Hague Convention

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The two Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907 (better known as the Hague Conferences) gave birth to many international protocols, called the Hague Conventions. These conferences are considered a turning point in the history of humanity because it was the first time that a major diplomatic assembly had been gathered outside a context of war or international crisis.

The first Hague Conference, in 1899, met at the initiative of Tsar Nicolas II of Russia (r. 1894–1917), and its objectives were to put an end to the progressive development of weapons and to seek out the most effective means to ensure lasting peace. The tsar had multiple reasons for doing this. He remembered his grandfather's success, at the Conference of Saint Petersburg of 1868, in banning explosive bullets or any bullet containing flammable materials. But the tsar was also intent on limiting weapons access in an attempt to counter the armament race. Finally, the Hague Conference of 1899 was inscribed in the wake of preceding international initiatives, supported by the pacifist movement, seeking to be rid of the threat of war, as had the Conference of Brussels of 1874, which dealt with the laws and customs of land wars.

The first Hague Conference took place from 18 May to 29 July 1899, at The Hague, Netherlands, and brought twenty-six states to the table. It consisted of a diplomatic forum divided into three commissions. The first was tasked with limiting levels of national armament, the second with codifying the laws and customs of war, and the third with finding peaceful solutions to disputes.

At the end of the meetings, the conference failed to adopt an agreement on how to limit armaments but won an undeniable victory in the development and codification of laws governing the peaceful resolution of disputes and those related to war. It adopted three conventions, the first of which—for the peaceful resolution of international conflicts—is regarded by scholars as the most important success of the conference, especially in light of the establishment of a Permanent Court of Arbitration. The second convention dealt with the laws and customs of land wars, and the third was concerned with the adaptation of the principles of the Geneva Convention of 22 August 1864, to naval warfare.

As far as the limiting of armaments was concerned, the conference adopted three declarations. The first outlawed the launching of projectiles or explosives from the tops of balloons or any other analogous new method; the second outlawed the use of projectiles whose only purpose is to diffuse asphyxiating or deleterious gases. And the third, following up on the work of the Declaration of Saint Petersburg (1868), prohibited the use of bullets that easily expand or flatten in the human body, such as the full metal-jacket bullets whose cases do not entirely cover the core or feature incisions (dum-dum bullets). Finally, steps were taken to call a second conference, as the participants recognized that the objectives of the conference of 1899 would only be met with time and the continuation of the process.

The second conference was delayed by the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). But once the conflict ended, Russia invited the governments of forty-four states to The Hague, from 15 June to 18 October 1907. The conference revised the three conventions of 1899 and adopted ten new ones. One dealt with the opening of hostilities, two with the rights and duties of the various powers and neutral countries, six with the various aspects of naval warfare, and one with limiting the use of force for the recovery of contractual debts. It also adopted a law extending that of 1899 prohibiting the launching of projectiles from balloons or any other analogous new technology. Finally, it recommended calling a third international conference, which never took place because of World War I.

The two Hague Conferences hold considerable importance in the history of international relations because they represent the first serious concrete efforts to solidify projects aiming to avoid but also to humanize war. They were also the starting point for the development of laws governing warfare. These laws developed throughout the twentieth century, leading up to what is presently referred to as laws of armed conflict (also known as international humanitarian law). The rules of law that were adopted at the Hague Conferences are considered today, for the most part, as international custom. They are often referred to within this law (as the Hague Law), specifically that part which regulates the means and methods used in armed conflict.

See alsoInternational Law; War Crimes.


Primary Sources

Scott, James Brown. The Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907: A Series of Lectures Delivered before the Johns Hopkins University in the Year 1908. 2 vols. Baltimore, Md., 1909.

Schindler, Dietrich, and Jirí Toman, eds. The Laws of Armed Conflicts: A Collection of Conventions, Resolutions, and Other Documents. 3rd ed. Geneva and Dordrecht, 1988.

Secondary Sources

Aldrich, George H., and Christine M. Chinkin. "Symposium: The Hague Peace Conferences, Introduction and Concluding Comments." American Journal of International Law 94, no. 1 (2000): 1–98.

Isabelle Vonèche Cardia