Contraband of War
CONTRABAND OF WAR
CONTRABAND OF WAR, a term in international law that refers to a belligerent's right to prevent an enemy from receiving goods of value in waging war and to seize and condemn any cargo shipped by a neutral nation to a warring power, usually on the high seas. The term has been important in United States military history since the late eighteenth century. In the 1790s Britain and France tried to limit sea imports to and from each other and arbitrarily seized hundreds of American ships for contraband violations. Consequently, the U.S. Navy waged an unofficial war on France between 1798 and 1800 to defend its right to transport noncontraband cargoes. During the Civil War, U.S. cruisers captured British ships transporting goods to the Confederacy and seized their cargo, whether it was contraband or not. The U.S. Supreme Court later upheld the seizure of these blockade-running, British-owned ships. The Court's decision did little to ease tensions between the British and Americans. In 1872 the Geneva Tribunal met to arbitrate a dispute between the two nations over damages perpetrated by British-built Confederate warships on Union shipping. The tribunal held that, under international law, a neutral country must accept responsibility for any citizens who ship contraband to a belligerent nation, and Britain agreed to pay the United States $15.5 million in damages. (See Alabama Claims.) Contraband continued to be a significant legal issue throughout the twentieth century.
During World War I Great Britain imposed broad categories of contraband on neutral shipping and virtually ended American trade with Germany. The Germans' desperate attempt to break the British blockade through unrestricted submarine warfare hastened American entry into the war. The issue of contraband also shaped the course of World War II. On 21 May 1941, when a German submarine torpedoed an American merchant ship allegedly carrying goods to British South Africa, the two nations began fighting an undeclared war in the Atlantic. In November 1941 Congress took a step toward entering the war on the side of the Allies when it partially repealed the Neutrality Act of 1939 and permitted American merchants to carry any cargo, including contraband, through war zones to and from Great Britain. Since merchant ships were privately owned and operated, this decision allowed the United States to provision Britain without technically abrogating international restrictions on contraband.
After World War II the 1949 Geneva Convention tried to alter the rules of contraband and called for free passage of medical supplies and religious objects, as well as food, clothing, and tonics for children and maternity cases. Yet, meticulous observance of the law of contraband remained almost impossible in the Cold War. During the Yom Kippur War of 1973, for example, the Soviet Union transported supplies to Egypt and Syria, while the United States shipped arms to Israel. Under international law, Arab forces had a legal right to stop American aircraft carrying goods to Israel, while the Israeli army had the same right to intercept Soviet ships loaded with contraband. The realities of a geopolitical world transformed by long-range missiles and airpower, however, prevented either side from stopping American or Soviet contraband shipments.
Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
LaFeber, Walter. The American Age. New York: Norton, 1994.
Pyke, Harold Reason. Contraband and the War. London: Oxford University Press, H. Milford, 1915.
"Contraband of War." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 4, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/contraband-war
"Contraband of War." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved November 04, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/contraband-war
Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).
Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.
Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
- Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
- In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.