Considering The Hague’s Legacies: A Conference on War, Peace, and International Order
An appropriately international assembly of scholars met in Auckland, New Zealand, on 19 April 2016, to consider the 1899 and 1907 Hague Peace Conferences’ legacies at a conference jointly hosted by the Faculty of Arts at the University of Auckland and the New Zealand Centre for Human Rights Law, Policy and Practice. The conference brought together a geographically and methodologically diverse group of scholars working on topics intersecting with The Hague’s legacies. The construction of the city of The Hague’s legacy as ‘the international city of peace and justice’ in many ways began with the two Hague Peace Conferences.
The Hague’s diplomatic legacies
William Mulligan’s opening keynote carefully engaged with diplomatic means of justifying recourse to war and constructing international norms and expectations before 1914. The theme of norms and twentieth century engagement with – and relevance of – the ideas at play in The Hague’s meeting rooms in 1899 and 1907 carried through many papers. The Conferences feature in the historiography largely in terms of their significance in international, diplomatic, and legal contexts. The contributors, conversely, considered the Conferences’ place in histories of international law and diplomacy and simultaneously suggested multiple avenues for expanding consideration of the Conference’s historical and ongoing relevance.
The Hague and laws against war (jus contra bellum)
The conference in Auckland was held one day before the International Court of Justice celebrated its seventieth anniversary in The Hague. Many of the contributors considered how ideas of justice permeated conversations at the Hague Peace Conferences. Randall Lesaffer offered a carefully constructed keynote reconsidering legal treatments of force law and recontextualising legal developments from the 1899 Conference to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Lesaffer challenged the traditional rendering of the 1945 UN charter as a ‘radical’ break from legal tradition and invited conference participants to take a more nuanced approach to considering The Hague’s legal legacies.
Beyond The Hague’s meeting halls
One of the Auckland conference’s strongest features was the extent to which many of the presenters looked beyond The Hague’s meeting halls both chronologically, thematically, and in terms of the scope of their enquiry. Attendees were invited to consider how, for example, ideas informed by organised peace movements, duelling conventions and burgeoning scientific understanding diffused into the meeting halls. Ideas and understandings of neutrality, international law, war and restraint diffused also diffused back out and informed the construction of the Conferences’ and The Hague’s historical legacies.
Ideas, Places, and People
The contributors used a range of lenses in their considerations of the Hague Conferences. Presenters considered (and raised) questions about gendered experience of The Hague Conferences and the resultant diplomatic agreements. National experiences of the conference and of its international legal and diplomatic legacies featured particularly prominently, as did studies focussing on individuals or small groups. The lenses are noteworthy both because of the approaches that were and the approaches that were not taken. Glenda Sluga insightfully commented that the range of approaches invited, at the very least, a consideration of ‘a more mixed palette of actors’.
The Hague and its legacies
Three leading scholars in international history – Maartje Abbenhuis, Glenda Sluga, and Neville Wylie – offered commentary to bring the conference to a close and emphasised the proliferation of questions brought about by the day’s papers. In many ways, the interdisciplinary Conference was a success precisely because, by approaching The Hague from a variety of perspectives (particularly cultural, diplomatic, legal, and political) the scholars offered new insights into questions traditionally asked about The Hague and, crucially, raised many questions deserving of further research and forged many new avenues for expanding understanding of The Hague Peace Conferences’ relevance and legacies.
University of Auckland