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Declaration of London

war, neutral, british, contraband, capture, enemy and flag

DECLARATION OF LONDON. A diplomatic instrument framed at an interna tional conference held in London in 1909 for the purpose of settling and defining certain rules of maritime law in times of war. The famous Declaration of Paris (q.v.) in 1856 enacted, among other provisions, that a neutral flag covered enemy's merchandise except con traband of war, and that neutral merchandise, with the exception of contraband of war, was not liable to capture under an enemy's flag. Although the 1856 declaration was never ac cepted by the United States and never ratified by Great Britain, both those nations regarded themselves as being bound by it, and those principles were acted upon by all belligerent nations in all wars between 1856 and recent years. By the 14 Hague conventions of 1907 and the Declaration of London two years later further efforts were made to codify maritime laws in war, especially those referring to the capture of enemy property. But ever since 1856, and more especially after 1907 and 1909, there was a steady growth of opposition in Great Britain against these rules governing capture at sea, on the ground that they deprived the British navy of its most effective weapon against an enemy. Under the pressure of public opinion the Brit ish government refused to ratify the 1909 decla ration, for it had been signed without the knowledge either of the people or the Parlia ment. The ministry endeavored to carry the measure by the Naval Prize Bill in 1911; the colonial ministers then assembled in London for the Imperial Conference realized the inher ent danger of the declaration to the empire in case of war and demurred against its ratifica tion. Sir Edward Grey, however, won them over by stating that the Declaration ((might be made better than it is if we could get other powers to agree,' but that it had either to be taken as it stood or left altogether. The House of Lords, however, came to the rescue and rejected the bill. Speaking from knowledge gained under actual war conditions, it is now easy to realize that the Declaration of London would, if acted upon, have been more accept able to a nation like Germany than to a people situated like the British. How it would have impaired British naval power may be gathered from the following examples: It was made easy to break a blockade, for the right of a blockading force to capture a blockade-runner did not cover the whole period of her voyage and was confined to ships of the blockading force; stereotyped lists of contraband and non contraband were drawn up, instead of the old custom of leaving the question to the discretion of the Prize Court; a ship carrying contraband could only be condemned if the contraband formed more than half its cargo; a belligerent warship could destroy a neutral vessel without taking it to a port for judgment ; the transfer of an enemy vessel to a neutral flag was pre sumed to be valid if effected more than 30 days before the outbreak of war; the question of the test of enemy property was left in high confusion; a neutral vessel, if accompanied by any sort of warship of her own flag, was ex empt from search; belligerents in neutral vessels on the high seas were exempt from capture, a provision by which enemy reservists could re turn from foreign lands and rejoin their army; and the captain of a German raider could justify his sinking of British ships instead of taking them to a port for adjudication. Directly

after outbreak of the war a British Order in Council announced on behalf of the Allies that the principles of the Declaration of London, though not binding upon them, would be ad hered to. Successive Orders in Council, insti gated by sheer necessity, altered the Declaration beyond recognition. Owing mainly to the ex istence of the British navy, the German mercan tile marine of 3,000,000 or more net tons dis appeared from the seas. The provisions of the Declaration of London, however, left Germany free to use the shipping of her neutral neigh bors, Norway, with a tonnage of 1,718,000; Sweden with 805,000; Holland with 617,000; Denmark with 548,000, a total of 3,688,000 tons. Finally, an Order in Council, dated 7 July 1916, announced the withdrawal of Great Britain and her allies from the Declaration of London. The note stated that "these rules, while not in all respects improving the safeguards ap forded to neutrals, do not provide belligerents with the most effective means of exercising their admitted rights,' and "that they could not stand the strain Imposed by the test of rapidly changing conditions and tendencies which could not have been foreseen.' Consult Cohen, A., Declaration of (London 1911).