Front Page Titles (by Subject) II.: What is required to give to the Law of Nations its greatest perfection.—Necessity for a Code of International Law.—Rights of Nations. - Law of Nations
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
II.: What is required to give to the Law of Nations its greatest perfection.—Necessity for a Code of International Law.—Rights of Nations. - James Mill, Law of Nations 
Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica (London: J. Innes, 1825).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
What is required to give to the Law of Nations its greatest perfection.—Necessity for aCodeof International Law.—Rights of Nations.
Having thus ascertained, what is the power which restrains from violating the laws of nations, and what the description of rulers upon whom its restraining force is the greatest, we are next to inquire, by what expedients the force of it may be raised to the greatest pitch, and the greatest amount of benefit may be derived from it.
It is sufficiently recognized, that whatever is intended to produce any effect as a punishment, produces it in a greater degree, in proportion as it operates with greater precision and certainty. The inquiry, then, regards the means of giving precision and certainty to those sentiments of the world, on which the binding power of the laws of nations so greatly depends.
Two things are necessary to give precision and certainty to the operation of laws within a community. The one is, a strict determination of what the law is; the second, a tribunal so constituted as to yield prompt and accurate execution to the law. It is evident, that these two are indispensible requisites. Without them no penalties can operate with either precision or certainty. And the case is evidently the same, whether we speak of the laws which regulate the actions of individual and individual within the state, or those which regulate the actions of one state towards another.
It is obvious to remark, in the first place, that with regard to the laws of nations, not one of those two indispensible requisites has ever yet had any existence. It has neither been determined what the laws in question are, nor has any common tribunal for cognizance of the violations of them ever been constituted. With respect to the last, not so much as the idea of it seems to have been entertained. And with respect to the first, though much has been written, it has been almost wholly in the way of vague and general discourse. Hardly a single accurate definition has yet been applied to any part of the subject.
Here, then, we come to what is obviously the grand enquiry; namely, first, What can be done towards defining the laws of nations? and secondly, What can be done towards providing a tribunal for yielding prompt and accurate decisions in conformity with them? in other words, for applying with the greatest possible efficacy the opinion of the world for restraining the violation of them?
In the Article Jurisprudence, to which it is necessary for us here to revert, we have sufficiently made it appear, that the foundation of all law is the constitution of rights. Of two parties, unless it is previously determined what each shall enjoy, it can never be determined whether one has improperly disturbed the enjoyment of the other. To determine, however, what a party is to enjoy, is to determine his rights.
Now, then, with regard to nations, the question is, what ought to be constituted rights? or in other words, what would it be desirable for the good of mankind upon the whole, that the several nations should respect as the rights of each other?
This, it is pretty obvious, is one of the most extensive of all inquiries, far exceeding the limits of an article in the present work. We can attempt little more than to show the way in which the inquiry may be carried on.
In the Article Jurisprudence, we have endeavoured to clear up the meaning which in legislation can, without leading to confusion, be alone attached to the term Rights; and we have there likewise seen, that there are but two classes of objects, in which individuals can have rights; namely, Things, and Persons.
The case, we believe, will be found the same with respect to nations. They also can have rights, in nothing but Persons, and Things. Of course, it follows, that they can receive injury in nothing but in Persons, or Things.
The inquiry, however, with respect to the rights of nations, is not so simple, as that with respect to the rights of individuals; because between individuals, subject to the same system of laws, the legislature recognizes no state of hostility; but between nations there is the State of War, and the State of Peace, and the rights which are understood to belong to nations, are different in these two different states. In the state of war, nations recognize in one another very few rights respecting either persons or things; they kill the one, and take and destroy the other, with little other limit than the want of ability. In the state of peace they respect as rights belonging to one another, nearly the same things which are constituted rights of individuals, by the ordinary systems of national law.