If the wisdom of man were perfect, he would discover and formulate perfect laws for the government of nations; but imperfections are inevitable, and an unwise law will check progress, lead to abuse, and finally be disregarded or replaced by a better. But we must have laws for the nations, since without them international intercourse were impossible. The laws which are adopted must not be so rigid or so extensive as to exceed the juridical experience of the law-givers. In other words, it is not yet possible to regulate too definitely the whole of the relations of the states, and the rules which are adopted will be found to be more practical if they have a certain margin for play or a certain room for variation in the manner in which they are fulfilled.

The system applied by states in practice will be found to coincide with that we have outlined, reasoning abstractly. The necessary play or elasticity we find to lie mainly in the discretion which each independent state at present enjoys as to the manner in which it will fulfil its international obligations.

This play or elasticity in the enforcement of international law is an inevitable consequence of the system of self-execution, sometimes less accurately called self-help, and partly for this reason, perhaps, this archaic method of procedure is still preserved in international relations. At one time, before the juridical wisdom of our ancestors made it possible to form a more complete governmental organization, we used to employ the same system in our civil affairs.

An independent state sufficiently powerful to benefit from this system of self-execution is given a great opportunity to follow its own judgment in determining in the first place what its international rights and obligations are, and in the second place how and when these obligations should be fulfilled and these rights maintained. A great state is thus able to serve its selfish ends, and in the guise of fulfilling and defending the law to find a pretext for the protection of its own interests. Furthermore a state may enter into agreements with other powers in regard to the manner in which rights will be pressed, and this again may serve to foster or protect its special interests.

The recognition of a new state or government affords a good example: When the inhabitants of an area sufficiently large and advantageously situated for the practical purposes of maintaining national independence are organized under a government firmly established in its control of the territory in question, and when this government is capable and willing to fulfil the obligations of an independent state, international law declares that this state which exists de facto should be recognized de jure as a member of the international society. The denial of recognition to the de facto state, possessing de facto qualifications for the recognition of independence, may and usually will result in a recourse to reprisals for the purpose of enforcing its right. It is evident, however, that the decision as to when the qualifications requisite for statehood have been fulfilled cannot be set down with absolute precision, consequently it is free to every state to give or withhold its recognition, and in reaching this decision, it may be guided by selfish considerations.

The course which a state adopts for the protection of its national interests and the particular interpretation of international rights and obligations, which national sympathy or national interests dictate, are spoken of as policies of the government in question. Sometimes when they are persistently followed, notwithstanding changes in the personnel of the government, these policies are said to be national or state policies. Otherwise, they are merely temporary policies, what we call administration policies.

President Wilson, for example, did his utmost to commit the American Government to a policy of continued participation in the settlement of European differences. Under President Harding, the Executive and Legislative branches of the Government, so far as the latter has a part in the determination of our foreign policy, seem to concur in their firm resolve to adhere to the traditional policy of the United States, and to avoid in as far as possible participating in the settlement of European political controversies. Enough has been said to indicate how much room is still left for the discretional or political action of each independent state. Within these limits, the state which is sufficiently powerful to make use of this liberty of action may determine the policy which it will adopt, and in a large measure it may be expected to choose this policy with a view of protecting its important interests.

The condition which we have just described means that many of the rights and duties of states are still imperfect in the sense that their fulfilment depends upon the will of the interested parties and impartiality is not sufficiently guaranteed by an effective sanction. Obviously this is a defect, but it is one which cannot be remedied until the nations are sufficiently wise to per feet their law and until they are willing whenever the occasion arises to make the sacrifices necessary to ensure its enforcement.


It might perhaps be thought that the place allowed to governmental discretion in the fulfilment of the state's international obligations and the insistence upon its rights would afford an ample opportunity for the powers to protect their interests, without any departure from the strict limits of legal action. Nevertheless, the states enjoy still other means to guard over and to foster interests which appear of a sufficient importance to warrant the effort. Every powerful state makes use of its political influence to induce its neighbors, especially its weaker neighbors, to adopt the course which the powerful state believes will prove most advantageous to itself. This influence is, as we have said, especially potent with the smaller states, who fear to give offense. To ignore the suggestion from a great state may cause the latter to seek at the first opportunity a pretext for employing its superior force against the weaker, or - what is more likely to occur - it may lend its influence covertly to support the internal enemies of the government until they overthrow and replace it with one more pliant to the foreign will. Even though the great state do no more than to insist upon the meticulous observance of the letter of its strict rights in all their relations, the resulting inconveniences and annoyance might prove intolerable for the weaker state. The continuance of international intercourse always presupposes a neighborly spirit of give and take. Whenever a great state relies upon its superior force to make its weaker neighbor line up to the strictest interpretation of its rights while it continues to allow itself the habitual latitude in fulfilling its reciprocal obligations, the weaker state must surely yield unless it find as champion some other powerful state.

The smaller and weaker states recognize this situation before matters proceed too far and yield with good grace to a reasonable dictation in matters of policy whenever they find themselves without the counterbalancing support of a rival great state. The practical consequence is to bring the smaller states within the political orbit of their most powerful neighbor. This mutual bond of protection and dependence offers a large opportunity to the paramount state for the exercise of political direction in all matters which in its judgment are important for the health and growth of this political affiliation.

It will be evident to all how large a place political action still holds in the intercourse of independent states, equal though they be as regards the rights which have been recognized as a part of their common - that is international - law.


Since the object of international law is the preservation and prosperity of the society of states, it follows that the rights which it has recognized for the protection of each state are subject always to the restriction or proviso that they be not used to the detriment of the others.

Otherwise stated, each state is obligated not to insist upon its own right when it will thereby cause a disproportionate injury to the interests and prosperity of others. The conflict between the opposing rights or between rights and interests is to be settled on a basis of a reasonable compromise. Just what this compromise is in any particular case is a matter of fact to be determined by the states concerned in the same manner as the determination as to the grounds of intervention previously discussed. When either state proves unreasonable and gives evidence of an uncompromising spirit such as to prevent the adjustment of the conflict, a right of intervention upon this ground arises.

It is not the right to decide when the protection of interests requires recourse to force which is the ground of this action, for that is a matter of individual or subjective appreciation which cannot override the right of another state to insist upon the respect of its sovereignty and independence. But when these rights of sovereignty or independence are abused, there arises an offence against the common interest of all the states. For the common interest and prosperity depend upon the prosperity of the individual member. If one member state refuses to depart somewhat from its technical or formal rights of sovereignty and independence in order to facilitate for a sister state the conservation of its important interests, there is an abuse, an antisocial uncompromising spirit which is a justifiable ground of intervention.

It has long been recognized as a precept of international morality that every state should evince a spirit of reasonable compromise for the adjustment of all controversies which threaten to disturb the peace of nations, but the study of international relations shows that this obligation is something more than a precept of morality the fulfilment of which is left to the conscience of the separate states. It is a legal duty rightly recognized as a rule of international law, since it meets successfully the tests of its jural character, in that it is observed by the states in their practice and enforced by appropriate action. When once we perceive that the obligation to agree to a reasonable compromise is a rule of international law which all the states are obligated to intervene to enforce, we have brought every political controversy within legal limits and we are able to set bounds to the hitherto uncontrolled freedom of political action.

The recognition of the principle of the obligation to compromise one's rights and interests upon a reasonable basis to preserve the peace brings all recourse to force under the domain of law, and permits other states to counter-intervene against a state that has shown an uncompromising attitude or abusively insisted upon its rights. Gradually through experience and through a better understanding of the principles of political science it will be possible to lessen the uncertainty in regard to the basis of a reasonable adjustment.

To those who would reject this principle of intervention to enforce respect for the right of reasonable adjustment we can only point out that the alternative is to permit every state in the exercise of its full and unrestricted discretion to decide when it is necessary to employ force for the defense of its rights and interests and to decide for itself to what degree it will push its insistence thereon. This is the doctrine of perfect rights, and covers for those who accept it the intolerable doctrine of absolute necessity, that is, the right of every state to disregard any right where it believes it necessary for the preservation of its existence. What rational being will discard a system admittedly imperfect, it is true, as regards its definition, but capable of gradual improvement and ultimate perfection, for a system which enthrones brute force and recognizes doctrines of international anarchy?