Courtesy Reuters

The Scheldt Dispute

THE problem of the Scheldt was first posed when the Dutch, successful in their long struggle with their Spanish master, gained not merely the recognition of their independence but the right to close the Scheldt (1648). The latter right was the more perfectly guaranteed to them since at the same time their sovereignty was confirmed over lands on the left as well as the right bank of the river. These provisions were made in order that the merchants of the Dutch ports might prosper while "grass grew in the streets of Antwerp." No alteration of this arrangement was made until the days of the French Revolution, despite the transfer of the remaining Spanish provinces (now Belgium) to Austria in 1713. In 1792, however, those same Austrian provinces, already overrun by French armies, were annexed to the young Republic and the river opened. This action by France helped draw England into the coalition against her. But despite the downfall of Napoleon's Empire the river remained open, though the Treaties of Vienna in 1815 united the southern provinces with the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

This disregard of the principle of nationality bore fruit in the shape of the Belgian Revolution of 1830. The results of the revolution were finally formulated nine years later, when the status of the new Kingdom of Belgium and of the Scheldt were defined by the three treaties of London -- one between the Great Powers (Great Britain, Austria, France, Russia and Prussia) and Belgium, another between the same Powers and the Netherlands, and yet a third whose signatories represented Belgium on the one hand and the Netherlands on the other. It was provided that the Kingdom of Belgium should constitute "an independent and perpetually neutral state." As regards the Scheldt, a joint commission was given control of pilotage and of the buoying of the channel below Antwerp, though its powers were so loosely defined that in later years they became the subject of reiterated complaints on the part of Belgium. In addition, the

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