LEGAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE BREAK-
As in private life an individual who, under the plea of dire necessity, violates another person's rights, if his action confines itself to the strictly necessary, is free from punishment but, nevertheless, liable to make good any damage caused thereby, so also in international life, if a state unavoidably violates another state's rights, it has to make due reparation. This reparation consists not only in an indemnity for material damage caused by the unavoidable action, but, especially, in an apology to the violated state.
The official note of the
German Government addressed to the Belgian Government on
Belgian frontier. In particularly entreating language, the Imperial
Government emphasized that the proposed advance of its troops through
Supposing that Belgium's neutrality had not been impaired, what would have been her rights as opposed to the German right of invading Belgian territory, to forestall a threatening French attack, in self-defense?
German troops through her territory. On the other
Some writers declare it open to doubt whether Germany's invasion of Belgium, with no other object but a passage through her confines in order to reach the northern parts of France, and after formal assurances as to Belgium's independence and integrity had been given, constituted ipso jure a breach of Belgium's neutrality.
At all events, the question whether, under those particular circumstances, Belgium should submit to the German invasion or offer a hopeless armed resistance, was not of such a nature that it could be decided only from the viewpoint of national honor without giving the fullest consideration to the
national interests of the Belgian people. For to the statesman who realizes to the fullest his high responsibility toward his people, not the honor but the welfare of the country is, and must be, the guiding principle of his decisions. Salus publica suprema lex.
History records a number
of cases where neutral countries have submitted to the passage of belligerent
troops through their territory without resorting to armed resistance. As one of the best known instances may be adduced the case of
In a similar manner, King Albert of the Belgians might have acted in 1914, following the example set
192 THE NEUTRALITY OF
by his grandfather, who, in a situation far more painful to Belgian pride, declared to the Powers in 1831 that he "yielded to the imperious law of necessity."1
An English writer, Mr. C. H. Norman, affirms:
This contention falls to
the ground as the Convention referred to, signed at
1 See page 49.
3 Belgian Gray Book, No. 44.
where all the belligerents are parties to this Convention, which was not the case in the present war, several belligerents, notably England, having failed to ratify it.1 If, therefore, some doubt may have existed whether Belgium was entitled to invoke the said Convention, on August 4th, England's intervention in the war, at of the same day, made the position of Belgium as a belligerent perfectly clear.
The subsequent discovery, however, that Belgium had secretly renounced her status of perpetual neutrality long before the outbreak of the present war, has further cleared the legal situation in so far as now it is quite obvious that Belgium became a belligerent in the moment when she offered armed resistance to the Germany army—with all the consequences which the status of belligerents entails.
The fact that her perpetual neutrality has failed
Whatever merits her status of perpetual neutrality
may have had for
1 J. B. Scott, Texts of the Peace Conferences at the Hague, Boston (1908), page 23 and following, and F. P. Myers, The Record of The Hague, Boston, 1914.
came into existence as an independent state, there can
be no doubt that, in our times, she had fully outgrown it. If
However, since she maintained it, it was a very
gross abuse that, in concert with
England's claim that she has taken up arms against Germany to fulfil a "solemn international obligation," in defense of that perpetual neutrality of Belgium, may find favor before the House of Pharisees, but cannot be considered before the Forum of History and International Law.
Future historians will perhaps record it as one of England's most extraordinary achievements in the present war that her statesmen succeeded so far beyond expectation in making a credulous public believe that Old England had gone into this war for high ethical motives, she who by her secret dealings with "neutral" Belgium has added a rather inglorious chapter to the history of British diplomacy.