THE NEUTRALITY OF BELGIUM
INTERNATIONAL OBLIGATIONS OF NEUTRALIZED BELGIUM
Belgium has come into existence as a perpetually neutral state under the guarantee of the five Great Powers. She has continued to be a neutralized state even though the Quintuple guarantee gradually became a dead letter.
This historical fact is contrary to the notions diligently spread by certain apologists of Belgium who assert that the legal status of perpetual neutrality presupposes, and is unthinkable without, a treaty of guarantee. Such notions, however, have no foundation in international law. Mr. Descamps, one of the highest authorities on questions of this kind, has well established that there are three kinds of perpetual neutrality, namely: either imposed upon a state, without its free consent, by outside influences; or voluntarily adopted by a country, and pronounced as its state-maxim; or, finally, conventional. Thus only one of the three kinds of perpetual neutrality rests on convention; and only part of this rests on guarantee, the same authority subdividing conventional perpetual neutrality into recognized neutrality and guaranteed neutrality.(128)
Applying the above terminology to Belgium's neutrality, it may be said that when the Quintuple guarantee ceased to be of binding force, the original status of guaranteed neutrality was changed into a status of recognized neutrality.
At all events, not only has Belgium never ceased to profess her perpetual neutrality, but also the Governments of Europe, either expressly or tacitly, have recognized that status, without any renewal of the original guarantee on the part of the Great Powers having taken place.
As mentioned before, in recent years, especially since the annexation of the Congo Free State, the status of Belgium's neutrality grew increasingly doubtful and caused a measure of uneasiness to its own government. It decided therefore to ask the Cabinets of London and Berlin, in an unofficial manner, for assurances regarding Belgium's neutrality.
If, at that time, Germany and Great Britain could have been seriously considered guarantors of Belgium's neutrality, such a request would have been short of impertinence. But, according to the reports on those démarches, it was not looked at in that light, either in Brussels, or in London, or in Berlin.
As far as the démarche in London is concerned, it does not seem to call for serious consideration. Sir Edward Grey's alleged answer to the effect that England would surely never be the first to violate Belgium's neutrality, may safely be discounted, after the documentary evidence regarding the declaration of Colonel Bridges that England "would have landed under all circumstances." (129)
Concerning the identical démarche in Berlin, the Belgian Gray Book contains two documents which are adduced for the contention that Germany had reaffirmed her obligations as a guarantor of Belgium's neutrality in recent years. In the former, the Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs states that, upon his request, the German Chancellor had, in 1911, sent him word through the Imperial Envoy at Brussels to the effect that "Germany had no intention of violating our (i.e., Belgium's neutrality."(130)
The latter document reports on the contents of an article published in the semi-official North German Gazette concerning a non-public debate of the Budget Committee of the German Reichstag in 1913, in the course of which the German Secretary of State is credited with the statement: "The neutrality of Belgium is determined by international conventions, and Germany is resolved to respect these conventions"; whilst the Prussian Minister of War is reported to have declared: "Germany will not lose sight of the fact that Belgium neutrality is guaranteed by international treaties." (131)
Supposing that the statements of the three high German functionaries are really authentic, it would yet be difficult, even for the most searching eye, to detect in them any declaration or admission to the effect that the German Empire considered herself a guarantor of Belgium's neutrality. No claim whatsoever was made that Germany was under any obligation in that respect! Those statements might have emanated just as well from the representatives of any other government---of the Dutch, for instance, which never was a guarantor of Belgium's neutrality either. They amounted merely to an official assertion of Germany's being aware that, as a consequence of certain international conventions, Belgium was a neutralized country, which she had never ceased to profess to be; and that the German Government was just as much "resolved to respect those conventions," as it expected Belgium to live up to her particular international obligations. The only one of those three statements of diplomatic consequence was the message of the Imperial Chancellor to the Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is devoid of any acknowledgment, of any reference even, as to specific treaty obligations incumbent on Germany with regard to Belgium's neutrality. If there could have been any question of Germany's being a guarantor of Belgium's neutrality, in 1911, Dr. von Bethmann Hollweg's message, being totally silent on that point, would probably have been made the subject of an official demand for an explanation, instead of causing the Belgian Minister that high degree of satisfaction which he specially mentions in his report.
Belgium's status as a neutralized country resulting originally from the Quintuple Treaty, her international obligations have to be derived from that instrument.
As for the obligations of Belgium under the Quintuple Treaty, they were, as repeatedly mentioned, not confined to the perpetual neutrality, but included a great many other duties. One important stipulation is contained in Art. XIV of the "annexed" Articles which reads:
The Port of Antwerp, in conformity with the stipulation of the 15th Article of the Treaty of Paris of the 30th of May, 1814, shall continue to be solely a port of commerce.
The world knows how this "sacred" treaty obligation has been kept,---extensively fortified since 1859, Antwerp was in 1914 one of the first strongholds of the world, a true "Gibraltar of the North," to use a phrase of Prince Talleyrand.
As for the perpetual neutrality of Belgium, it has been sufficiently shown what singular stress the framers of the treaties laid on the words "within her limits," contained in the neutralization article. It is quite clear that the guarantee of Belgium's perpetual neutrality was only assumed with the strict understanding that no change would be effected with regard to those limits carefully defined in the Twenty-Four Articles. Those limits, however, have been repeatedly altered without the consent of the guarantors. Twice, by the Belgian-Dutch Treaty of November 5, 1842, and by the Convention of Maestricht of August 8, 1843, the boundaries of Belgium underwent various changes which, although not of great practical consequence, were yet contrary to the stipulations referred to. Of much greater importance was the extension of the boundaries of Belgium by the absorption of the Congo Free State which, as already stated, was generally considered incompatible with Belgium's status as a neutralized country, and as a de-facto abrogation of her perpetual neutrality.(132)
There can be no doubt that any one of those infractions of the Twenty-Four Articles annexed to the Quintuple Treaty would have fully entitled any of the guarantors to consider the Quintuple guarantee void and extinct. For, as G. B. Davis says: "Any change in the guaranteed treaty, without the consent of the guarantor, annuls the obligation." (133)
Besides, any other country, for that matter, might have taken the stand that Belgium was no longer a perpetually neutral state. Signs are not lacking that Belgium was fully conscious of this herself. just for that reason, doubtless, she asked the German Government for a reassuring declaration that it still regarded her as a neutral country.
However, the perpetual neutrality originally imposed on Belgium by the treaties of 1831 and 1839 and continually professed by her till the outbreak of the present war, has been violated by her not only by the above stated open transgressions, but, in an even graver manner, by under-handed dealings, making the legal institution of perpetual neutrality a mere mockery!
To realize fully the lawlessness of Belgium's course of action with regard to the military "conversations," discussed in Chapter IV, it is necessary to take into account the duties incumbent upon perpetually neutral states.
The Quintuple Treaty, declaring Belgium a perpetually neutral state, had stipulated, in a merely general way, that she should be "bound to observe such neutrality toward all other states." The treaty did not define those obligations in detail; and, whilst there are more or less positive rules with regard to the obligations of countries which, at the outbreak of hostilities between other countries, declare themselves temporarily neutral, there is no international agreement which has established detailed regulations concerning the duties of states which are permanently neutral even in times of peace, i.e., "neutralized." Nor would it, in view of the complexity of the functions of a modern state, even of the neutralized order, be possible to set up codified regulations with regard to what such a state is at liberty to do and what it cannot do without impairing its neutrality. It is, in every case, a question of fact whether an action of such a state is in keeping with its status or otherwise, no matter whether that status is specially guaranteed or not.
One of the most prominent of the relatively few authorities on international law who have laid down the doctrine on those obligations is the Belgian Descamps, who shows a natural tendency toward minimizing the duties of neutralized states, to which class his own country belongs. He writes:
"Among the acts to which a state, in virtue of its independence, is free to resort, there is one of the facultative order and of a particularly compromising nature which consists in taking sides, in case of war between other countries, for the one or the other belligerent. Perpetual neutrality positively excludes from the sphere of licit action of the neutral state such an act, no matter whether it presents itself in the form of an alliance or in any other way. In this respect, therefore, it puts a limitation on the sovereignty of that state, within a clearly defined sphere."(134)
The French lawyer V. G. Wampach formulates the general principles guiding these questions in the following way:
"International law knows, in times of peace, neither belligerents nor neutrals. However, perpetual neutrality produces, nevertheless, obligations of a rather negative character---obligations of not doing things (des obligations de ne pas faire), the observation of which imposes itself in times of peace. Perpetually neutral states must, in times of peace, abstain from calling into existence or from allowing to come into existence juridical situations which would offer obstacles to the rigorous observation of the duties of neutrality in times of war.
"The perpetually neutral states must, in times of peace, oppose the formation of any conventional bond (doivent s'opposer à l'établissement de tout lien conventionnel) as well as of any actual or legal situation (situation de fait ou de droit) the consequences of which would be incompatible with the strict observation of their duties of neutrality."(135)
The English authority on international law, Professor Oppenheim of the University of London, remarks:
"The condition of neutralization is that the neutralized state abstains from any hostile action and further from any international engagement which could indirectly drag it into hostilities against any other state."(136)
I have already quoted, in connection with this matter, the views of the French Professor de Lapradelle, who states that not only the right of contracting alliances is denied to neutralized countries,(137) but even the capacity of concluding international agreements of, politically, such innocent nature as customs unions; and I have also mentioned how the London Times interpreted Belgium's obligations as a neutralized country.(138)
On the strength of these authoritative views on the obligations of a neutral state, there can be no doubt that Belgium, by allowing her military authorities to enter into the closest confidential relations with the military authorities of Great Britain, committed a grave violation of her professed status as a perpetually neutral country, no matter whether those "conversations" were followed up by an actual written treaty of alliance, or not.
As already pointed out above, the Ducarne-Barnardiston and Jungbluth-Bridges "conversations" bear a very marked resemblance to those other "conversations" between the military and naval authorities of Great Britain and France which were carried on for about six years without the knowledge of the British Cabinet. They constituted no formal treaty, duly submitted to Parliament, and yet were, in point of fact, the guiding principle for the disposition of the British and French naval forces as well as for the direction of the European policy of the two countries. It is those Anglo-French "conversations" which Mr. E. D. Morel, a prominent English author, in a letter to the Executive of the Birkenhead Liberal Association, dated October 5, 1914, has characterized in the following manner:
"While negative assurances were given to the House of Commons, positive acts diametrically opposed to these assurances had been concerted by the War Office and the Admiralty with the authority of the Foreign Office. All the obligations of an open alliance had been incurred by the most dangerous and subtle of methods; incurred in such a way as to leave the Cabinet free to deny the existence of any formal parchment recording them, and free to represent its Policy at home and abroad as one of contractual detachment from the rival Continental group."(139)
This criticism of the Anglo-French conversations applies, without any doubt, in an equal degree to the Anglo-Belgian conversations. No formal treaty which would have had to be submitted to the British Parliament and the Belgian Chamber, was drawn up, because such a step would have meant an official repudiation of the principle of Belgium's perpetual neutrality, on the part of the contracting Powers. Yet, in substance, the Anglo-Belgian conversations were such that, in the event of a European war, Belgium was as little a free agent as England was. That at least one prominent personage of the Belgian War Office has considered the Ducarne-Barnardiston conversations as a formal military convention between Belgium and Britain, is evidenced by the fact that, in the secret archives of Brussels, the original draft of General Ducarne's report of those conversations was found in a cover bearing the significant inscription "Conventions anglo-belges."(140)
However, no matter whether those conversations constitute in themselves a secret Anglo-Belgian alliance or not, and no matter whether the conversations between the Anglo-Belgian military authorities were followed up by similar secret arrangements between the political departments of the two countries or otherwise, the contents of the "Brussels Documents" furnish complete proof that Belgium had secretly surrendered most important secrets of her General Army Staff to one foreign Power---an action which was one-sided, i.e., un-neutral, in the highest degree!
In an official statement without date, entitled, "Observation de la neutralité belge,"(141) the Belgian Government has taken exception to the German accusations. In this statement the obvious attempt is made to cause the impression that Belgium had been ready to defend her neutrality against all sides, and that this broad question had been the subject of the Ducarne-Barnardiston conversations. General Ducarne, therefore, is represented as having stated that Belgium was ready to defend herself "at Liége against Germany, at Namur against France, and at Antwerp against England."
However, one will search Ducarne's report in vain for such a trivial assertion! What the said General, who was in charge of the very intricate plans of mobilization of the Belgian Army, discussed with the British military agent was a detailed secret plan for concerted action of the Belgian and British forces, in a certain contingency! The Belgian Government finds these conversations "very natural," on account of certain "legitimate" apprehensions that Germany might violate Belgium's neutrality---a point which will be discussed later on, Moreover, the Belgian Government affirms that the said conversations were not followed up by a convention or entente, and attempts to prove this by the very fact that the Jungbluth-Bridges conversations of 1912 were, obviously, on the same point where they had been left, six years before. However, this proves nothing of the kind. The latter document was not found at the Belgian War office, with the conversations of 1906, in which case one might be tempted to believe that the two constituted the complete "dossier" on this matter. It was found in the Belgian Foreign Department, which circumstance is in itself a proof that, in 1912, the Belgian political authorities were perfectly familiar with the Anglo-Belgian military conversations.
Moreover, the fact that the German Government has not found---thus far at least, has not made public---any documentary proof with regard to conversations between the competent Belgian and British authorities referring to the years between 1906 and 1912, is not the slightest evidence that such conversations did not take place. On the contrary, the fact that, in 1912, the British Colonel Bridges, without any preliminaries whatsoever, transmits to the Belgian General Jungbluth the information, not exactly customary between a Chief of the General Staff and a foreign Military Attaché, that his country has in readiness 160,000 troops for a campaign on the Continent, shows a degree of intimacy which plainly indicates that those two officers must have had conversations on the same subject before. Very likely such conversations had taken place every year since 1906, as it is necessary for allied or otherwise co-operating armies to readjust their plans for concerted action after the annual revision of the plans for mobilization of their respective forces. In the statement under discussion, the Belgian Government raises the question: "Was Belgium obliged to give notice of those conversations to the guaranteeing Powers?" It answers this question in the negative, pointing out that those conversations had not the slightest political significance.
In contradiction to this view of the Belgian Government, the King of the Belgians evidently was of the opinion that such notice was necessary. In an interview granted to Mr. Henry N. Hall, correspondent of the New York World, published in that paper's issue of March 22, 1915, King Albert is reported to have stated:
"No one in Belgium ever gave the name of Anglo-Belgian conventions to the letter of General Ducarne to the Minister of War detailing the entirely informal conversations with the British military attaché, but I was so desirous of avoiding even the semblance of anything that might be construed as un-neutral that I had the matters of which it is now sought to make so much communicated to the German military attaché in Brussels."
Strange as it must seem that the King of the Belgians made this most important statement only in March---although the contents of the "Brussels Documents" had been made public in Berlin as early as October 14th and fac-simile reproductions of some of the documents had been given out on November 25th---there can be no doubt, nevertheless, that if the contents of those military conversations had been officially communicated to the German military attaché at Brussels, such line of action would put a totally different aspect upon the said secret arrangements. However, were such communications really made? Nobody will date to challenge the word of a monarch who is known to be incapable of an untruth. Therefore, it seems beyond doubt that King Albert actually did give orders to that effect, at least some time after he ascended the throne, in December, 1909. But it seems equally beyond doubt that his orders in this respect were not carried out and, probably for this reason, not even alluded to in the above-mentioned official statement of the Belgian Government. For it is positively asserted by the German Government that no such communications ever reached the German military attaché in Brussels. The North German Gazette of April 22, 1915, published the following official communiqué:
"According to newspaper reports, the New York World, on the basis of an alleged utterance of the King of the Belgians, asserts that he had himself caused the German Military attaché in Brussels to be informed of the conversations which have taken place between General Ducarne and Lieutenant-Colonel Barnardiston in 1906. In view of this assertion of the said paper, we hereby state, on the basis of official investigations, that no such information has been transmitted to any of the German Military Attachés who have been on duty at Brussels, since 1905."
Also the British Government which, at first, had attempted to minimize the portent of the Anglo-Belgian military conversations by styling them "merely academic," has subsequently seen fit to refer to this matter in an official statement.
By a communiqué to The Times of January 26, 1915, in reply to certain utterances of the German Chancellor, Sir Edward Grey, whilst admitting the fact that those secret relations between England and Belgium existed, attempted to justify them in the following way:
"If the German Chancellor wishes to know why there were conversations on military subjects between British and Belgian officers, he may find one reason in a fact well known to him---namely, that Germany was establishing an elaborate network of strategical railways, leading from the Rhine to the Belgian frontier, through a barren, thinly-populated tract---railways deliberately constructed to permit of a sudden attack upon Belgium such as was carried out in August last.(142) This fact alone was enough to justify any communications between Belgium and other Powers on the footing that there would be no violation of Belgian neutrality unless it were previously violated by another Power. On no other footing did Belgium ever have such communications."
The British Secretary thus takes the stand of other apologists of Belgium who, studiously suppressing the fact that any sort of secret political dealings with foreign Powers were unlawful for her, try to excuse her relations with England by arguing that she happened to have her suspicions concerning an invasion of her territory only in the direction of Germany, and that subsequent events had fully borne out how well founded her apprehensions had been.
Even if such should really have been the case, however, it would not exculpate in the least the unneutral attitude of the Belgian Government, whose particular position made it, to repeat the words of The Times, simply "impracticable"---it would be more correct to say unlawful---"to enter into any conversation or arrangement, military or other, which would insure her the rapid and effective support of her English friends," no matter what her apprehensions were!
Besides, the despatch of Baron Greindl to the Belgian Foreign Department(143) clearly shows that that high Belgian official, at least, had apprehensions in quite a different direction; and it is not probable that his were isolated views. That statesman, in 1911, plainly indicated the course of action which, if adopted by the Belgian Government, though it could not have blotted out the five intervening years of secret un-neutral dealings with England, would have given Belgium a new claim for being regarded as a neutral country.
Nobody can blame the Belgians that, during the years of ever increasing political tension, preceding the war, they felt increasingly uneasy for the safety of their country, in the event of a European conflict. They knew as well as anybody else that, as far back as 1870, the old Quintuple Guarantee had not been an effective means of safeguarding their neutrality, but that it had required a special measure on the part of England to obtain that purpose. If, in consequence, Belgium, with the official knowledge of her neighbors, had addressed her British protector with the request to renew, in time of peace, for periods of say from five to ten years, those treaties which England had concluded with France and Prussia, in 1870, the situation would have been materially improved. Either Belgium would have obtained a new working guarantee of her neutrality, or she would have gained freedom from the fetters of neutrality and, with that, the possibility of an open alliance with whom she chose.
Another course of action open to her would have been to make openly the same kind of detailed military arrangements which she made with England, in view of a possible German invasion of her territory, with Germany as well, in the event that either France should invade her soil or England despatch an expeditionary force there---"en tout état de cause." The one-sided course, however, which Belgium chose, no matter whether any concern for her safety prompted her to it or otherwise, was the course which legally she was not allowed to take!
According to the rules of international law, Belgium ceased to be a perpetually neutral country in 1906.
If, as England pretends, her guarantee under the Quintuple Treaty was still valid in 1906, she is guilty of the violation of a "sacred" treaty. If, according' to my contention, that guarantee had ceased to exist for her as well as for the other original guarantors, hers is the blame for having instigated the government of a professedly neutral state to abuse the institution of perpetual neutrality, in a plot against another country.
As for the Belgian Government, it has, by its arrangements with England, not only violated the status of perpetual neutrality of Belgium, but is, besides, guilty of a grave breach of the Belgian Constitution. A clause of that instrument reads:
To foreign troops the entrance into the service of the Kingdom or the occupation of or passing through its territory can only be granted by a law.
According to this provision of the fundamental law of the country, the Belgian Government which, since 1906, had been preparing for the entrance and the passage of English (and most likely also of French) troops, was bound to lay an adequate bill, permitting such action, before the Belgian parliament. The fact that it failed to do so adds to its responsibility for its un-neutral policy the guilt of a grave infringement of its constitutional duties.
Chapter Ten: The Right of Self-Preservation
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