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III.: Convention relative to the Commencement of Hostilities. - A. Pearce Higgins, The Hague Peace Conferences and Other International Conferences concerning the Laws and Usages of War 
The Hague Peace Conferences and Other International Conferences concerning the Laws and Usages of War. Texts of Conventions with Commentaries, by A. Pearce Higgins, LL.D. (Cambridge University Press, 1909).
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Convention relative to the Commencement of Hostilities.
Convention relative à l’Ouverture des Hostilités.
Sa Majesté l’Empereur d’Allemagne, Roi de Prusse, &c. &c.
Considérant que, pour la sécurité des relations pacifiques, il importe que les hostilités ne commencent pas sans un avertissement préalable;
Qu’il importe, de même, que l’état de guerre soit notifié sans retard aux Puissances neutres;
Désirant conclure une Convention à cet effet, ont nommé pour Leurs Plénipotentiaires, savoir:
[Dénomination des Plénipotentiaires.]
Lesquels, après avoir déposé leurs pleins pouvoirs, trouvés en bonne et due forme, sont convenus des dispositions suivantes:—
Convention relative to the Opening of Hostilities.
His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia, &c. &c.1
Considering that it is important, in order to ensure the maintenance of pacific relations, that hostilities should not commence without previous warning;
That it is equally important that the existence of a state of war should be notified without delay to neutral Powers; and
Being desirous of concluding a Convention to this effect, have appointed the following as their Plenipotentiaries:
[Names of Plenipotentiaries.]
Who, after having deposited their full powers, found to be in good and due form, have agreed upon the following provisions:—
Les Puissances contractantes reconnaissent que les hostilités entre elles ne doivent pas commencer sans un avertissement préalable et non équivoque, qui aura, soit la forme d’une déclaration de guerre motivée, soit celle d’un ultimatum avec déclaration de guerre conditionnelle.
The Contracting Powers recognize that hostilities between them must not commence without a previous and unequivocal warning, which shall take the form either of a declaration of war, giving reasons, or of an ultimatum with a conditional declaration of war.
L’état de guerre devra être notifié sans retard aux Puissances neutres et ne produira effet à leur égard qu’après réception d’une notification qui pourra être faite même par voie télégraphique. Toutefois les Puissances neutres ne pourraient invoquer l’absence de notification, s’il était établi d’une manière non douteuse qu’en fait elles connaissaient l’état de guerre.
The state of war should be notified to the neutral Powers without delay, and shall not take effect in regard to them until after the receipt of a notification, which may even be made by telegraph. Nevertheless, neutral Powers cannot plead the absence of notification if it be established beyond doubt that they were in fact aware of the state of war.
L’Article 1 de la présente Convention produira effet en cas de guerre entre deux ou plusieurs des Puissances contractantes.
L’Article 2 est obligatoire dans les rapports entre un belligérant contractant et les Puissances neutres également contractantes.
Article 1 of the present Convention shall take effect in case of war between two or more of the Contracting Powers.
Article 2 is binding as between a belligerent Power which is a party to the Convention and neutral Powers which are also parties to the Convention.
La présente Convention sera ratifiée aussitôt que possible.
Les ratifications seront déposées à La Haye.
Le premier dépôt de ratifications sera constaté par un procès-verbal signé par les représentants des Puissances qui y prennent part et par le Ministre des Affaires Étrangères des Pays-Bas.
Les dépôts ultérieurs de ratifications se feront au moyen d’une notification écrite adressée au Gouvernement des Pays-Bas et accompagnée de l’instrument de ratification.
Copie certifiée conforme du procès-verbal relatif au premier dépôt de ratifications, des notifications mentionnées à l’alinéa précédent ainsi que des instruments de ratification, sera immédiatement remise par les soins du Gouvernement des Pays-Bas et par la voie diplomatique aux Puissances conviées à la Deuxième Conférence de la Paix, ainsi qu’aux autres Puissances qui auront adhéré à la Convention. Dans les cas visés par l’alinéa précédent, le dit Gouvernement leur fera connaître en même temps la date à laquelle il a reçu la notification.
The present Convention shall be ratified as soon as possible.
The ratifications shall be deposited at The Hague.
The first deposit of ratifications shall be recorded in a procès-verbal signed by the Representatives of the Powers which take part therein and by the Netherland Minister for Foreign Affairs.
The subsequent deposits of ratifications shall be made by means of a written notification, addressed to the Netherland Government and accompanied by the instrument of ratification.
A duly certified copy of the procès-verbal relating to the first deposit of ratifications, of the notifications mentioned in the preceding paragraph, as well as of the instruments of ratification, shall be immediately sent by the Netherland Government through the diplomatic channel to the Powers invited to the Second Peace Conference, as well as to the other Powers which have acceded to the Convention. In the cases contemplated in the preceding paragraph, the said Government shall inform them at the same time of the date on which it received the notification.
Les Puissances non-signataires sont admises à adhérer à la présente Convention.
La Puissance qui désire adhérer notifie par écrit son intention au Gouvernement des Pays-Bas en lui transmettant l’acte d’adhésion, qui sera déposé dans les archives du dit Gouvernement.
Ce Gouvernement transmettra immédiatement à toutes les autres Puissances copie certifiée conforme de la notification ainsi que de l’acte d’adhésion, en indiquant la date à laquelle il a reçu la notification.
Non-Signatory Powers may accede to the present Convention.
A Power which desires to accede notifies its intention in writing to the Netherland Government, forwarding to it the act of accession, which shall be deposited in the archives of the said Government.
The said Government shall immediately forward to all the other Powers a duly certified copy of the notification as well as of the act of accession, mentioning the date on which it received the notification.
La présente Convention produira effet, pour les Puissances qui auront participé au premier dépôt de ratifications, soixante jours après la date du procès-verbal de ce dépôt, et, pour les Puissances qui ratifieront ultérieurement ou qui adhéreront, soixante jours après que la notification de leur ratification ou de leur adhésion aura été reçue par le Gouvernement des Pays-Bas.
The present Convention shall take effect, in the case of the Powers which were parties to the first deposit of ratifications, sixty days after the date of the procès-verbal recording such deposit, and, in the case of the Powers which shall ratify subsequently or which shall accede, sixty days after the notification of their ratification or of their accession has been received by the Netherland Government.
S’il arrivait qu’une des Hautes Parties contractantes voulût dénoncer la présente Convention, la dénonciation sera notifiée par écrit au Gouvernement des Pays-Bas, qui communiquera immédiatement copie certifiée conforme de la notification à toutes les autres Puissances en leur faisant savoir la date à laquelle il l’a reçue.
La dénonciation ne produira ses effets qu’à l’égard de la Puissance qui l’aura notifiée et un an après que la notification en sera parvenue au Gouvernement des Pays-Bas.
In the event of one of the High Contracting Parties wishing to denounce the present Convention, the denunciation shall be notified in writing to the Netherland Government, which shall immediately communicate a duly certified copy of the notification to all the other Powers, informing them of the date on which it was received.
The denunciation shall only affect the notifying Power, and only on the expiry of one year after the notification has reached the Netherland Government.
Un registre tenu par le Ministère des Affaires Étrangères des Pays-Bas indiquera la date du dépôt de ratifications effectué en vertu de l’Article 4, alinéas 3 et 4, ainsi que la date à laquelle auront été reçues les notifications d’adhésion (Article 5, alinéa 2) ou de dénonciation (Article 7, alinéa 1).
Chaque Puissance contractante est admise à prendre connaissance de ce registre et à en demander des extraits certifiés conformes.
En foi de quoi les Plénipotentiaires ont revêtu la présente Convention de leurs signatures.
Fait à La Haye, le 18 Octobre, 1907, en un seul exemplaire qui restera déposé dans les archives du Gouvernement des Pays-Bas et dont des copies, certifiées conformes, seront remises par la voie diplomatique aux Puissances qui ont été conviées à la Deuxième Conférence de la Paix.
A register kept by the Netherland Ministry for Foreign Affairs shall record the date of the deposit of ratifications effected in virtue of Article 4, paragraphs 3 and 4, as well as the date on which the notifications of accession (Article 5, paragraph 2) or of denunciation (Article 7, paragraph 1) have been received.
Each Contracting Power is entitled to have access to this register and to be supplied with duly certified extracts from it.
In faith whereof the Plenipotentiaries have appended their signatures to the present Convention.
Done at The Hague, the 18th October, 1907, in a single original, which shall remain deposited in the archives of the Netherland Government, and of which duly certified copies shall be sent, through the diplomatic channel, to the Powers invited to the Second Peace Conference.
Convention No. 3. The commencement of hostilities1 .
Declaration of war.The report of the Second Committee on the opening of hostilities was presented by M. Renault at the 5th Plenary Meeting of the Conference. It emanated from an Examining Committee of eighteen members.
There are few subjects connected with the laws of war on which a greater amount of divergence has appeared in the writings of publicists than the necessity for a declaration of war preceding the outbreak of hostilities; it has also led to frequent recriminations among belligerents. Russia accused Japan of gross treachery because her torpedo-boats attacked their warships at Port Arthur before a formal declaration of war had been made, a charge which was embodied in a Circular of Count Lamsdorff on the 22nd Feb. 1904 to the Russian diplomatic representatives at foreign courts. It is unnecessary to enter into a detailed examination of the practice of states and the theories of writers on this matter. General Maurice in his work on this subject which was published in 1883 examines the commencements of the wars that had taken place from 1700 to 1872, and during this period he found that less than 10 cases had occurred in which an actual declaration of war, prior to hostilities, had been made. In his article on this subject in the Nineteenth Century and after (April, 1904) he points out that the practice of not issuing a preliminary declaration was common to all the great Powers: “Numerically, within the time I more particularly examined, Britain struck thirty of these blows, France thirty-six, Russia seven (not reckoning her habitual practice towards Turkey and other bordering Asiatic States, including China), Prussia seven, Austria twelve, the United States five at least.”
In modern times there has been a tendency to revert to the older order of procedure under which a formal defiance was made before the outbreak of hostilities. The Franco-German War, 1870, and the Russo-Turkish War, 1877, both commenced with a formal declaration, while in the case of the Spanish-American War, 1898, and the Boer War, 1899, ultimatums, which are forms of conditional declaration, were presented.
Amongst this diversity of theory and practice one rule emerged with clearness, namely that “an attack which nothing had foreshadowed would be infamous1 .” A gross violation of international law would be committed by the commencement of hostilities in time of peace without a previous controversy and negotiations with a view to a peaceful settlement2 .
The Committee wisely refrained from a definite pronouncement as to whether there was a positive rule of international law on the subject; “we have,” they reported, “only to ask ourselves whether it is advisable to establish one and in what terms.” To the first part of this question an affirmative answer was returned. The Committee took as its basis for discussion a proposition of the French delegate, with amendments proposed by the Dutch and Belgian Delegations. The French proposal was based on the resolutions passed by the Institut de Droit International at its meeting at Ghent in September, 1906, when, after a careful examination of the whole question, the following rules were adopted3 .
(1) It is in accordance with the requirements of International Law, and with the spirit of loyalty which nations owe to each other in their mutual relations, as well as in the common interest of all states, that hostilities should not commence without previous and unequivocal notice.
(2) This notice may take the form of a declaration of war pure and simple, or that of an ultimatum, duly notified to the adversary by the state about to commence war.
(3) Hostilities should not begin till after the expiry of a delay sufficient to ensure that the rule of previous and unequivocal notice may not be considered as evaded.
Article 1 of the French draft embodied rules 1 and 2 adopted by the Institut and was framed in the words which now form Article 1 of this Convention. The object of the proposal was to prevent an attack by one Power on another by surprise. The reasons to be given in the declaration are required because “Governments ought not to have recourse to such an extreme measure without giving reasons. Everyone, whether citizens of the countries about to become belligerents or of neutral states, ought to know why there is to be a war in order to judge of the conduct of the two adversaries. We, of course, do not cherish the illusion that the real reasons for a war will always be given; but the difficulty of definitely stating reasons, the necessity of advancing those which have no foundation or are out of proportion to the gravity of war, will naturally have the effect of attracting the attention of neutral states and of enlightening public opinion1 .” There was no opposition to the principle of the French proposal, but difficulties of a constitutional order were raised by the Delegations of the United States and Cuba; on further consideration, however, these were seen to be avoided by the form in which the proposition was introduced2 .
The amendment of General den Beer Poortugael, the Dutch plenipotentiary, was proposed with the object of modifying Article 1 by providing that hostilities should not commence until the lapse of 24 hours from the time when an unequivocal declaration of war accompanied by reasons, or an ultimatum with a conditional declaration of war had been received by the government of the adversary. This was supported by Colonel Michelson on behalf of Russia on the ground that if a definite period was recognised it would enable a state to make certain economies, and to this extent might be a step towards the reduction of the military burdens of states which would then not feel the necessity of always keeping their establishments on a war footing and ready for instant mobilisation: and furthermore it would provide an opportunity for neutral Powers to employ their efforts at bringing about a reconciliation. The Dutch amendment was rejected by 16 to 13, with 5 abstentions. The discussions appear only to have dealt with the question from the point of view of land warfare. The position of armies is invariably well-known, but the delay of 24 hours, by enabling a change in the position of naval forces, the whereabouts of which are frequently matters of conjecture, might have most important consequences in the initial stages of belligerent operations3 .
The second Article of the French draft provided that “the state of war must be notified without delay to neutral Powers.” The Belgian delegate proposed to add that the notification might be made even by telegraph, and should only take effect as regards neutral Powers forty-eight hours after its receipt. It was felt that this might have been interpreted as permitting neutrals to act during this period in a way contrary to the principles of neutrality, and the amendment was rejected. The proposal that notification might be made by telegraph was accepted, and the Committee added the last sentence of Article 1 to meet the possible case of a neutral failing to receive notification. The mere absence, therefore, of official notification will not exonerate a neutral Power from the performance of its duties if it can be shown that it was actually aware of the existence of war. It has for many years been the practice of belligerents to issue notifications to neutrals at the commencement of war; the contracting Powers now formally accept the obligation to do so. The importance of notification is apparent both as regards the general principles of neutrality, and the freedom from capture of belligerent ships ignorant of the outbreak of war1 .
The Convention is a useful contribution to the rules of International Law. By Article 1 the contracting Parties recognise that they are now under an obligation2 to each other to issue an absolute or conditional declaration before the commencement of hostilities, whatever differences of opinion on this point may previously have existed. But although the contracting Powers have agreed on a rule that hostilities are not to commence without previous warning, they have not precluded the possibility of a surprise attack, for the Conference rejected the Dutch proposal for the very limited delay of twenty-four hours between the presentation of the declaration and the outbreak of hostilities. “No forms give security against disloyal conduct3 .”
The Chinese delegate put two very pertinent questions during the discussions. He asked for a definition of war, as distinct from “military expeditions,” and he also desired to know what was to happen if a state against which war was declared did not wish to fight: no answer appears to have been made to these enquiries. The difficulty of distinguishing between non-belligerent and belligerent action in cases of reprisals and pacific blockade (“war sub modo”) was not considered by the Committee4 . The practice of states, however, enables definite conclusions to be drawn with regard to the second point, and a state not wishing to resist would find itself subjected to all the consequences of a state of belligerency.
Signatory Powers.This Convention has been signed by all the states enumerated in the Final Act except China and Nicaragua.
[1 ]List of States as in the Final Act, 1907.
[1 ]Parl. Papers, Misc. No. 4 (1908), pp. 33, 120-3; La Deux. Confér. T. i. p. 131; Livre Jaune, p. 78; Weissbuch, p. 5; L’Annuaire de l’Institut de Droit International (1907); Sir T. Barclay, Problems, etc. p. 53; Bonfils-Fauchille, Droit international (5th ed.), §§ 1027-1031; G. B. Davis, International Law (3rd ed.), pp. 279, 281, 571; C. Dupuis, La déclaration de guerre est-elle requise par le droit positif? Rev. gén. de Dr. int. Vol. xiii. p. 725; Idem, Le droit de la guerre maritime, etc. § 2; H. Ebren, Obligation juridique de la déclaration de guerre, Rev. gén. de Dr. int. Vol. xi. p. 725; A. S. Hershey, The international law and diplomacy of the Russo-Japanese War, Chap. i.; T. E. Holland, The laws of war on land, p. 18; T. J. Lawrence, War and Neutrality in the Far East, Chap. ii.; Idem, International problems, etc. p. 85; E. Lémonon, La seconde Conférence de la Paix, pp. 395-406; F. de Martens, Les hostilités sans déclaration de guerre, Rev. gén. de Dr. int. Vol. xi. p. 148; Sir J. F. Maurice, Hostilities without declaration of war; Idem, Nineteenth Century and after, for April, 1904; A. Mérignhac, Les lois et coutumes de la guerre sur terre, p. 29; E. Nys, La guerre et la déclaration de la guerre, Rev. de Dr. int. (2nd series), Vol. vii. p. 517; Idem, Le Droit inter. T. iii. ch. ii.; D. Owen, Declaration of War; A. Pillet, La guerre sans déclaration, Rev. pol. et parlem. April, 1904; F. E. Smith and N. W. Sibley, International Law interpreted during the Russo-Japanese War, Chap. iii.; Ellery C. Stowell, Am. Journ. of Int. Law, Vol. ii. p. 50; J. B. Scott, Leading Cases in Int. Law (bibliography, p. xlvii.); S. Takahashi, International Law applied to the Russo-Japanese War, p. 1; J. Westlake, War, pp. 18, 267. The subject is discussed by most of the text writers on Public International Law.[ ]
[1 ]J. Westlake, War, p. 23.
[2 ]L. Oppenheim, Int. Law, Vol. ii. p. 105.
[3 ]Annuaire, Vol. xxi. p. 292.
[1 ]Report of M. Renault, Parl. Papers, Misc. No. 4 (1908), p. 121; La Deux. Confér. T. i. pp. 132-3.
[2 ]See Parl. Papers, Misc. No. 4 (1908), p. 122; La Deux. Confér. T. i. p. 132; Ellery C. Stowell, op. cit. p. 55; G. B. Davis, op. cit. p. 572 note.
[3 ]See The Times, 8 July, 1907.
[1 ]See 6 H. C. 1907, Art. 3; Declaration of London, Art. 43.
[2 ]The French Delegation in their report to the Minister for Foreign Affairs enumerate among “Obligations de faire,” Obligation de ne pas commencer les hostilités sans un avertissement préalable et non équivoque (Livre Jaune, p. 111).
[3 ]“The use of a declaration,” says Mr Hall, “does not exclude surprise, but it at least provides that notice shall be served an infinitesimal space of time before a blow is struck” (Int. Law, p. 384).
[4 ]On the question whether a declaration is necessary before the commencement of reprisals see a letter from Dr J. Westlake, K.C., in The Times of 21 Dec. 1908, on the occasion of reprisals by Holland against Venezuela. See also Dr Westlake’s War, pp. 267, 24 for exceptional cases in which he considers the commencement of war still possible without a preceding declaration.
[P. 199, line 1,]for “should” read “must.”
[P. 202, note 1,]add La Deux. Confér. T. iii. pp. 163-179, 253-5.