The Right of Conquest: The Acquisition of Territory by Force in International Law and Practice

The Right of Conquest: The Acquisition of Territory by Force in International Law and Practice

The Right of Conquest: The Acquisition of Territory by Force in International Law and Practice

The Right of Conquest: The Acquisition of Territory by Force in International Law and Practice

Synopsis

This is an enquiry into the place of the right of conquest in international relations since the early sixteenth century, and the causes and consequences of its demise in the twentieth century. It was a recognized principle of international law until the early years of this century that a state that emerges victorious in a war is entitled to claim sovereignty over territory which it has taken possession. Sharon Korman shows how the First World War--which led to the rise of self-determination and to calls for the prohibition of way--prompted the reconstruction of international law and the consequent abolition of the title by conquest. her conclusion, which highglights the merits and degects of the modern law as a vehicle for discouraging war by denying the title to the conqueror, challenges many of the assumptions that have come to constitute part of the conventional wisdom of our times. This is a study, not of international law narrowly conceived, but of the place of a changing legal principle in international history and the contemporary world.

Excerpt

Before the Russian Revolution of March 1917 had transformed the whole relation of the belligerents to the national question, it was generally assumed that annexations of territory would follow the conclusion of the First World War, as they had followed the conclusion of previous wars, on the basis of the right of conquest, without regard to nationality or the wishes of the populations concerned. On the Allied side, this assumption was reflected in the secret treaties of 1915-17, which provided for the post-war distribution of enemy territory in the event of an Allied victory. the annexationist schemes embodied in these treaties- envisaging the partition of the Ottoman Empire between Russia, Great Britain, France, and Italy, and vast accessions of territory transferring millions of foreigners to the rule of Italy, Romania, Japan, France, and Russia at the expense of the Austro-Hungarian and German Empires--were characteristic of an outlook which saw enemy territory as 'booty', or legally disposable property, to be acquired by the victors as the spoils of war.

However, the historic events of the spring of 1917--the revolution in Russia, the entry of the United States into the war, the ensuing call for a peace without annexations, and the proclamation of the right of national self-determination-created an entirely new situation; above all, they made the old-style annexationist policies of the belligerents impossible to sustain. For such blatant expansionism (or old-fashioned imperialism) was inconsistent with the new moral tone in which international relations were now being conducted.

One of the major factors which contributed to this new climate of opinion was the fall of the Tsar in March 1917. This had led to the establishment of a revolutionary government in Russia . . .

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