THE - BRUSSELS CONFERENCE.
UTE have never been able to forget the Luxemburg guar- V V antee, and have therefore never been able to place any cordial confidence in Lord Derby as Foreign Minister, but he certainly has shown capacity in dealing with the latest proposal to modify the Laws of War. A more insidious one we never remember to have read. It would appear, from the speeches of Lord Denbigh and Lord Derby on Friday week, that the Russian Government recently invited all the European States to send representatives to. Brussels, and there draw up a new code for the mitigation of the sufferings caused by war,—in itself, of course, a most humane and excellent object of diplomatic effort. St. Petersburg, however, is . scarcely the place whence such a proposal would be expected, Russia not having displayed, more especially in the Caucasus, any particular disposition to limit the rights of war as against feeble peoples; and the position of this country in all such matters is not a little peculiar. We depend on,navies, not armies; navieaemploy a very different method of warfare from armies, and a rule only benevolent on land. might at sea prove sufficient to paralyse an attacking force. For example, therule quoted by Lord Denbigh, as one which, it was intended to submit' at Brussels, would, if accepted, very nearly efface the British Fleet. He believed that Article 3 of the lengthy Code to be discussed would be the " Establishment of the principle that in case of war, the armed force of one State only fights against the armed force of the other, but does not consider as an enemy the peaceable citizen who is not equipped as a soldier." This provision, supposing it to cover war both by sea and land, clearly bars the right of seizing merchantmen, which during, our old wars proved most valuable, and might in certain cases be almost our only method of bringing the fact of war home to a powerful enemy. For example, to suppose the improbable case of a German seizure of Belgium, Great Britain might be compelled, as the only effectual method of defence, to suspend German commerce all over the world, but this under such a rule she could not do. She could not seize. German ships anywhere, they being navigated by peaceful citizens not equipped as soldiers, and a blockade of German ports would be consequently almost idle. The German Navy would only have to shelter itself under the guns of Kiel, as the Russian Navy did under those of Cronstadt, and the German merchantmen would pass in and out on their business without the fear of capture, or in other words, the British Fleet would be as little felt by Permany as if it were non-extstent. The traders would be " peaceable citizens not equipped as soldiers." We should be compelled either to fight on land, or not to fight at all. This is no question of the rights of neutrals. The enemy's own ships, not being armed or navigated by armed men, could go and come, and the ordinary right of blockade would consequently be at an end. Not only could any neutral reprovision a besieged city, but the belligerent to which it belonged could
reprovision it, peaceable merchantmen being permitted to carry in flour to any extent they found profitable. That so monstrous a proposition could be seriously discussed is unlikely, but some proposition of the kind might, it was. clear, be made, might be accepted by all whom it did not interest, and might appear to fall through from the selfishness of Great Britain alone. We should, in that case, be made to appear before the world as retaining the right of blockade against the opinion of civilised mankind. Indeed, we are not quite sure that, under certain circumstances, the utility of our Army also might not be almost paralysed. Suppose that
we again landed an army in the Crimea, and that the Govern-.
ment of St. Petersburg resolved not to defend that province, what could we under the proposed rule do except look slightly ridiculous ? We could apply no pressure to peaceable citizens, and must therefore either march. northward, away from base and supplies, into a boundless territory, until we met an enemy,. or amuse ourselves with governing a province we could not keep and do not desire to possess. That notion of mere pas- sivity, of not fighting except on a chosen ground, could not be carried out, of course, in a very thickly populated State or a State full of great cities ; but it could be carried out by Russia, and was, we believe, carefully considered during the Moscow campaign of 1813. Any British army would, if Russian commerce were not suspended, and Russian merchantmen
were going and coming as they listed, be simply lost in. Russia ; and although, of course, we wish all good to so. excellent an ally, still we do not want to make her invulnerable .
by law. We might have to fight for India with our ironclads all idle, or engaged in keeping the Russian Fleet in the safest shelter. Indeed, the destruction of that fleet would be of no use, except as inflicting a heavy fine, for commerce would be none the worse for having lost its protectors. It would still remain quite safe under the protection of International Law. Lord Derby does not, of course, admit in his speech that the pro..., posal would have been made, though the Vienna papers thought it would, but still he dealt with the summons to Conference in the.most sensible way. He would not send a representative at all, if maritime war were to be included in the arrangements
made, and demanded on that point the most stringent and explicit assurances. Even if he did send a representative; he was not to be a Plenipotentiary, but a mere agent, without power to consent to any new rule, to make any concession, or to do. anything whatever without previous concert with her. Majesty's Government. Of course, that Government is willing to agree to any mitigation of the horrors of war, or. to aboligi war altogether, for that matter, but it is not willing to agree to _ any rule which would render this country, and this country., only, peaceful perforce. A contest between an alligator and. a.. horse is unlikely, but still it would not be rendered more equal by a rule forbidding, the alligator to bite, while .the horse. might kick at discretion. Great Britain must be per-. mitted to use, as well as to pay for her Fleet, and any rule binding her to do nothing but fight armed ships. would, in the present circumstances of the world, paralyse her, strongest weapon. Her enemy would only have to keep its..
fleet in dock, to lock up the greatest of maritime powers in her own islands. It is impossible even to discuss such a proposal, and Lord Derby's habitual caution, which so often leads him wrong, stood him, in this instance, in most excellent stead. He refuses, in fact, to alter anything, and though that is a line of action requiring no special genius, still, in this case, it is also the line counselled by the gravest wisdom. We can sure render no more maritime rights without danger, and as our diplomatists, when they discuss those rights, are always taken, in, the best way is not to discuss them at. all. There is no, danger of our pushing the rights of war to any cruel extreme, and rules strictly limiting those rights can have for us only the - effect of paralysing restrictions.
We confess that we look on the multiplication. of minute rules for the mitigation of war with a good deal of doubt,— doubt, first of all, whether it is wise to make war a. sort of tournament ; and doubt whether the rules themselves may net,. in the long run, tend to make war itself more bitter. Certain
broad. rules have no doubt succeeded in getting themselves established, and have proved most beneficial. The rule that, quarter should be given on submission, that prisoners should.
not be massacred, that surgical aid should not be refused to the wounded, and that defenceless, towns should be- spared, tend, no doubt, directly to shorten war, and, deprive it of that ferocity which springs from a feeling of personal revenge. But
it would be easy to multiply rules until no General could observe them, yet no General escape in breaking them an imputation of treachery, which would encourage his adversary to inflict reprisals, or even to declare all laws of war suspended. It seems, for example, most just to protect the persons and property of peaceable citizens from any injury from war, but how far are they to be protected ? Is a General to be debarred from seizing in an emergency all means of transport he can find V Or is he to be compelled to see his soldiers starve while there are flocks and corn in sight ? Both rules may seem just, but, as a matter of fact, neither could be obeyed for a moment in the presence of any strong necessity. A General who in a dangerous position refused to impress transport or to seize food would be accused by his own soldiers of indifference to their lives, and in the majority of armies would not be able to secure either confidence or obedience. Soldiers, whatever their discipline, will not bear hunger, and cases might arise by the score in which the offer of payment might be futile, or be rejected with contempt. General Sherman, in his march through Georgia, could not have bought a bullock, and an order on the Treasury of Madrid given to a Navarrese peasant would be a mere deception. The General must in many instances proceed by requisition, and if the law forbade requisition, every such instance would be con- sidered a treachery, would justify reprisals, and would tend to envenom conflict until it became mere butchery. And yet if we do not forbid requisition, peaceable citizens, whom it is the object, or ostensible object, of diplomatists to protect, may be deprived of all their property, and in many instances—as, for instance, that of cart-drivers—be compelled to serve within the invader's ranks. They do not, it is trae, bear arms, but they are as useful as if they did. It is, of course, most expedient to limit requisition, but it is simply impossible to abolish it altogether ; and until it is abolished, much of the weight of war must of necessity fall upon the peaceable, who want only to be let alone, and who, to the Russian Government, seem so very much to be pitied. They are to be pitied, but we do not know that their complete exemption from suffering would be of permanent gain to the world, that it would be well to teach all nations that they have only to sit still, and an invading soldier can do them no harm whatever. Patriotism is not so universal a spirit that we should bribe people not to be patriotic, nor is war so untempting that we should take pains to deprive the rulers of Europe of all reason to appre- hend a universal resistance. It may be true that unorganised masses cannot hope to resist corps d'armee in pitched-battles, but nothing is gained by ordering that they shall not resist at all. Once let the notion arise that a citizen not actually in the army is to do nothing when the enemy passes except behave himself peaceably, and every little State is at once at the mercy of every big neighbour, and a man with the skill of Von Moltke could calculate on the subjugation of Switzerland or the Dutch as Stanton could on victory in a game of chess. There would be nothing left to reckon with except the regula- lar armies, and the masters of big battalions would be masters of the world. It is very nearly so already, and a universal law securing the men not equipped as soldiers from all moles- tation would give to the owners of soldiers irresistible power. Hofer's method is folly to-day, but Hofer's spirit is the defence of nations, and it is Hofer's spirit which carefully humanitarian rules of war would tend to impair or to destroy.