The War and the Way Out: A Positive Plan

“War is a survival from the past. It is not a permanent condition of human life.”



I have argued, in previous articles in the Atlantic Monthly, that the will to peace is the only sure guaranty of peace. But as, in the past, the will has been hampered by the machinery of European diplomacy, so in the future it may and should be confirmed by a change in that machinery. The system of alliances precipitated war; a general concert must prevent it. We must create an organization by our will, and sustain our will by the organization.

If the reader’s will is set upon peace, then I will suggest that he go on with me and ask himself what programme we can put forward to convert will into practice when the new Europe is made after the war. For if it be not made so that it favors peace, it will be made so that it favors war. And which it will do depends in part upon the writer and the reader of these words.

Let us note, first, for our encouragement, that the lamentable condition under which Europe has been suffering for many centuries, was not always its condition in the past, and need not be in the future. There was a time when the whole civilized world of the west lay at peace under a single rule; when the idea of separate sovereign states, always at war or in armed peace, would have seemed as monstrous or absurd as it now seems inevitable. And that great achievement of the Roman Empire left, when it sank, a sunset glow over the turmoil of the Middle Ages. Never would a mediæval churchman or statesman have admitted that the independence of states was an ideal. It was an obstinate fact, struggling into existence against all the preconceptions and beliefs of the time. One church, one empire, was the ideal of Charlemagne, of Otho, of Barbarossa, of Hildebrand, of Thomas Aquinas, of Dante. The forces struggling against that ideal were the enemy to be defeated. They won. And thought, always parasitic on action, endorsed the victory. So that now there is hardly a philosopher or historian who does not on occasion urge that the sovereignty of independent states is the last word of political fact and political wisdom.

And, no doubt, in some respects it has been an advance. In so far as there are real nations, and these are coincident with states, it is well that they should develop freely their specific gifts and character. The good future of the world is not with uniformity, but with diversity. But it should be well understood that all the diversity required is compatible with political union. The ideal of the future is federation; and to that ideal all the significant facts to resists the current. Their trade, their manufactures, their arts, their sciences all contradict their political assumptions. War is a survival from the past. It is not a permanent condition of human life. And, interestingly enough, this truth has been expressing itself for a century even in the political consciousness of Europe. Ever since the great French war, there has been a rudimentary organ, the ‘Concert,’ for dealing with European affairs as a whole. There has been hardly an international issue for a hundred years with which it has not concerned itself. It is recognized again and again, — not in theory only, but in practical action, — that the disputes of any states are of vital interest to all the rest, and that powers not immediately concerned have a right and a duty to intervene. Not once, but many times, it has avoided war by concerted action. And though its organization is imperfect, its personnel unsatisfactory, and its possibilities limited by the jealousies, fears, and ambitions of the several powers, it is a clear advance in the right direction and a definite admission, even by statesmen and politicians, that internationalism is the great and growing force of the present. What we have to do, at the conclusion of this war, is to discover and to embody in the public law of Europe the next step toward the ultimate federal union. We must have something better than the concert. We cannot hope to achieve the federation. What can we do? It would be presumptuous for any single thinker to put forward dogmatically his own suggestion as the best and most practicable. What I here set forth is, however, the result of much discussion and of much thought. I hope, therefore, that the reader may be willing to consider it seriously, whether or no he can indorse it.


The preliminaries of peace must, I suppose, be settled between the belligerents; and it is probable, though very undesirable, that they will be settled behind the scenes by the same group of men who made this most disastrous and unnecessary of wars. For that reason, and because of the uncertainty of the duration and issue of the war, it is idle to consider how much territory may come up for settlement, or how it may be disposed of. All we can say is—and it is essential that we should insist upon it—that the principle laid down by Mr. Asquith, and indorsed, I believe, by every one who has dealt with the subject, should be applied up to the limits of possibility: the principle, that is, that the interests and wishes of the populations it is proposed to transfer should be the only point considered, and that no power should pursue merely its own aggrandizement. Beyond this, little can be said. But one or two points may be insisted on.

First, it will be generally agreed that the Allies, unless they are utterly defeated, must insist on the restoration of the whole territory of Belgium and one such compensation as money can give for the martyrdom that has been inflicted on her. But further, — and for this point I ask the earnest consideration of the reader, — it belongs to the whole spirit of a right settlement that Germany shall be allowed her fair share of influence in the East. If, therefore, the Asiatic territory of Turkey comes into settlement, and if it is to be partitioned into spheres of influence,1 then Germany should have her share. To shut her out while aggrandizing Russia and France and Italy and England, would be to justify what she has always maintained, — that the other powers pursue toward her a dog-in-the-manger policy, — and would make it difficult, if not impossible, for her to settle down as a peaceable member of the European comity. A peace which will satisfy the Allies, supposing them to be victorious, will almost certainly deprive Germany of Alsace-Lorraine: it might deprive her also of Posen. And in that extreme case, a compensation in the East would be as politic as it would be just. The objections that may be taken to such a course imply the other view of the objects of the war: the view that it should end merely in the aggrandizement of the victors and the weakening of the vanquished. And that view I am supposing that we have rejected.

It belongs further to the principle that we are advocating that England should make no attempt to appropriate the Kiel Canal, or to transfer it to Denmark. I hardly suppose that any such measure would seriously be proposed. But it is well to make clear to ourselves what the facts are. The canal runs through a purely German territory, and the principle of nationality demands that the people of that territory should remain under German government. The neutralization of the canal is a different proposition, and might be considered, if it were practicable, and if it were accompanied by a general neutralization of important waterways, such as the Straits of Gibraltar. But to neutralize it against Germany, and as part of a policy of disarming Germany alone, would be contrary to the purpose we have in our minds.

Let us suppose, now, that the preliminaries of peace have been settled, and settled, we must hope, on right lines. There should then be summoned a congress to regulate the carrying out of them in detail to provide for the future peace of Europe. There is plenty of precedent for such a congress. The Congress of Vienna (1815) followed the Treaty of Paris, and comprised representatives of every European power. The Congress of Paris followed the Crimean War; at that Congress Austria was represented, although she was not a belligerent, and questions quite irrelevant to the immediate issues of the war were under discussion. The future settlement of Europe concerns everybody. Many of the non-belligerents are directly interested in the territorial changes that are likely to be made. Many are interested in the fate of small states. All are interested in peace. This war is not only the belligerents’ war, nor must the peace be only the belligerents’ peace.

Immediately, then, on the settlement of the preliminaries of peace, there must be summoned a congress of the powers. To this congress all the states of Europe should send delegates. But further, it is most desirable that the United States should take part in it. There is precedent in the Congress of Algeciras. But if there were none, one should be created. It is indeed the best hope for the settlement that peace will be brought about by the mediation of President Wilson. And in that case he will have a clear status at the congress. The United States is the only great power not involved, or likely to be involved, in the war. It is the only great power that is pacific, and the only one that has no direct interest in the questions that may come up for solution.

Assuming now that the congress is assembled, what will be its business? First, to appoint an international commission to carry out the territorial rearrangements, on the principle of the interests and wishes of the peoples concerned. This will be a process long and arduous in proportion to the amount of the territory concerned, and the character of the populations. At the best, readjustments of boundaries and allegiance can only imperfectly solve it. But the best chance of a good solution is an impartial commission.

This, however, important though it be, should not be the main work of the congress. Its main work should be the creation of an organ to keep the peace of Europe. From many quarters has come the suggestion of a ‘league of peace.’ Mr. Roosevelt has proposed it. Mr. Asquith looks forward to it as coming ‘immediately within the range and presently within the grasp of European statesmanship.’ And it was adumbrated by Sir Edward Grey before the war, when he said, ‘If the peace of Europe can be preserved, and the present crisis safely passed, my own endeavor will be to promote some arrangement to which Germany will be a party, by which she could be assured that no aggressive or hostile policy would be pursued against her or her allies by France, Russia, and ourselves, jointly or separated.’

An idea thus indorsed, not only by pacifists and thinkers, but by practical statesmen, is worth serious consideration. Let us try to give it some practicable shape.

The congress, I propose, should found a league of peace on the basis of a treaty binding them to refer their disputes to peaceable settlements before taking any military measures. Its success would depend on the number of powers entering into it. A league, for instance, of Great Britain, France, and Russia would do little more than perpetuate the present entente. A league joined by Italy would be in a better position. One joined by the United States might be invincible. But the thing to be most aimed at is the inclusion of the German powers. And that is one of the main reasons why, in the event of a victory by the Allies, everything possible should be done not to alienate Germany from the European system.

But, it will be said, what is the use of relying on treaties, when Germany has shown and declared that she regards them as scraps of paper? This raises the question of the sanction, — one of great importance, and one which, unfortunately, divides those who believe in and desire peace. The one party, the extremer pacifists, and perhaps the more logical, say that treaties must be their own sanction. The whole point of peace is that men rely on law, not on force. And to attempt to secure peace by arms is and always has been the fundamental error of mankind. This attitude, I think, goes along with the complete and uncompromising application of Christian ethics. Those who hold it would probably say that force should never be resisted by force. They would expect to conquer force by meekness. They are the real Christians. And I respect and honor them in proportion to their sincerity. But I cannot go with them. What is more important, I know well that almost nobody goes with them; and that, in particular, no government would act, now or in any near future, upon such presumptions. It will be impossible, I believe, to win from public opinion any support for the ideas I am putting forward, unless we are prepared to add a sanction to our treaty. I propose therefore that the powers entering into the arrangement pledge themselves to assist, if necessary by their national force, any member of the league who should be attacked before the dispute provoking the attack has been submitted to arbitration or conciliation.

Military force, however, is not the only weapon the powers might employ in such a case: economic pressure might sometimes be effective. Suppose, for example, that the United States entered into such a league, but that she did not choose, as she wisely might not choose, to become a great military or naval power. In the event of a crisis arising, such as we suppose, she could nevertheless exercise a very great pressure if she simply instituted a financial and commercial boycott against the offender. Imagine, for instance, that at this moment all the foreign trade of this country were cut off by a general boycott. We should be harder hit than we can be by a military force. We simply  could not carry on the war. And though, no doubt, we are more vulnerable in this respect than other countries, yet such economic pressure, if it were really feared, would be a potent factor in determining the policy of any country. It is true that no nation could apply such a boycott without injuring itself. But then the object is to prevent that greatest of all injuries, material and moral, which we call war. We can then imagine the states included in our league agreeing that any offender who made war on a member of the league, contrary to the terms of the treaty, would immediately have to face either the economic boycott, or the armed forces, or both, of the other members. And it is not unreasonable to think that in most cases this would secure the observance of the treaty.

If, on the other hand, any member of the league were attacked, without provocation, by another power, not a member, it would be the duty of the other members of the league to come to its assistance. In order that this provision might not lead to aggressive action by any member, it would be essential that the foreign relations of all the members of the league should be openly discussed between them, and every effort made to mediate in the case of dispute with external powers.

To get a clearer idea of how the arrangement might work, let us suppose it to have been in actual operation at the time this war broke out, and that all the great powers, including the United States, had entered into such a league as I propose. Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Servia would then have been a breach of the treaty and would have been prevented by the joint action of all the other powers. If Germany had supported Austria, she too would have become the common enemy. We should have had then, not only the powers of the Triple Entente, but also Italy, and perhaps the United States, leagued against the German powers. If it had been foreseen—as in the case supposed it would have been—that that would happen, the German powers, it is safe to say, would not have gone to war. What would have been the alternative? First, the immediate occasion of the war, the murder of the archduke, would have been referred to an international commission of inquiry at The Hague. For the question of the responsibility for the murder is a purely judicial one, to be settled by evidence before an impartial tribunal. But, of course, behind the murder lay the whole question of the Balkan States and their relations to Austria and Russia. That whole question would have had to be referred to arbitration before war could take place about it. Only in the last resort, when every effort for a peaceful settlement had proved abortive, when a solution on just lines had been propounded and was before the public opinion of Europe, only then could war have taken place. Perhaps war might have happened, even then. But probably on a much smaller scale; probably confined to Servia, Austria, and Russia, with the other powers ready at every moment to intervene for peace.

It may still be urged that the powers that have entered into the league will not, in fact, fulfill their obligation to intervene, by force if necessary, to prevent a breach of the treaty. But, if it be true, and be seen to be true, that peace is, at any moment, the greatest interest of the greater number of powers, then we may affirm that interest will reinforce obligation, and that the duty imposed by the treaty will be fulfilled. The violation of a treaty obligation by Germany must not make us suppose that no power will ever keep treaty obligations. The most cynical may admit that they will be kept when and if the interest of a power is on the side of keeping them. And, in this case, it would appear that generally the interest of the signatory powers will coincide with their duty.


Let us now proceed to a more detailed consideration of the machinery of arbitration and conciliation to which it is proposed that the powers should bind themselves to refer their disputes.

Among the disputes that may arise there is a distinction, well recognized in both theory and practice, between those capable of arbitration and those requiring conciliation. The former are called ‘justiciable,’ and are such as can be settled by a quasi-legal procedure. Examples are the interpretation of treaties, or international conventions. The number of disputes which have in fact been settled by arbitration during the last century is very considerable. Two hundred and fifty is a conservative estimate. Of these, no doubt, the majority were trivial. But some were of a kind that might easily have led to war. For example, the Alabama case, the Alaska boundary case, the Dogger Bank case. Further, there is a court of arbitration, and a procedure, established at The Hague by agreement between the powers. Arbitration is thus a recognized and organized fact, All we have to do is to extend and regulate its operation. The powers entering the league of peace should bind themselves by a general treaty to submit to arbitration all justiciable disputes without exception.

Such treaties have already been made between certain powers.2 In particular a treaty was negotiated in 1897 between the United States and Great Britain, to submit to arbitration ‘all questions in difference which may fail to adjust themselves by diplomatic negotiations.’ The treaty was rejected by the Senate of the United States, but less from an objection in principle than because they were jealous of abandoning any of their power of dealing with cases of foreign policy as they might come up. But the majority of arbitration treaties except certain matters. Thus, for example, the treaty of 1904 between France and England was an agreement to submit all disputes except those ‘touching vital interest, honor, or independence.’ Such exceptions, however, seem to be superfluous when we are dealing with justiciable disputes. The ‘honor’ of no country can be concerned in breaking either the terms of a treaty or recognized principles of international law. ‘Independence’ cannot be touched by such cases. And ‘vital interests’ will almost always come under the other heading of non-justiciable cases, which we are proposing to refer to a different body and a different procedure. All that seems to be necessary here is to arrange for some procedure to determine, in case of difference of opinion, whether any given dispute is or is not ‘justiciable.’ This question might be submitted either to the Hague Court or to the conciliation council proposed below. And with that safeguard I believe that there is no valid objection to a general treaty between all the powers to submit to arbitration all justiciable disputes.

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.

Keeping in view these facts, I incline to believe that the most hopeful plan would be that the council should have a permanent constitution, the members being appointed for fixed periods of time, and not for special issues, and acting without instructions from their governments, although of course acquainted with their governments’ point of view, and having the confidence of their nations. On such a council there would be, if the league were large and comprehensive, a number of members whose governments were not directly interested in the particular issue that might be before them, and who might therefore take a detached view. The representatives of the countries primarily interested would be able both to put their point of view and to modify it in deference to the general trend of feeling.

And a solution might be finally suggested which could not be suspected of partiality. It would, of course, not satisfy fully all claims. But it would probably commend itself to the public opinion of the world. And that would be a great asset in its favor.

Still, it might be rejected by the parties most concerned. In that case what would happen? The whole question would then be one for the diplomacy of Europe, and the powers would be as free to act or not to act as they are now. I do not propose that they should be under treaty obligation to enforce the award or scheme of the council. In a federated Europe there could, of course, be no place for war. But what I am here proposing is only a preliminary step toward that. I am not abrogating national sovereignty, or ruling out war as impossible. I am merely endeavoring to make it a great deal less likely than it now is. And I think that the attempt in the present stage to make the enforcement of an award compulsory on the powers would not make for peace. The powers must act, in each case, as they can and as they choose. Very often they will find a settlement which avoids war. Sometimes they will not. But at least we may reasonably hope for a much more general will to peace than we get under existing conditions.

The improbability of war, I believe, would be increased in proportion as the issues of foreign policy were known to and controlled by public opinion. There msut be an end of the secret diplomacy which has plunged us into this catastrophe. To say this is not, of course, to suggest that complicated and delicate negotiations should be conducted in public. But there should be no more secret treaties or arrangements of any kind, like, for example, the clauses of the Morocco treaty whereby Great Britain, France, and Spain looked forward to the partition of that country while publicly guaranteeing its integrity and independence before the world; or like those military and naval ‘conversations,’ which behind the back of Parliament and the nation pledged our honor to defend France. All nations ought to know and constantly be reminded of all their commitment to other powers, and all the complications which constitute the danger centres of Europe. I am aware of all that may be said about the latent jingoism of crowds, and the power of an unscrupulous press to work upon it. But we have all that as it is. It is what governments rely upon and call upon, when they intend to make war. The essence of the present situation is that no other forces have time to organize themselves, because we are actually at war before we have begun to realize the crisis. With plenty of time and full knowledge the better elements of public opinion could be rallied. The proposed league of peace would secure the necessary delay. If then, at the last, the public opinion of any nation insisted on war, there would be war. But at least ever force working against war would have come into play.

One further point must be made. The league proposed should concern itself only with the external relations of the powers. It should make no claim to intervene by force in internal politics. The concert set up in 1815 came to grief mainly because it was part of its object to put down in any country democratic revolutions. From any such intervention the league proposed must refrain. The council of conciliation may, no doubt, recommend changes of internal policy, in cases where the internal conditions of any nation are themselves a constant provocation to international war. No solution, for example, of the problem of the southern Slavs is possible without a complete abandonment of the policy of coercion pursued by the Hungarians toward the Slavs they control. But though the council of conciliation might legitimately point out that fact, and suggest the necessary reforms, if it were putting forward a scheme for the settlement of the whole problem, it must be recognized that the powers may not coerce Hungary in such a matter. The precedent would be too dangerous, for we might have the concert intervening to put down a Socialist or labor revolution. To appeals for armed intervention in the internal policy of any country the league must be deaf, however just the cause of the insurgents. It is a league to prevent international war, and not for any other purpose.


Given a league of peace, a limitation and a reduction of armaments might follow. It hardly seems possible that it can precede. Economic exhaustion, it is true, might lead the powers, after this war, to attempt seriously the limitation which was the immediate object of the first Hague Conference, but which was shelved as impracticable almost without discussion. It is most desirable that they should do so. Yet it seems clear that, whatever basis of limitation were laid down, there would be plots to evade it on the part of one or another power, so long as there is no security against a sudden and unprovoked attack. Such security might be given by a league of peace. I do not see how it could be given otherwise. Nor would a mere limitation of armaments, in itself, prevent such attacks. It would make war less destructive; it could not make it impossible, or even improbable. Desirable, therefore, though this measure may be, it would seem that it would naturally follow rather than precede a league of peace. it is for that reason that I have not given it a prominent place in my proposals.

But in any case governments should cease to employ private armament firms. I am aware that there are technical and economic reasons to be urged against this course. But I believe them to be outweighed by the fact, now sufficiently proved, that the private firms deliberately foment differences between nations, in order to get orders for their goods. An activity so monstrous ought to be destroyed, root and branch, at all and every cost.

The suggestions here put forward are not intended to be more than a sketch of what might be immediately practicable at the peace. They do not profess to represent in themselves an ideal. For political arrangements cannot constitute an ideal; they can at most give it opportunity to realize itself. I hope, therefore, that after meeting the opposition of the skeptics and the practical men I shall not have to meet that of the idealists. Some day, I hope, a Europe will come into being in which there will be neither hostile states nor rival armaments. But the time is not yet. There are many forces working in that direction, if only they had time to do their work. I want to give them breathing space. For what happens, under present arrangements, is that during years of peace the movement of civilization proceeds in its two inseparable aspects of social reform and international organization. Pacifists grow hopeful and active. Commerce, travel, art, literature, science, begin to unite the nations. Armaments appear ridiculous, and wars, what they are, — crimes. But the enemy is watching. Silently, behind the scenes, he has been preparing. In a moment he strikes, and the work of a quarter of a century is undone. Let us be under no illusions. While there is war, there can be no secure progress. If we want society to develop into anything good, we must stop war. That in itself, it is true, will not give us the ideal. But it will remove a main obstacle to it. Change of will, change of ideas, moral and spiritual development, — that is what we want, I agree. But we can no longer afford to rely only on that. For before that has become strong enough to make war impossible, war arrives and destroys the development. A device to avoid war, even though it be, in a sense, only mechanical, is therefore none the less essential. Then, within the peace thus secured, the new Europe may slowly be built up. Otherwise, whose who want no new Europe can always sweep away its rudiments by force. I ask, therefore, the support of the idealists, as much as of practical men. I ask the support of all except those who believe that war itself is the ideal. Of those who believe in peace these are the only ultimate enemies. But they cannot be converted. They must be circumvented. And what I suggest would, I believe, be a way to circumvent them.

  1. I do not endorse this idea of a partition of Turkey, except so far as it may be reasonably held that the populations concerned are favorable to it; but, if the partition is made, I argue that Germany has as good a right to influence as any other power. – The Author.
  2. Between Italy and Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands, the Netherlands and Denmark, Denmark and Portugal, Italy and Argentina, Italy and Mexico, and between the Central American States.