The Question of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles

The Question of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles

Bibliographic Details

London: Stevens & Haynes. 1917

Book Review

World politics is fast becoming a fascinating study to every wideawake man of today. Questions of which he had never heard and places which formerly seemed as remote as the moon, are now the dailvtopics of his conversation. He has an opinion on every important issue of the day; and his influence is being felt in the councils of state. Among the vital issues raised by the Great War, few are more important or more farreaching in their effects than that vexatious problem known as the “Near Eastern Question.” The present work by Dr. Phillipson and Mr. Buxton is a detailed study of one phase of this intricate problem, which the authors designate as “the very essence of the Near Eastern Question. ” Their object is “to set forth, as briefly and as clearly as possible, the rise, development, and vicissitudes of this problem-to analyze it into its constituent elements; to show the efforts that have been made in the past to solve it; to expound and critically examine from the point of view of international law the regimes that have been established by conventions; and, finally, to suggest what appears to be in the present state of affairs the most desirable solution.” They have kept strictly to their program, and have discussed the question almost entirely from the legal standpoint.

Introduction to The Question of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles

The work is divided into three parts, the first of which has two chapters, one on the “Problems of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles” and the other describing in detail the “Position of Waterways in General under International Law.” Part two gives the history of the evolution of the Rule of the Straits from the beginning of the eighteenth century to the Treaty of Berlin in 1878, with an account of the various conventions affecting the question of the Straits and a chapter on the “Interpretation and Application of the Rule of the Straits” in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Context of The Question of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles

The third part, entitled “Reconstruction, ” contains an account of the efforts of Russia in the nineteenth century to modify the Rule of the Straits, together with a summary of the attitude of the Powers, the various schemes for reconstruction proposed, and the development of opinion on this problem both in Russia and in Europe down to the early part of the Great War. And its last chapter is devoted to what the authors regard as the best solution of this remarkable problem. The authors are well qualified to handle this topic in a masterly manner. Dr. Phillipson is a recognized authority on international law, having written two valuable treatises on “International Law and the Great War” and “The Termination of War and Treaties of Peace.” While Mr. Buxton, as an author and traveler, is thoroughly familiar with the Near East and its problems.

Thesis Statement

They have given us an excellent treatise which embraces within one volume all the salientfacts concerning the question of the Straits. It will be a useful book for the student, the jurist, and the intelligent general reader. It is well written in an easy style and impartial spirit. The facts are presented in a clear, concise manner; and every phase of the problem under discussion is skilfully handled without bias. Everyone who wishes to be well informed on this question without an endless amount of study will do well to possess a copy of this work.

More about The Question of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles

But it is not a popular book, or a volume for holiday reading. On the other hand, one must not expect to find in it any exhaustive study of conditions in the Turkish Empire, or of other problems of the Near East. It tells merely what it claims to relate: the story of the Straits of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles. And the narrative is simple, direct and complete, without being brilliant. Nor does it add anything new to our knowledge concerning the situation at the Straits. The authors were wise, undoubtedly, in avoiding extended discussions of the political and diplomatic controversies over this question. Yet one feels, in perusing the volume, that it would have been improved and its value for the general reader considerably enhanced, if the writers had explained in detail just why Great Britain, Austria and Germany persisted for years in the maintenance of their “traditional policies” concerning the Straits and Turkey, and had called attention to the relationship between the question of the Straits and the other vital problems of the Near East. And, even though the authors admit that “no other question in the recorded history of the world has given rise to so much tortuous diplomacy, to so much international jealousy and friction, to so much sinister rivalry, and to so many bitter wars, ” they fail to bring home to the culprits in a forceful and spirited manner the blame for the great losses and sufferings caused by their actions and policy in regard to the problem of the Straits.

Analysis of the Text

No language is strong enough to express adequately the condemnation of the world for the sins of commission and omission perpetrated by European diplomatists and statesmen, which entailed so much trouble and disaster to Europe, and brought down upon the heads of so many hapless and innocent people such terrible persecution and suffering. A great deal of space is devoted to the attempts of Russia to solve the question of the Straits; and one is given the impression that her statesmen should be censured for attempting to settle the problem in accord with Russian ambitions. Like the governments of all states, the Russian regime was undoubtedly influenced in its actions largely by selfish motives. Yet one must give it credit for attempting honestly, on more than one occasion, to really solve the question of the Straits. This is more than can be said of any other great Power. Great Britain cannot be excused for not meeting Russia half way on these propositions, even though the authors claim that “we may justifiably flatter ourselves in believing that if diplomacy and the proceedings of every state had been no worse than our own (the British), the present convulsion in the world would not have taken place.”

Other Aspects

It is not what they did, but what they did not do that matters in this instance. The British sins of omission were as great as the sins of commission committed by other Powers. And it is a great pity that their stubbornness and shortsightedness (which Mr. Buxton criticises in his earlier writings) prevented them from seeing for a half century, what they saw so clearly in 1914. This was that their own, as well as Europe's best interests, demanded the prompt solution of the question of the Straits, and that any solution was preferable to no solution.

More on this Book Review

The authors make a careful distinction between the neutralization and the internationalization of the Straits, and advocate the internationalization of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles and their control by an international commission, similar to the Danube and Suez Commissions-the fortifications to be dismantled and the Straits to be kept open to the ships of all nations. Constantinople should be made a free city under the joint protection of all the Powers, including the United States. If the book had been written within the past six months, the authors might have suggested the protection of the League of Nations instead.

More Aspects of the Book

This is probably the best solution possible at this time, unless one accepts the suggestion of Sir Edwin Pears that the Straits be opened to the ships of all states, that the whole region, with Constantinople as a center, be made a small independent state, and that it be governed by an international commission. This scheme has certain advantages of simplicity over the other. But, in any event, this question must be solved in conformity with international law and in the manner that shall best serve the general welfare and promote the interests of all nations.

Book Review Details

This legal book review was published in:

The American Journal of International Law,Vol. 13, No. 2 (Apr., 1919), pp. 365-368

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