Monday, August 4, 2014

A Legal Framework for World Peace

Featuring William Howard Taft

Previously on Taft’s Treaties

Time: 1912
Place: The White House

The treaties go further by providing for the creation of a Joint High Commission, to which shall be referred, for impartial and conscientious investigation, any controversy between this Government, on one hand, and Great Britain or France, on the other hand, before such a controversy has been submitted to an arbitral body from which there is no appeal.

And, assuming that governments, like individuals, do not always display, while a dispute is in progress, that calmness of judgment and equipoise which are so consistent with righteous deportment, provision is made for the passion to subside and the blood to cool, by deferring the reference of such controversy to the Joint High Commission for one year. This affords an opportunity for diplomatic adjustment without an appeal to the commission.

The plan of submission to a joint high commission, composed of three citizens or subjects of one party and the same number of another, is a concession to the fear of being too tightly bound to an adverse decision made manifest in the objections of the Senate committee, because it may well be supposed that two out of three citizens or subjects of one party would not decide that an issue was arbitrable under the treaty against the contention of their own country unless it were reasonably clear that the issue was justiciable under the first clause of the treaty.

Ultimately, I hope, we shall come to submit our quarrels to an international arbitral court that will have power finally to decide upon the limits of its own jurisdiction, and in which the form of procedure by the complaining country shall be fixed, and the obligations of the country complained of, to answer in a form prescribed, shall be recognized and definite, and the judgment shall be either acquiesced in, or enforced. These treaties are a substantial step, but a step only, in that direction, and the feature of the binding character of the decision of the Joint High Commission as to the arbitral character of the question is the most distinctive advance in the right direction. Do not let us give up this feature without using every legitimate effort to retain it.

An understanding of the term _justiciable_ may be essential to a full comprehension of the significance and scope of these treaties. Questions involving boundary lines, the rights of fishermen in waters bordering upon countries with contiguous territory, the use of water-power, the erection of structures on frontiers, outrages upon aliens, are examples of justiciable subjects, and these are made susceptible of adjudication and decision under these treaties. It is now proposed to establish a permanent method of disposing of such questions without preliminary quarrels and menaces whose result may never be foreseen.

Certain questions of governmental or traditional policy are by their very nature excluded from the consideration of the Joint High Commission, or even the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. Such specific exemptions it is not necessary to set forth in the treaties. Objection has been made that under the first section of the pending pacts it might be claimed that we would be called upon to submit to arbitration of the Monroe Doctrine, or our right to exclude foreign peoples from our shores, or the question of the validity of southern bonds issued in reconstruction days.

The Monroe Doctrine is not a justiciable question, but one of purely governmental policy which we have followed for nearly a century, and in which the countries of Europe have generally acquiesced. With respect to the exclusion of immigrants, it is a principle of international law that every country may admit only those whom it chooses. This is a subject of domestic policy in which no foreign country can interfere unless it is covered by a treaty, and then it may become properly a matter of treaty construction.

With reference to the right to involve the United States in a controversy over the obligation of certain Southern States to pay bonds issued during reconstruction, which have been repudiated, it is sufficient to say that the pending treaties affect only cases hereafter arising, and the cases of the Southern bonds all arose years ago.

After a time, if our treaties stand the test of experience and prove useful, it is probable that all the greatest Powers on earth will come under obligation to arbitrate their differences with other nations. Naturally, the smaller nations will do likewise, and then universal arbitration will be more of an actuality than an altruistic dream.

The evil of war, and what follows in its train, I need not dwell upon. We could not have a higher object than the adoption of any proper and honorable means which would lessen the chance of armed conflicts. Men endure great physical hardships in camp and on the battle-field. In our Civil War the death-roll in the Union Army alone reached the appalling aggregate of 359,000. But the suffering and perils of the men in the field, distressing as they are to contemplate, are slight in comparison with the woes and anguish of the women who are left behind. The hope that husband, brother, father, son may be spared the tragic end which all soldiers risk, when they respond to their country's call, buoys them up in their privations and heart-breaking loneliness. But theirs is the deepest pain, for the most poignant suffering is mental rather than physical. No pension compensates for the loss of husband, son, or father. The glory of death in battle does not feed the orphaned children, nor does the pomp and circumstance of war clothe them. The voice of the women of America should speak for peace.

The End

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