La Guerre Italo-Turque et le droit des Gens

La Guerre Italo-Turque et le droit des Gens

Bibliographic Details

Brussels: Bureau de la Revue. 1913

Book Review

It may admnit of doubt whether this interesting history of the appropriation of Turkish Tripoli by Italy is properly a subject of review in a journal of international law, for the writer tells us at the outset of his volume of two hundred pages that ” the study of the causes of a particular war is not a subject strictly within the purview of international law,” and that although “there are writers who deem such a study as necessary to the juridical determination of the question as to which of the belligerents has the right on his side,” the author treats this as an “illusion” and considers that “the question lies outside of the domain of law just as the absolute freedom of states to make war upon one another whenever they consider it indispensable, is also excluded from the domain of law.” Africa is today the legitimate and the principal field open to the European need of expansion, as America was in the sixteenth century, and its northern portions are linked by the Mediterranean to the fortunes of the European countries upon its northern shores, which have inherited the rights of all-powerful Rome to that region, strengthened by their geographical situation. These are the primal needs that underlie wars; they are purely political questions, transcending the expedients of diplomacy busied with the search for superficial and so-called ” efficient” causes which only mask the reality. Italy having resurrected to a new national life, found it essential not alone as an outlet for its products, its capital and its population, but as a safeguard to its national existence and its progress to the position of one of the great Powers to take possession of territory whose political disintegration had exposed it to the unchecked occupation of the first comer, bold enough to take the lead. This is the thesis which the writer presents as in accord with the actual and universal attitude of the nations, in spite of the sporadic efforts of peace foundations and peace congresses to displace it by the establishment of an international altruism. The self-interest of nations is not, however, necessarily an incentive to war; Sig. Mirabelli's picture shows it rather as a strong factor for peace; not only the drain of modern armaments and the dreadful havoc of the perfected engines create a dread of the consequences of war; but still more the intervention of political grouping, such as the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente and treaty coalitions, which stand for resistance to any hegemonous preponderance, add such new uncertainties as to the fruits of victory that even such temptations to aggrandizement as Tripoli offered to Italy, are apt to be kept in check by the consideration that the self-interest of neighbors will not permit Jack Horner to take too large a plum out of his pie.

Introduction to La Guerre Italo-Turque et le droit des Gens

These are powerful motives, says our author, which today work upon states to lay aside traditional rivalries, smooth over unexpected differences and labor towards agreements which will ensure peace, which he recognizes as “the least of all evils.” The French occupation of Algiers, the British claims to Cyprus, the French extension to Tunis, were but precursors of the Tripoli enterprise, all made possible by the adjustment of rivalries and the balancing of power among the European nations, ensuring the avoidance of European wars and the progress of European civilization. The first move of Italy towards Tripoli was as early as 1890 as a counter-balance to French influence in Tunis, and in July of that year Lord Salisbury's support was assured, but the policy of international agreement was slowly maturing and Italy had to wait its development and the slow adjustment of the respective interests of herself and France on the Mediterranean, retarded by the Franco-German incidents of Morocco from Algeciras to Agadir. Tripoli, moreover, was territory of a European Power, so recognized and guaranteed by the Treaty of 1856, following the Crimean war, and thus presented additional difficulties to the benevolent assimilation of a protectorate,-while open armed attack would be perilous aggression,-of moment to all the countries whose rivalries protect her from dismemberment. Her integrity had been protected by the Treaty of Paris (1856), but upon the assurance of internal reforms which were never realized, so that the guarantee of her integrity became by the Treaty of Berlin a virtual assertion of the right of intervention to compel observance of the promised reforms.

Context of La Guerre Italo-Turque et le droit des Gens

Egypt, Cyprus, Crete, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina are evidence of the disintegration brought about by the right of Europe to enforce the promised reforms; but in spite of private accords tending to Italianize Tripoli, warnings were' repeatedly given that the territorial integrity of Turkey must be respected and that Tripoli was not unappropriated territory. But, if not unappropriated, it was surely “ungoverned” and an essential element in the European equilibrium on the Mediterranean, an equilibrium to which the recognition of ltalian influence was indispensable.

Thesis Statement

Moreover, the Suez Canal had changed the current of European commeree with Asia and by so doing had exalted the problem of the balance of power on the Mediterranean into a question of world-wide significance. Our author defends the occupation of Tripoli against the charge of aggression and imperialism and reconciles it with the utmost respect for “nationality” by assuring his readers that Mazzini and Garibaldi, both champions of universal democracy and foes of conquest and of colonial empire, early recognized the necessity for Italy to take her part in the irrepressible movement of Europe for the occupation of the Mediterranean shores of Africa.

More about La Guerre Italo-Turque et le droit des Gens

Mazzini, who recognized the patriotism of other nationals on a par with his own, could never have justified the invasion of alien territory except under conditions unavoidable for national life, and the national life of Italy is dependant upon her share of the Adriatic and of the Mediterranean. Given this situation, the longstanding and proven incapacity of Turkey to ensure a civilized government with peace and safety to inhabitants and protection to trade, the rivalry of other nations for a control of the Mediterranean shore which meant atrophy to Italy,-in the present far from ideal condition of international relations, her only recourse was to the “ultima-ratio” of living nations,-war,-hastened by the agreement of France and Germany on the Moroccan question, early in September 1911.

Analysis of the Text

The proximate or so-called “efficient” causes which our author characterizes as the negligible factors or incidents which diplomacy brings forward to mask the more deep-rooted differences or ambitions which, bring nations into conflict, were in this case obvious subterfuges, consisting mainly in occurrences long since past and for the most part settled, and in the general grievance that Italy was not allowed that ” preference in pacific penetration” to which she had a right as a preliminary to her ultimate claims upon the country. The circular of the 29th September, 1911, to the various embassies and legations, recapitulated these grievances as the foundation for the appeal to arms. Previous to this circular, as early as the 19th of September, orders had been given for the mobilization of the Italian navy, and military preparations of a like character were set on foot, followed by like measures of the Turkish Government and the despatch of a war vessel from Constantinople to Tripoli, with troops, arms and munitions of war on the 22nd of September.

Other Aspects

A note of warning as to perils of the Italian colonists from this movement was signified by the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs to Constantinople on the 23rd of September, but the unloading was begun on the 26th and Italy's ultimatum communicated to the Grand Vizier on the 28th of September, advising that as past negotiations had proved futile, the Italian Government found itself compelled to proceed with the military occupation of Tripoli and Cyrene, to which they requested Turkey to make no opposition, leaving definite arrangement to subsequent agreement. A peremptory answer was demanded in twenty-four hours.

More on this Book Review

Receiving no answer, hostilities were at once begun as threatened in the ultimatum, without any declaration of war, which only followed actual hostilities, begun by the attack on Prevesa. The various chapters of the book take up, in addition to the “causes of the war,” the “questions touching the initiation of a state of war,” “neutral relations,” “actual hostilities” and “the peace negotiations,” all of which are treated with great fulness. It would extend this review beyond available limits to enter into details upon these various questions. The opening of hostilities prior to a declaration of war is of special interest, and Sig. Mirabelli's defense of the procedure will repay notice.

More Aspects of the Book

The ultimatum in terms advised the Ottoman Government that the Italian Government would “for the safeguard of its interests and of its dignity proceed to the military occupation of the territory.” This the writer considers as an unquestionable notification of the military measures decided upon. The ultimatum then expressed the hope that the Ottoman Government would make no opposition to the measure, leaving to further parleys a definite agreement on the subject; a delay of twenty-four hours was fixed upon to await an answer. Accordingly, at the expiration of the twenty-four hours, the military occupation was begun, and as it met with opposition, the formal declaration of war was at once issued. This it is insisted, is in strict conformity to The Hague Convention of 19th October, 1907, which makes it lawful to open hostilities upon the expiration of an ultimatum, particularly when, as in this case, the ultimatum clearly indicated that the military occupation had been resolved upon.


Coming now to the criticism that Italy disregarded the obligations of Art. VIII of the Treaty of Paris (1856), which provided that “in the event of differences between the Sublime Porte and either of -the Signataries, before having recourse to force, the mediation of the other signataries should be invoked.” Such an appeal was at once made by the Sublime Porte on the 30th of September, but the only response was a declaration that the Powers would observe the most strictneutrality, and three renewals of the appeal evoked no other response. Sig. Mirabelli repudiates the notion that Article VIII was obligatory and insists that its very language only makes it applicable “as far as circumstances will permit,” leaving it optional to the Signataries to tender their good offices toward mediation or to remain neutral and indifferent spectators of the conflict.

Last Remarks

Hecontends, moreover, that the transformation of political conditions within the half century that has elapsed since the Treaty of Paris, the complex economic factors of international politics, accentuated in the Eastern question by the commercial revolution operated by the Suez Canal, make the proviso in Art. VIII essential to its usefulness or continued recognition. The failure of Turkey's appeal to the Powers, leaving her isolated, provoked her to an immediate and heroic resistance, which brought on heavy losses and awakened Italy to the need of redoubling her efforts if she hoped to avoid a long and burdensome conflict. This she at once did and accompanied her reenforcements with a decree of annexation of the occupied provinces under date of November 5, 1911, of which notice was at once given to all foreign offices, and then the Powers began their abortive efforts at mediation, which met with the insuperable obstacle of Turkey's determination not to surrender her territory and Italy's equally resolute stand to uphold her decree of annexation.

Not until July, 1912, and then by direct but informal communication between the combatants, were negotiations for peace again undertaken, and not until October did the respective plenipotentiaries finally receive authority to negotiate, the point of danger being over the sovereignty of the coveted provinces. A last effort made by Turkey, after yielding the main point, that the treaty should only be operative when sanctioned by the respective parliaments of the contracting powers, imperilled the negotiations and met with an ultimatum which allowed Turkey three days to accept the terms or drop the negotiations, and a few hours before the ultimatum expired, on the 15th of October, 1912, a preliminary peace project was signed, no armistice or suspension of hostilities having been provided for.

This preliminary project was followed by a firman of the Ottoman Government granting autonomy to the inhabitants of Tripoli and Cyrene, a proclamation of amnesty, of religious freedom by the Italian Government, the appointing of a commission composed in part of natives to make civil regulation respecting local customs; and the Sultan's iradi guaranteeing administrative and judicial reforms for the Aegean Isles which remained under Turkish sovereignty.

The final treaty of peace followed on the 18th of October, 1912, with few departures from the customary clauses. Italy, says Sig. Mirabelli, was generous in the terms accepted because “in truth she remained a debtor to Turkey by reason of the war, which she was forced to undertake in defense of her vital interests created by a historic fatality superior to her own will,” and because, when all is said and done, “international equity” is still to be counted upon in dictating a treaty of peace.

Book Review Details

This legal book review was published in:

The American Journal of International Law,Vol. 8, No. 3 (Jul., 1914), pp. 685-691

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