peace congresses

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peace congresses, multinational meetings to achieve or preserve peace and to prevent wars. Although philosophical and religious pacifism is almost as old as war itself, organized efforts to outlaw war date only from the middle of the 19th cent. The term "peace congress" is applied to a meeting of diplomats to end specific wars by peace treaties, as well as to an international gathering convened to urge measures for preventing future wars. International efforts toward peace have concentrated on the following lines: the urging of international arbitration and mediation in disputes between nations; creation of an international organization, such as the League of Nations or the United Nations; development and codification of international law; extending the use and scope of the International Court of Justice and endowing it with the necessary authority to enforce its decisions; and general disarmament by all nations.

Early Peace Congresses

The first international peace congress was held in London in 1843. Proposals were made for a congress of nations and for international arbitration; propaganda against war was urged, and the control of the manufacture and sale of arms and munitions was advocated. The second congress, known as the Universal Peace Congress, met in Brussels in 1848 and was followed by a series of such meetings in Paris, 1849; Frankfurt, 1850; and London, 1851. International peace activity was interrupted, first by the Crimean War and then by the U.S. Civil War.

In 1867, Charles Lemonnier convened a peace congress in Geneva known as the International League of Peace and Liberty; after the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) it reconvened (1873) in Brussels, and David Dudley Field's Proposals for an International Code formed the basis of discussion. In the Western Hemisphere the first Pan-American Conference met in 1889–90 (see Pan-Americanism). Meeting at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, the Universal Peace Congress, which had resumed in 1889, discussed plans for an International Court of Arbitration. In 1899 the court was established at The Hague by the first of the Hague Conferences. The Second Hague Conference (1907) was concerned, like the first, with arbitration and disarmament.

The Period of the World Wars

By 1914 the court (see Hague Tribunal) had successfully arbitrated 14 international disputes, but the outbreak of World War I disrupted the activities of all peace congresses, and it was not until 1919 that they were able to resume their work. It took another two years before the peace proposals of the 19th cent., incorporated in the Treaty of Versailles, bore fruit in the creation of two international organizations, the League of Nations at Geneva and the Permanent Court of International Justice (see World Court) at The Hague.

After 1919 the chief international peace congresses were the annual meetings at Brussels of the International Federation of League of Nations Societies, which concerned themselves increasingly with disarmament. Throughout the 1920s peace congresses concentrated on urging countries to reduce their armed forces, and they influenced the holding of naval conferences at Washington, D.C. (1921–22) and London (1930). A series of bilateral and multilateral disarmament conferences finally led to the Kellogg-Briand Pact, signed (1928) by 15 nations, which renounced war as an instrument of national policy. However, within three years Japan (a signatory to the pact) launched its undeclared war against Manchuria, and in 1935, Italy (another signatory) invaded Ethiopia; this was followed shortly by Germany's invasion (1939) of Poland and World War II.

Modern Peace Congresses

The horrors of World War II, with its aftermath of economic and social chaos and the invention of nuclear weapons, intensified worldwide movements for peace through the United Nations and increased the determination that the new international organization would succeed where the defunct League of Nations had failed. There now are a number of international peace organizations with the common goal of world peace; the most prominent of these is the International Peace Bureau, which was founded 1892 and reorganized in the early 1960s. Recent conferences include the 149-nation Paris meeting of the Geneva Committee (1989), which reaffirmed the ban on chemical agents in war and called for general and complete disarmament, and the Hague Appeal for Peace (1999), which marked the centennial of the first Hague Conference and focused on disarmament, conflict prevention and resolution, and human-rights issues.


See R. S. Baker, Woodrow Wilson and World Settlement (1960); F. A. Hinsley, Power and the Pursuit of Peace (1963); L. W. Doob, The Pursuit of Peace (1981); L. S. Wittner, Rebels against War: The American Peace Movement, 1933–1983 (1984).

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