Intervention In International Law

Intervention In International Law

Bibliographic Details

Book Review

In this volume Mr. Stowell has industriously and successfully gathered together data relative to many interventions which have taken place between nations, for purposes of redress, expiation, indemnity, security, or punishment, devoting much attention particularly to humanitarian intervention.

In our point of view, and in the present chaotic state of what passes under the name of international law, the book has the value resultant upon industrious labor and judicious collection of instances. We can not believe, however, that it is written upon the theory of international law which, with growing civilization among men, must be accepted if sound reason and the highest ideals of justice are to prevail. The author accepts too readily, we conceive, the principle that might makes right, coupling this with the idea that that which has been done by nations, if repeated sufficiently often, makes law. Of course as to things indifferent in themselves the practices of nations may make sound customs, but the practice of the stronger to lay down rules of action for the weaker, which is almost universal in cases of intervention, is quite another matter. This distinction Mr. Stowell ignores, but may only be criticized for this to the same degree that other writers, who feel that they are laying down international law, may be subjected to the same criticism. Our position in this respect may be elucidated by examining some extracts from Mr. Stowell's work. He says, for instance: It sometimes happens that a weak or harassed government is unable or unwilling to compel its nationals to observe International Law. In such a situation, the State whose nationals or whose interests are endangered may act directly to compel the observance of International Law


If Mr. Stowell had simply said that in such cases States often use violence, he would have been more nearly correct, and if he had observed that nations only so act when they feel themselves to be very much stronger than the nation supposed to be in default, he would have made an observation justified by the instances he cites.

Mr. Stowell points out the difficulties which arise within a community when individuals seek revenge on their own account, and he finds that there- by the “avengers were constantly embroiling the community in order to gratify their more selfish lust for revenge. ” That an infinitely greater and more intolerable evil exists when a nation becomes its own avenger, and that such action is in itself a violation of true international law, Mr. Stowell, we regret to say, does not appreciate. Particularly he regards a supposed loss of prestige as a justification for bloody intervention. Exactly why this should be true when similar actions are not justified on the part of an individual in like case, or why the wholesale slaughter of men to restore prestige should be more virtuous than individual killing does not appear

Thesis Statement

An illustration of the repetition of the old idea that superior force is its own law is furnished by Mr. Stowell when he says that in settlement of the Alabama Claims the American demand for indirect losses was not allowed, “but if war, instead of arbitration, had settled the controversy, there would have been no legal objection to the collection of the indirect losses, pro- vided that the result of the recourse to arms had been sufficiently favorable to the United States. ” It was by virtue of a general principle of law, thoroughly recognized in England and in the United States as between private individuals, that indirect losses were not allowed. In other words they were not treated as either legal or right. A successful war, however, in Mr. Stow- ell's opinion, would have changed the legal situation and converted that which was originally illegal into legality.

It can not be admiitted that anything which may properly be called law can be changed in its nature by a show of superior force, and so long as what passes as international law recognizes the contrary, it will fail to be a science or worthy of respect

Context of Intervention in International Law

Mr. Stowell finds that ” when a State exacts redress for the injury to its pres- tige or interests, it protects society by making it certain to all who harbor evil designs that the transgressor will be broughto book.” Inasmuch as such exaction of redress never takes place except the attacking nation be stronger than the supposed offending nation, Mr. Stowell's statement can only be true when the offender is the weaker. He leaves, therefore, the nation superior in power with full liberty to harbor evil designs without fear of being broughto book. But after all, who is to determine that the weaker nation has wrongfully affected the “prestige or interests” of the stronger?

Analysis of the Text

So long as the stronger nation alone settles this matter, there can be neither law nor justice controlling the situation. The whole statement, therefore, amounts simply to an assertion that if the weaker nation does something that the stronger nation conceives prejudicial to it, the stronger nation can attack and inflict its own punishment. This may be true as a statement of fact, the fact being that the stronger nation is a law unto itself, but it is not a statement of anything that may be regarded as fundamental international law

More about Intervention in International Law

Again illustrating his idea, Mr. Stowell states that, “In view of the many instances in which bombardment and drastic measures have been employed, it is hard to deny that there is a presumption of legality in their favor.” In other words, it would seem from Mr. Stowell's declaration that the more often under circumstances of brutality, stronger nations have taken vengeance into their own hands, the more convincing the proof of their right to be judges in their own cause and to inflict death upon innocent people in no wise connected with the offense. It would seem that the multiplication of ciphers somehow creates a positive quantity. True international law can not be so written

More on this Book Review

All we have said is not a discussion as to whether war is or is not proper or justifiable. It is simply to point out that law is one thing and that the organized chaos (paradoxically speaking) called war is another and entirely different thing. Confusion upon this point on the part of international law writers has made their teachings a mockery to the laymen, who will not regard international law seriously till a bill of divorcement has been signed between it and war in all its phases. The two do not belong in the same bed.

In the present state of barbarism in international law, or pseudo inter- national law, the usefulness of Mr. Stowell's book and the occasion for its writing may not be denied

Book Review

This legal book review was published in The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Oct., 1922), pp. 744-746

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