But of course justiciable disputes are not those most likely to lead to war. The most dangerous issues are those where the independence or the ‘vital interests’ of states are, or are supposed to be, involved. Perhaps in such cases, in the last resort, it may be impossible to avoid war, so long as the false notions of interest now current continue to prevail. But it would be possible to postpone it. And mere delay will often make the difference between peace and war. What precipitated the present war was first the ultimatum of Austria, with a twenty-four hours’ time-limit, and then those of Germany, with a twelve hours’ time-limit. The war was rushed. Under our proposed arrangements, this could not have occurred. There would have been a necessary delay, which might be fixed at not less than a year, during which the whole issue would be considered before a council of conciliation, a way out suggested, and the public opinion of all countries concentrated on the question and the proposed solution. I think it reasonable to suppose that, under such conditions, public opinion would not tolerate a war. At any rate, the chances of peace would be infinitely improved.
The main difficulty here is the constitution of the council of conciliation. First, what kind of men should be members of it? Not, clearly, men of merely legal training, for the questions to be considered will not be merely legal. What is wanted is men of eminence, experienced in affairs, capable of impartiality, and of taking a European rather than a narrowly national standpoint. It would not be easy to find such men, but it should not be impossible. One can think of several in England. But, further, there should be representatives of those great interests which hitherto have had no say in international affairs. Labor, especially, should be represented, for it is labor that bears the chief burden of wars. We must have no more diplomats’ wars. And if we are to achieve that result, then, other than diplomats must conciliate international differences.
The members of the council should be appointed by whatever method the representative organs of the countries concerned might determine. But the important question then arises: should they be delegates, appointed for a particular purpose, under constant instructions from their governments; or representatives for a fixed term of years, to act according to their best judgment?
In the first alternative, we shall have a body similar to that which has represented the concert of Europe again and again during the last century. Such a body may be and has been useful. But its functions have not been the same as those I am thinking of for the council of conciliation. It has not aimed at discovering the kind of solution of the questions before it which would commend itself to impartial and enlightened opinion as the most fair, reasonable, and permanent. It has aimed rather at bringing together conflicting egotisms, and ascertaining whether or no, in the given conjunction, it is worth while for any one or more of them to assert itself by force in face of the others. Sometimes, as in the case of the Crimean War, this question has been answered in the affirmative. Sometimes, as in the case of the Belgian revolution of 1830, in the negative. But no will to a permanent and just settlement has been present. The representatives of the powers have acted under instructions, each of them considering only the supposed interests of his own state, and making concessions only when it seemed necessary to do so to avoid war, if war for the moment did not appear to be a profitable enterprise. Further, the decisions of such a conference were to be followed immediately by action. It was natural, therefore, that temporary expedients to tide over a crisis should be adopted, rather than fundamental and final reconstructions. The function I propose for the council of conciliation is different. It will have no executive power, but only the power to recommend the best solution. This, it would seem, would best be done by an independent body, of which all the members should take, so far as possible, a European point of view, and none a merely national one. When they had arrived at their results, their duty would be ended. The question of its adoption would remain for a further stage.