TRADE AND WAR: THE NEUTRALITY OF COMMERCE IN THE INTER-STATE SYSTEM
International Conference, 22-24 August 2007
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
This conference is a joint initiative by the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights, and the Erasmus Center for Early-Modern Studies, Rotterdam. Its objective is to understand the late 18th and early 19th century debate on neutral trade in a more informative fashion and use it to reconsider interrelations between legal, political and philosophical issues in the interchange of global politics and economic development.
As David Hume famously noted, since the late 17th century, foreign trade politics across Europe was governed by ‘Jealousy of the Balance of Commerce’. Under this condition, commercial competition easily spilled over into warfare, which threatened to disrupt trade in general and the trade of neutral states in particular.
The start of the Seven Years’ War, in 1756, saw the beginning of a major debate across Europe about the political and legal status of neutral trade. At stake was the problem how to limit the escalation of inter-state rivalry into all out global warfare and the separation of the reciprocal logic of trade from war, conflict and power. Amidst international disputes about depredations of neutral ships, natural lawyers like Emer de Vattel and Martin Hübner attempted to fix the boundary between rightfully neutral trade and contraband. Although directly concerned with the containment of existing conflict, these thinkers also considered the causes of war. They devised their theories of natural law to correspond to a long-term political and economic civilising process of the existing international order, in which tensions between trade and the Balance of Power were ironed out.
In 1780, at the height of the war of the American Independence, the Russian Empress Catherine II declared five principles of Armed Neutrality and launched the formation of a league of neutral states. Between 1780 and 1783 all principal European powers, apart from England, announced their adhesion to the League. Although given in by Russia’s interest as a rising commercial power to access the Baltic and the Mediterranean and often suspected to be an anti-British ploy or an attempt by Catherine to manipulate the existing Balance of Power, the League of Armed neutrality was also regarded across Europe as an alternative peace plan.
Among the states that joined the League was Naples, where the main architect of the accession was Ferdinando Galiani. In his Dei doveri dei principi neutrali, he gave an historical account of the uncertain development of modern natural law discourse and the European treaty system. Galiani argued that the perseverance of primitive customs of maritime warfare, for example in the practice of privateering, which was accepted by all nations and taken for granted in the works of Grotius, Bynkershoek and Vattel harmed all modern commercial states. Whereas land war had been civilised, the opinions of natural lawyers and national courts on the law of the sea still reflected ancient warlike passions, neglected the effects of commerce on the progress of humanity and left space to neutrals and belligerents alike for the abuse of maritime commerce.
What defined the League of Armed Neutrality, from this perspective, was its spectacular attempt to impose the logic of commerce upon the inter-state system in wartime. Rather than simply extending the rights of neutrals, or limiting the rights of belligerents to disrupt trade, its aim was to realign trade and war by universalising the commercial treaty system and civilising naval warfare.
Catherine’s League of Armed Neutrality and its revival by Paul I in 1800 are now generally regarded as unsuccessful because they failed to protect the neutrality of its members. The more interesting questions are how Armed neutrality was perceived at the time and how the history of global trade, war and Empire after the Vienna settlement connects with the problem of the neutrality of trade in the 18th century state system.
The aim of this conference is to recapture the legal, political and philosophical nature of late 18th- and early 19th-century debates on neutrality, commerce and war. What were the natural law, and other, foundations for pronouncing judgement on the rights and duties of belligerents and neutrals in realising their own (commercial) interests? In what contexts did the status of the law of neutrality in international law change since the classical era? How did European strategies for furthering the national interest change between 1756 and the later 19th century, and how did this change the state system in Europe and the world? How did late 18th and early 19th century political thinkers reflect on these developments and what new historical and philosophical ways of seeing the relation between commerce and inter-state rivalry did they produce? Under what conditions might free trade and state sovereignty be reconciled in a stable inter-state system, and to what extent would this prospect require a deontological conception of commercial politics?
The organisers are interested to find out which scholars in the wider academic community are working on these topics. Scholars who would like to attend the conference, or have queries, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; More information will be available shortly on: www.neutrality.nl
Faculty of Social Sciences
Erasmus University Rotterdam
PO Box 1738
3000 DR ROTTERDAM
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