Front Page Titles (by Subject) IV.: What should be recognized as Rights in time of War.—What should be regarded as necessary to render the Commencement of a War just.—What should be regarded as just and unjust in the Modes of carrying on a War. - Law of Nations
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IV.: What should be recognized as Rights in time of War.—What should be regarded as necessary to render the Commencement of a War just.—What should be regarded as just and unjust in the Modes of carrying on a War. - James Mill, Law of Nations 
Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica (London: J. Innes, 1825).
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What should be recognized as Rights in time of War.—What should be regarded as necessary to render the Commencement of a War just.—What should be regarded as just and unjust in the Modes of carrying on a War.
We have now adduced, what our limits admit to be said, upon the first great branch of the inquiry relative to the law of nations; namely, the rights which they should recognize in one another in the state of peace. We proceed to the second branch, relating wholly to the state of war.
The questions which present themselves for solution relating to the state of war, are either those which respect its commencement, or those which respect the mode of carrying it on.
With respect to the commencement of a war, the principal question is, What are the conditions which should be regarded as necessary to render it just?
As men, in a situation where laws, and the protection derived from them, do not exist, are left to their own protection, and have no means of deterring other men from injuring them, but making them dread injury in return, so nations, which, with respect to one another, have, as we have seen before, but little protection from the legal sanction, are left to supply its place by this dread of injury in return, which, in the case both of individuals and of nations, may be called the retributive sanction, and of which, in the case of nations, war is the principal organ.
From this view of the essence and end of war, we lay down immediately one pretty extensive proposition with regard to the conditions necessary to render it just.
As the legal sanction, or punishment for the offences of individuals ought to operate only where some right has been violated, and the violation has been such as to require it, so the retributive sanction of nations, which is war, ought to operate only where some right of the nation, or something which ought to be traced as a right, has been violated, and where the violation has been such as to require that desperate remedy.
But as not all violations which may possibly be committed of the rights of a nation will justify it in inflicting war, the next object is, to draw the line of separation, and distinguish between those violations of the rights of nations which justify, and those which do not justify, the extremity of war.
As the evils which war produces are exceedingly great, it is, first of all, evident, that no violation of rights which is not very great, will, upon the principle which we have so often recognized, suffice to justify it. Of two evils the least is the choice of all sound legislation.
Of the violation of the rights of individuals, in the same country, the cases meet for punishment are capable of being pointed out, with a degree of accuracy, not wanting much of perfection. Of the violation of the rights of nations, committed by one nation against another, the cases which would justify the remedial operation of war are much more difficult to define. The difficulty, indeed, is not universal; for there are cases which may be very satisfactorily defined; and as far as definition can go, it is of the utmost importance that it should be carried. Uncertainty, then, pervades only one part of the field; which the more we are able to lessen, the greater is the advantage in favour of humanity. If a proper code of international law were formed, there would be certain defined violations of the rights of nations which would be pointed out, not only as deserving the indignation and hatred of all the world, but as justifying the injured nation before all the world, in inflicting upon its injurer the calamities of war. There would also be certain other injuries pointed out, of a more doubtful character, which might, or might not, according to circumstances not easy to define, be such as to justify recourse to war. The injuries of this secondary character, also, which might, or might not, according to circumstances, justify a war, are capable of being pointed out with a certain degree of accuracy. To a certain degree, likewise, the circumstances which would convert them into justifying causes, are capable of being foreseen. So far definition is capable of extending, and so far, of course, it ought to be carried.
In illustration of this latter class of injuries, we may select the most remarkable, perhaps, and important of all the instances; preparations for a threatened attack. A sense of security is one of the most valuable treasures of a nation; and to be deprived of that sense of security, is one of the greatest injuries. But what state of preparation shall, or shall not be considered as justifying the threatened nation in striking the first blow, in order not to give its enemy the advantage of completing his preparations, and making his attack just at the moment when it would be most destructive, it is perhaps impossible to determine for all cases beforehand; though, no doubt, a certain progress may be made towards that determination, and the bounds of uncertainty may be greatly reduced.
We are aware how general, and therefore how unsatisfactory, these observations are, on the important subject of defining those violations of the rights of nations, which ought to be regarded as justificatory causes of war; but at the same time it is to be observed, that not much more could have been done without framing the code, by actually enumerating and defining the violations for which that remedy should be reserved.
Another consideration is now to be weighed. It is evident that whatever injuries are done by one nation to another, compensation may almost always be made for them. It is equally evident, that whatever injury may have been sustained, if compensation is made for it, the justificatory cause of war is removed.
The doctrine of compensation, therefore, is an important part of international jurisprudence. Before recourse is had to war, for any violation of rights, compensation ought first to be demanded; and no war, except in cases fit for exception, should be regarded as just, which this demand had not preceded; a demand which should be made through a constituted organ, and in a predetermined mode, as we shall more fully describe in a subsequent page, when we come to treat of an international tribunal.
As there can be no reason why the demand of compensation should not always precede the use of arms, except in cases of such a necessity as will not allow time for demanding compensation—a necessity for the immediate use of arms, in order to prevent an evil immediately impending—those cases of urgent necessity should, as far as possible, be sought out, and defined.
Other circumstances may be enumerated, as belonging to this first stage of the remedy against a nation which places itself in an attitude affecting the sense of security of any of its neighbours. If a nation is making preparations, or executing any other measures, calculated to excite alarm, it may be called upon to desist from them; or it may be called upon to give security, that it will not make a hostile use of them. Of these securities, hostages are one of the most familiar instances. Various other instances will easily present themselves to the consideration of our readers. Upon this part of the subject, therefore, it is unnecessary for us to enlarge.
It thus appears that we may lay down, with a considerable degree of precision, the conditions upon which the commencement of a war ought to be regarded as just. It remains, under this head of enquiry, that we show how it may, as far as possible, be determined, what ought to be regarded as just and unjust in the modes of carrying it on.
This is an enquiry of more complexity, a good deal, than the first. In looking out for a guiding principle, it is evidently necessary to keep in view the end to which every just war is of necessity restricted. That is, compensation for an injury received, and security that a fresh injury shall not be committed. Combining this with the grand principle of humanity and utility, in other words, of morality; namely, that all evil, wilfully occasioned, and not calculated to produce a more than equivalent good, is wicked, and to be opposed, we obtain one comprehensive and highly important rule; which is this: That in the modes of carrying on war, every thing should be condemned by the law of nations, which, without being more conducive, or more in any considerable degree, to the attainment of the just end of the war, is much more mischievous to the nation against whom it is done.
As the end is to be gained, in most cases, only by inflicting a loss of men and property, upon the opposing nation, it would be desirable that the distinction should be drawn between the modes of inflicting this loss, which are the most, and those which are the least calculated, to inflict pain and suffering, without being more conducive to the end.
One distinction is sufficiently remarkable; namely, the distinction between the men who are in arms, or actually opposed to the designs of the belligerent, and the men who are not so; also between the property which belongs to the government of the opposing nation, and that which belongs to private individuals composing the nation.
With respect to the first class of objects, the men in arms, and the property of the government, there is not much difficulty. To produce the loss of them, as rapidly as possible, till the end or purpose of the war is obtained, appears to be a privilege which cannot be separated from the right of warring at all.
With respect to the loss of men, indeed, there is an important restriction. It means the loss of them for the purposes of the war, and no more. If it be practicable to put them in a situation in which they can no longer be of any service to the war, all farther injury to them should be held unjustifiable. Under this rule falls the obligation, so generally recognized, of making our enemies, as often as possible, prisoners, instead of killing them, and of treating them with humanity, while retained in that condition.
That part of the subject, therefore, which relates to men in arms, and to such property as belongs immediately to the government, it is not impossible to include in rules of tolerable precision. The difficulty is, with respect to those individuals who, composing the body of the nation, form no part of the men in arms, and with respect to the property of such individuals.
Though it would not be correct to say, that these do not contribute, or rather that they may not be made to contribute, to the means with which the government carries on the war; yet it would be absurd not to recognize a very broad distinction between them, and the men and things which are immediately applied, or applicable to the war. A difference, therefore, equally broad, ought, in reason, to be made in the mode of treating them. The mode of treating the one ought to be very different from that of treating the other. As the rule of destruction must be the rule with regard to the first, only limited by certain restrictions; so the rule of forbearance and preservation ought to be the rule with regard to the latter, only to be infringed upon special and justifying circumstances.
Thus far we seem to have travelled with the advantage of light to our path. We may go a little farther with equal certainty, and say, that as far as regards the persons of those who are not engaged in the immediate business of hostility, very few occasions can occur, in which it would be allowable, upon any just principle of international law, to do them any injury. Leaving them out of the question, we narrow it to the case of the property belonging to individuals; and shall now proceed to see how far the protection of it can be embraced within general rules.
We must suppose the case, which is the strongest, that of an invading army. The advantage which is capable of being derived to such an enemy, by seizing and destroying the property of individuals, bears, unless in certain very extraordinary instances, no sort of proportion to the evil inflicted upon the individuals. This, we presume, cannot admit of a dispute. Upon the principle, therefore, so often recognized, as dictating the rules which ought in this affair to be solely obeyed, no such destruction, unless in such instances, ought to be sanctioned by the law of nations. Such property, it is well known, can rarely be counted upon, as any considerable resource; because it is to a very great extent in the power of the people invaded to drive their property away, or to destroy it. The property of individuals, in an invaded country, would in general be a much more certain resource to an invading army, if that army were to purchase from them the articles which it desired. And, perhaps, this would be the most advantageous compromise, of which the circumstances admit; namely, that the invading army should abstain from the violation of private property; but that it should in return have the benefit of an unrestricted market; that nothing should be done on the part of the government of the invaded country to prevent its subjects from buying and selling with the invaders, as they would with any other parties.
It may no doubt be true, that the plunder and devastation of a province, or other portion of a country, must have an effect in diminishing the resources of the government for carrying on the war. In this point of view it must be allowed that the destruction of private property is of some importance to the invading nation with regard to the result of the war. But the question, in settling the difficulties of international jurisprudence, is not whether an advantage is gained, but whether the advantage, such as it is, be not gained, at too great a cost.
If it be certain that the losing party, in consequence of the destruction in question, loses more than the gaining party gains, it is certain that the two parties, taken together, are losers by the proceeding; and of course that nations, in the aggregate, are losers upon the whole. Nay, it is certain that each nation, taken by itself, is a loser, upon the balance of the cases in which it is liable to lose, and those in which it is liable to gain. If it loses more in the cases in which it bears, than it gains in the cases in which it inflicts invasion; and if it is as liable to bear, as to inflict, which is the usual condition of nations, it follows clearly that it is its interest to concur in a rule which shall protect the property of individuals, in cases of invasion.
Even in that more civilized mode, which has been adopted by invading armies, of availing themselves of the property of individuals, by exacting contributions through the instrumentality of the local authorities; contributions which these authorities are left to partition among the people, as they may deem equitable; though it is admitted that this is a much less hurtful proceeding than military rapine, still we think, it will easily appear, that the evil inflicted upon the contributors is greater than the benefits derived to the receivers.
Unless the amount thus received by an invading army is very considerable, the benefit which is derived, the aid which is gained towards accomplishing the end of the war, must be considered as trifling. But if a contribution, the amount of which can be of any considerable avail towards attaining the object of the war, is levied suddenly upon a particular district, a comparatively small portion of the invaded country, it must operate upon the contributors with a dreadful weight of oppression. Upon an equitable estimate of the circumstances, it can, therefore, hardly fail to appear, that, whether the contribution exacted is heavy or light (it must always be heavy to those who sustain it), the loss to those who suffer must greatly outweigh the advantage to those who receive. If it be so, this mode of exaction should, it is evident, be forbidden by the law of nations.
If these are the principles, upon which an international code, regarding this branch of the subject ought to be constructed, they will enable us to determine the question with regard to the property of individuals in another set of circumstances, to which the rules of civilized society have hardly yet begun to be applied. Whatever rules apply to the property of individuals found upon the land, the same rules ought, by parity of reason, it should seem, to apply to it when found upon the sea.
The conduct of nations, however, has hitherto not been conformable to the parity which appears to belong to the two sets of cases. Some tenderness, more or less, according to the progress in civilization, appears to have been shown, by all but savages, to the property of individuals upon the land. To this hour the property of individuals upon the sea is made prize of without mercy, by the most civilized nations in the world.
The notions of piracy, in fact, have, on this subject, unhappily prevailed, and governed the minds of men. Pirates make prey of every thing. Sailors, originally, were all pirates. The seafaring state was a belligerent state, of almost every vessel against every other vessel. Even when nations had gradually advanced into a more civilized state, and when their vessels abstained from injury to one another in a period of peace, they appear, when the ties of peace were dissolved, and they were placed with respect to one another in a state of war upon the seas, to have felt the force of none but their old associations, and to have looked upon the state of war as a state of piracy. Two nations at war with one another continue to act towards the property of individuals belonging to one another at sea, exactly as two nations of pirates would do.
Assuredly this is a state of things, to which the present intelligence and morality of the world ought speedily to put an end. The very same reasoning which we have applied to the case of the property of individuals upon the land, is not less conclusive when applied to the property of individuals upon the sea. The loss to the party losing is more than an equivalent for the gain to the party that gains.
There is another consideration of great importance. All nations gain by the free operations of commerce. If then we were to suppose that the losses and gains of the two belligerent parties balanced one another, which yet they never do, there is an advantage derived from their commerce to every nation on the earth to which, in any degree, either directly or indirectly, that commerce extends; which advantage is either lost or diminished, by their preying upon the property of the individuals belonging to one another. This, therefore, is an unquestionable balance of loss, to the general community of nations, which the law of that community ought to endeavour to prevent.
If, then, we should suppose that it were enacted as the law of nations, that the property of individuals passing on the seas should be equally respected, in peace and in war, we may proceed to consider whether any disadvantage, nearly countervailing the general good, would thence accrue to the belligerents.
It may be alleged, that a nation at war with another is retarded in reducing its antagonist, by the riches which the commerce of that antagonist, if undisturbed, will place at its disposal. But it is evident that an advantage to one of two antagonists, when compensated to the other, by a power to overcome that advantage, exactly equivalent, is in reality no advantage at all. Such is the case with the advantage accruing to the nation with which another is at war, when the property of individuals upon the sea is allowed to pass unmolested. If its riches are increased by freedom of commerce, so are those of its antagonist. The advantages are equal, where the circumstances are equal, which, in the majority of cases, they undoubtedly are.
If it be still objected, that there may be cases in which they are not equal, the answer is obvious, and incontrovertible. There is no general rule without its exceptions, but partial evil must be admitted for general good. Besides, if the case were very remarkable, it might be excepted from the general rule.
If this were adopted as part of the law of nations, all those questions respecting the maritime traffic of Neutrals, questions which have been the source of so much troublesome inquiry, so much animosity, and so much mischief, would be immediately at an end. If the traffic of the belligerents, so far as concerned the property of individuals, were free, so would be that of all neutral nations.
Places actually blockaded, that is surrounded with an hostile force for the immediate purpose of being reduced, either by arms, or by famine, would still form exceptions; because the admission of ships into them, with supplies either of food, or munition of war, would be directly at variance with the very object of the blockade.
In all other cases, the admission either of provisions or of instruments of war into a belligerent country, ought, undoubtedly, upon the principle of utility, not to be disturbed. The benefit, except in rare and remarkable cases, could not be material to the country into which they might enter, nor hence the injury to its antagonist; on the other hand, that antagonist would enjoy the same privilege of the free admission of those commodities, and thus they would be equal in all respects. The inconvenience, however, which would thus be saved to the neutrals—the annoyance of search, the loss by detention, the occasions of quarrel—are known to be evils of no ordinary magnitude.
The desertion of sailors from the ships of a belligerent to those of a neutral has given rise to disputes in one instance only, that of Great Britain and the United States of America. The question to be determined, in laying down the principles of international jurisprudence, is, whether this desertion ought to be considered as constituting a ground for the general right of search; in other words, whether the evil to which a belligerent is exposed by desertion, or rather by that portion of desertion which can be prevented by the right of search, is an equivalent for all the evil which is unavoidably produced by it.
Desertion must take place either from the ships of war of the belligerent, or from its merchant ships.
In respect to ships of war, it is so easy for a belligerent to prevent desertion to neutrals, at least in any such degree as to constitute a great evil, that it would be altogether absurd to speak of it as fit to be compared with the evils arising from the right of search. The only occasions on which ships of war can be exposed to desertion to neutrals, must be those on which they go into a neutral port. But on those, comparatively rare, occasions, they can so easily take precaution against desertion, that the danger to which they are exposed is hardly worth regarding.
When the sailors belonging to merchant ships transfer their services to the ships of a neutral, it is not to be called desertion. It can only take place, in very considerable numbers, when seamen’s wages in the neutral country are much higher than in the belligerent. The sailor, in this case, leaves his own for another country, only because he improves his situation by so doing. This is a liberty, which, as it ought to belong to every body, so it ought not to be withheld from the sailor. If, indeed, any nation thinks proper to forbid any class of its people to leave their country, as England with regard to its artificers, other countries cannot help that; but they ought not to be called upon to lend their aid to such an antisocial regulation, by allowing their vessels to be searched, as security against its infringement. Besides, it is evident, that there is a much greater security, arising from the very nature of the case, against the chance of a nation’s being, to any considerable degree, deprived of its sailors by any such means. If the sailors go into the neutral country because wages are higher there, a small number only will have gone, when wages, from diminution of the numbers, will begin to rise in the country which they have left, and from increase of the numbers, will begin to fall in the country to which they have been tempted to repair. When the wages of seamen have thus sufficiently risen, in the belligerent country, which they are sure to do if the demand for them rises, the sailors will not only come back from every country in the world, but the sailors of other countries will hurry along with them; and the evil of desertion cures itself.
Only two questions, of any great importance, appear to remain; that relating to the march of troops, for a hostile purpose, through a neutral country, and that relating to the extent to which the operations of a successful war ought to be pursued.
According to the principles which we have already laid down for regulating the proceedings of a hostile army even in the invaded country, namely, that of committing no plunder, and enjoying the right of market, it appears that the right of passing through a neutral country on similar terms should be refused to no party. This rule, while it holds out equal advantages to all belligerents, admits, less than any other rule, grounds of dispute.
The end, which we have already described as that alone the pursuit of which can render any war justifiable, sufficiently defines the extent to which the operations of a successful war ought to proceed. The end of every justifiable war is to obtain compensation for an injury sustained, and security against the repetition of it. The last point, that of security, alone admits any uncertainty. Nations are apt to exaggerate the demand for security; to require too much; very often unconsciously, from the mere cravings of self-love; sometimes fraudulently, as a cover for ambitious views. As the question, however, respecting what may or may not, in each instance, be sufficient security, is a question of fact, not of law, it must be determined, if determined at all, by a tribunal empowered to take cognizance of the facts.