368 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 78 PART 3 MAY 2020
greatest nonsense and rubbish I ever heard of … The thing is impossible.
France could never consent to it—nor we”. This sentiment more or less
echoed the view of most of Europe’s rulers. It did not augur well for the success
of the convention. Also on the agenda were motions to extend the principles
of the 1864 Geneva Convention to naval warfare and to prohibit the
use of asphyxiating gas, expanding bullets and the dreaded dum-dum bullets,
as well as the discharge of explosives from balloons. In addition, the
original proposal included a court of international arbitration for the compulsory
settlement of international disputes.
The limitation of armaments never got out of the starting gate. Nor did
the extension of the 1864 principles to naval warfare, which had to wait
until the second Hague Convention in 1907, though the delegates did manage
to include an article about the inviolability of properly identified hospital
ships. The 1899 Hague Convention did succeed in establishing an
International Court of Arbitration. Efforts to make arbitration of international
disputes compulsory failed, largely because of the kaiser’s opposition.
His grudging agreement to voluntary arbitration was worded thus: “I
consented to all this nonsense only in order that the Czar should not lose
face before Europe. In practice however I shall rely on God and my sharp
sword! And I shit on all their decisions”. This, His Majesty’s gracious consent
to voluntary arbitration, actually sounds much ruder in German. But
the participants succeeded in setting up a permanent court of arbitration.
There were provisions for the humane treatment of prisoners of war.
Asphyxiating gas was prohibited, as were orders of “no quarter” and the
bombardment of undefended towns and pillaging. There were provisions
for the formalities of capitulation and armistices and the internment of soldiers
by non-belligerents and the discharge of explosives from balloons.
The second Hague Convention was promoted by the new American president,
Teddy Roosevelt, although, once again, it was the Russian czar who
issued the invitations. Provisions were enacted for arbitration, mediation
and commissions of inquiry. There were clauses dealing with the need for
warning before opening hostilities and notification to non-belligerents.
There were more provisions about prisoners of war, the notification of who
had been taken prisoner, and facilitating the sending of letters and parcels
for prisoners. Unanchored mines at sea were forbidden and tethered mines
were to be removed at war’s end. Fishing vessels were to be free from capture
Once again there was a failure to include any limitation of armaments.
After all, Great Britain was in the process of laying down the keels of four
new dreadnaughts, then the biggest warships ever built.