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To the EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
SIR: In your review of my book, Sea Law and Sea Power, is this passage: We know what Mr. Bowles dislikes. What exactly does he want, and what does he think at the present time practicable?"
I thought I had made clear what I want; but since it is not so I would ask permission to say that what exactly I want is that the Naval Prize Bill shall be withdrawn; or, failing this. that it shall be rejected.
What I think at the present time practicable is to leave things as they are, without making those changes in sea law which the Declaration of London would effect, and especially without accepting that subjection which the Hague convention would achieve, to such a foreign tribunal as is proposed, of our own ancient and honored courts.
With that, at this time, I for one should be content. But if the law of nations is to be recast and the courts that administer it to be superseded, then I hold that the "rash and unwise proceeding," as Lord Salisbury called it, of the Declaration of Paris must also be reconsidered, and the question revived of its denunciation.
But what I want most of all is that these novel and most grave proposals shall be duly and deliberately considered and decided upon by Parliament before the country is committed to any new obligations whatever. If that is attained, the purpose of my book will have been achieved. Your faithful servant,
24 LOWNDES SQUARE, SW. November 17.
THOS. GIBSON BOWLES.
Other letters to the Times vary in character. Some are apparently prompted by party prejudices rather than based upon knowledge of the law or of the provisions of the Declaration of London. Letters of Mr. Arthur Cohen, Prof. T. E. Holland, Prof. J. Westlake, and men of like standing are such as show sober British judgment.
In a letter bearing the date of February 1, 1911, Prof. Westlake particularly speaks of the destruction of neutral prizes, saying:
To the EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
SIR: Having discussed the topics on which the Naval Conference of London was unable to reach an agreement, I come to the agreement comprised in the 71 articles and the report. It will be well to take first a topic with which, if it was not to be
Letters to London Times.
another eliminated one, it was not possible to deal otherwise than as the Declaration does. This is the destruction of neutral prizes at sea. If the cause of the Knight Commander and the others which occurred during the Russo-Japanese War have inflamed British opinion against such destruction, they have also proved our inability to prevent it without going to war whenever a British neutral prize is sunk, an heroic remedy when we consider that the practice is allowed by the regulations of France, the United States, and Japan, as well as of Russia, and that the Institute of International Law has declined to condemn it. The Declaration has done what was possible for the view claimed as the British one, by a reasonable limitation of the practice and the provision of indemnity in case the limits laid down are transgressed. No doubt article 49 leaves it open that the inability to spare a prize crew may be held a justification; but the British Admiralty Manual of 1888 expressly allowed that justification for sinking an enemy prize, even with neutral goods on board, between which case and that of sinking a neutral prize the distinction in principle is the very point in dispute.
After considering other important articles of the Declaration, he further says:
The remaining portions of the Declaration are scarcely important enough to weigh much with any one in favor of its rejection and are highly technical. To what give and take may be found in them, or in the articles which have been selected for notice, there applies the general remark that not only is it fairly balanced, but that it has the great merit of securing to England the enjoyment of the rights in which the Declaration confirms her. Those who would reject that benefit or even, like Mr. Bowles, return to an earlier state of things by undoing the Declaration of Paris, are usually ignorant how groundless was the claim to treat all British pretensions as recognized international law. Now, too, the multiplication of great sea Powers necessarily leads to the consequence that any flaw in our claims -whether arising from their never having been acknowledged law or from the change of circumstances to which all international law, however acknowledged at some time, is bound to adjust itself-will be pressed against us with a force very different from that which we had to meet when the neutrals were generally smaller Powers. A rare opportunity is offered us. On our belligerent rights against an enemy we must stand firm, and we are not asked to forego them. In questions between belligerents and neutrals whatever can be described as vital has not been made the subject of compromise, but stands outside the Declaration of London, and, as I have shown, can be saved by the necessary reservations from prejudicing us either in an International Prize Court or in diplomacy. Regret that even on those points there has not been
agreement must not prevent our accepting the agreement arrived at, which gives us the benefit of assured law on so wide a field and of being relieved by an International Prize Court from the odium of being the final judges in our own case.
Naval opinion in Great Britain.-In the House of Commons on February 14, 1911, certain questions were asked of Mr. McKenna, the First Lord of the Admiralty:
Mr. Lee asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether the provisions of the Declaration of London had been submitted to and considered by the Board of Admiralty, with special reference to naval interests and the protection of British commerce, and whether the Board had signified its approval of the Declaration.
Mr. MCKENNA. The Admiralty were represented at the International Naval Conference which led up to the Declaration of London. Its provisions were submitted to and considered by the Admiralty, and there was no occasion for the Board to signify their approval in a formal manner.
Mr. LEE. In view of the fact that the Board of Admiralty has not signified its approval of the Declaration, will the Government undertake that the Declaration will not be ratified until the Admiralty has declared itself satisfied that the naval interests of this country will be safeguarded?
Mr. MCKENNA. The honorable member must not assume from my reply that, because the Board did not signify its approval in a formal manner, the Board did not approve.
Mr. LEE. Then it has approved?
Mr. MCKENNA. Yes, sir. No. Let me explain. It is an extremely important question. The Admiralty being represented at the conference, there was no formal meeting of the Board of Admiralty, and consequently no formal approval was ever expressed by the Board, but approval has been given, and the assent of individual members must be supposed.
Mr. LEE. Was the representative at the Conference a member of the Board of Admiralty?
Mr. MCKENNA. No; he was the Director of Naval Intelligence, and, representing the Admiralty, put forward the Admiralty's views at the Conference. His action was approved by the Board, and, therefore, that must be accepted as the approval of the Conference.
Admiral Sir Algernon de Horsey is reported to have said:
The Declaration of London is well calculated to destroy the British Empire in case of war. It is inconceivable how the British delegate could sign it. (London Daily Mail, Jan. 23,
Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge, in a letter to the Nation on January 28, 1911, says:
Much of the agitation against the Declaration of London is based on the pernicious belief that when we are forced into a war we shall achieve success by standing on the defensive. In a naval war, the only kind of war which will ever be serious for us, we shall have one objective, and one only, viz, the enemy's navy. We shall have to seek for that and attack it wherever we can get at it. This is the method to be adopted to keep the enemy so fully employed in defending himself that he will be unable to infest our ocean routes and, consequently, will be unable to capture or detain our own or friendly ships traversing those routes, or to send any considerable military expedition toward the Lores of the United Kingdom and of any of our oversea territories.
In reply to a question in the House of Lords on March 8, 1911, Viscount Morley said:
In general terms I may say that the opinion of the Admiralty is that, in existing circumstances, the effect of the establishment of an International Court of Appeal and of the Declaration of London on this country as a belligerent in the conduct of naval operations would be small and inconsiderable. (The London Times, Mar. 9, 1911, p. 6.)
Mr. Bentwich's review of opinions.-Mr. Norman Bentwich in a book entitled, "The Declaration of London," considers quite fully the various contentions in regard to the destruction of neutral vessels and says:
The Articles of the Declaration, though they are not as deterrent as might have been desired, are at least calculated to secure more respect for the neutral, and to place a larger measure of responsibility on the belligerent than was witnessed in the American Civil and the Russo-Japanese Wars. Of course there is no reason why Great Britain should depart from her present custom of not sinking neutral prizes, save in very exceptional circumstances; and our abundance of ports in every ocean makes it more feasible for our cruisers than for those of other nations to bring their prizes in for adjudication. We are thus enabled to gain by adding the captured vessels to our marine and confiscating their cargo; and with the new limitation on the right to destroy, our traders will be able to secure compensation in any case where their captured vessels would not have been liable to condemnation if they had been brought in for adjudication instead of being destroyed. The outcry against destruction of prizes is largely founded upon the fact that neutral vessels have been sunk by
their captors, which should not by the law of nations have been condemned at all. Now, the circumstances in which a neutral vessel is liable to condemnation are quite clearly laid down by the Declaration; and the obligation of the belligerent to pay full compensation to the neutral shipowner and cargo owner where a prize is sunk which is not legally liable to condemnation, and lastly, the power which the neutral will have, if the Declaration and the Prize Court Convention are ratified, of taking the question of the validity of the destruction to an International Tribunal which will have no prejudice in favor of the belligerent, form together a combination of safeguards which should prevent outrages upon neutral commerce such as the Russo-Japanese War produced, and should make the right of sinking prizes in future wars exceptional in fact as well as in theory (p. 98).
Application of Declaration of London to Situation III. It is evident that the British merchant vessel would not be liable to condemnation because of the carriage of certain articles of contraband unless the amount was more than one-half by value, weight, volume, or freight (Art. 40) or unless the vessel were otherwise guilty, which is not implied in the situation.
ART. 49. As an exception, a neutral vessel which has been captured by a belligerent ship, and which would be liable to condemnation, may be destroyed if the observance of article 48 would involve danger to the ship of war or to the success of the operations in which she is at the time engaged.
Article 49 of the Declaration of London, which as an exception says a neutral vessel may be destroyed, would not apply, and the commander of the United States fleet would not be justified in destroying the vessel on account of the amount of contraband on board.
The destruction of the British merchant vessel is not necessary on the ground that it would" involve danger to the ship of war."
The question as to whether the entrance of the British merchant vessel into a port of State X would involve danger "to the success of operations in which the belligerent ship of war is at the time engaged" may be raised. Certainly a case might arise in which the information prematurely given by a neutral merchantman that a belligerent fleet had been met would defeat the