International Law

   International law, or public international law, is the body of customs, norms, principles, procedures, rules, and standards among sovereign states for the purpose of enhancing peaceful coexistence and cooperation among them. It is generally accepted that the evolution of international law can be broken into two periods: the first between the Peace of Westphalia and World War I (1649–1914), and the second after World War I. During the Age of Imperialism the development of international law was primarily a project of the Great Powers. It addressed matters of war and peace as exemplified in the Congress System ’s determination to put European diplomacy, “public peace,” on a calculable footing following the Napoleonic Wars - in its more confident moments an innovation referred to as the “Concert of Europe.”
   Despite four limited conflicts involving the Great Powers in the mid-nineteenth century, tentative progress was made in the articulation of international norms, for example, in the 1856 Declaration of Paris on matters of commerce and conflict. The Paris declaration’s attention to the protection of neutral trade in war, in fact, itself both captured the preoccupations of the Great Powers and expressed the division of modern international law into law of the sea and laws of war. With the progress of industrialization and the rapid increase in international trade, most new norms developed in the second half of the nineteenth century had a wholly practical basis: the International Telegraph Union of 1865, International Postal Union of 1875, and International Conference for Promoting Technical Uniformity in Railways in 1882, all underpinned by treaty or statute in the member states. But issues of moral import were not entirely neglected. The 1864 Geneva Convention determined that not only wounded soldiers in the field but also ambulance staff were to be considered neutral and not liable to be taken prisoners of war. It also invented the International Red Cross and gave it a flag, the Swiss flag with colors reversed, to uphold the convention.
   In its General Act, the 1884 Conference of Berlin not only authorized the colonial partition of Africa but also obliged the signatories to suppress slavery and the slave trade. The Hague Peace Conference of 1899 was attended by 26 states, that of 1907 by 44; the first sought a systematic codification of the customs of war, and the second furthered this work. It is symptomatic of the intensifying Great Power competition of the time, however, that neither achieved an agreement on arms limitations. The idea of internationalism was much more robust than the substance of international cooperation. The popular nationalism aroused by the July Crisis of 1914 promptly disabused internationalists and pacifists of their roseate outlook. A new day for international law awaited the military outcome of 1918.
   See also <>; <>.
    Glahn, Gerhard von. Law Among Nations. New York: Pearson-Longman, 1954;
    Nussbaum, A. A Concise History of the Law of Nations. New York: Macmillan, 1954.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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