a territorial arrangement placed under the common guarantee, is an eminently good and useful thing; most certainly, respect for plighted faith, a fulfillment of contracts regularly made, are among the strictest moral necessities in international relations. But we must not forget that between states, as well as individuals, agreements can not accomplish everything. Without entering here into a complete examination of the validity of an international stipulation, we may remark that one of the consequences of the principle of the inalienable sovereignty of nations, externally as well as internally, is that every engagement attacking the right of sovereignty is radically null and void. It results from this that the convention entered into between a certain number of powers concerning a territorial distribution and a political equilibrium to be established under their common guarantee, can raise no obstacle in rational law, to increase, or additions, to the federative associations, to the union or division of territory or population, to changes of internal government, which may take place later, by the legitimate exercise of the right of national sovereignty, whatever modifications these events may cause in the primitive state of distribution. It is in this way that a certain number of deviations from the arrangements of 1814 and 1815 had to be recognized by the European powers, as we have noted above.
—Those great arrangements, concluded ordinarily at the close of general wars, constitute a compromise of existing difficulties; they determine, relatively to all previous cases comprised in the transaction, the actual rights of parties, which are to form a point of departure and are to be respected as such; they embody in the written law the natural right of opposition to illegitimate extension, and put it under the sanction of the respect due to an international engagement; but they can not control future events, prevent the arising of new causes and bind the future to the statu quo which they have created. The contracting powers which have guaranteed a constitution, a federated system, a certain condition of property and territorial possessions, are authorized by that fact alone, by the law of nations, to defend the state of things which they have guaranteed, against every attack coming from outside, from third powers; but they can not transform external defense into internal oppression, nor draw from conventions any right to commit violence or hamper the sovereignty of any power in affairs which depend upon the free exercise of this sovereignty.
—The principle of the balance of material forces between states necessitated by the circumstance that international conflicts are finally determined by or under the influence of these forces, is a principle useful for maintaining the independence of nations. And it is useful also as a political principle, if it signifies that no state should aspire to dominate others; that all should be moderate in their desire for increase; that they should not make bad use of their good fortune and their victories in war; that the spirit of conciliation, conventional arrangement and peace in common shall be diffused among them. But it may be easily perverted if, by deviating from the limits of right, it serves as a pretext and an instrument of every kind of jealousy and political greed; if it is directed to invasion in common, to partition of foreign territory, agreed upon between several; to the subjection of the weak; to the league of the strong; to opposition to the legitimate acts of the various national sovereignties: and to repression of the essential rights which belong to each nation.
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