SURVEY OF AMERICAN FOREIGN RELATIONS: 1928. EDITED BY CHARLES P. HOWLAND. New Haven: Yale University Press. Published for the Council on Foreign Relations, New York. 1928. 610 pp.

BY its historical approach this first volume of the Council on Foreign Relations' annual "Survey of American Foreign Relations" clears the way, on certain important lines, for the study of our present policies and for a determination of the proper course of their future development. The volume is not so much an objective study of our foreign relations as it is of the formulated principles of our government and of the traditions which more or less have influenced the acceptance and development of these principles. It is a most valuable contribution to the literature of the subject.

It scarcely seems too much to say that tradition is the essence of political institutions everywhere. Some of these are very high and noble. Yet it is possible that a tradition may be merely the memory of something that has long since served its purpose. It still remains as evidence of a historical fact; but it ceases to be an inspiration and aid to further natural growth and becomes like a throttling vine to a growing tree. There is not a nation which passed through the recent war that is not struggling against the influence of such traditions. The nations with which we have important relations have in varying degree the material advantages of a somewhat common civilization. But back of each are centuries of traditions unlike those of the others and which have bred different and perhaps antagonistic ideals and institutions. Perhaps -- and there are those who think so -- back of them all there is some common tradition which will in nature's time wake to life, become dominant and produce a unified system of political thought. This might result in a complete uniformity in the relations of man and introduce an era of universal peace.

Even statesmen who have to deal with conditions of today and tomorrow might indulge a pleasing moment in such speculations. But if they do they are soon confronted by the uneasy thought that the continuance of such a happy age requires a control of certain tendencies of human nature to which we do not give much attention. They see man always engaged in two forms of warfare going on as well within as between states. Both originate in the ineradicable, but not uncontrollable, spirit of competition, the desire of man to get and keep the most he can for his wellbeing. One is silent, invisible and constant; the other is violent and sporadic. We associate the name of war with the latter; the former we think of as a peaceful struggle. Each aims at the same end by different means. Whenever the competitive struggle within the state failed to attain its end, private war resulted, until the state put an end to it for its own good; between the states it has often resulted in public war, the menace of which still threatens us because the states as a family will not yet apply to their relations with each other the means which they have separately employed to end private war. We ended private war not by destroying private competition but by regulating it and by providing and enforcing means for settling the disputes. Were it not for this we would have a recurrence of private war. We are making great efforts to put an end to the wars resulting from the competition of states in order that we may devote greater energy to the competition of peace, without as yet sufficient regulation of that competition, or sufficient assurance that all will resort to the means provided for settling the disputes growing out of it.

Therefore, statesmen still think of states as being like the trees of the forest. And they may learn a useful lesson if, with this thought in mind, they will allow their imagination a little play. As they walk through its glades and along the aisles of its overarched branches -- some noble trunks lifting their heads high as they sway to and fro in the strengthening breezes, lesser forms reaching towards the same goal, while still more lowly ones seem content to live their lives in the flickering shadows of their more exalted neighbors -- it all appears at first sight to be a perfect metaphor of peace. Yet they know that in reality it is the scene of relentless war, none the less so because it is attended by no visible signs of violence. If the forest were a mass of sentient beings, but gifted only with the power of memory, it too would look -- but backwards, not forwards -- to its golden age. And it would find it in a time when its members were few, when their roots never overlapped, when none attempted to tap the life source of another, when the struggle of each was not with others of like kind but with inanimate forces within the soil common to all. If now the forest become gifted with reason as well as memory, it begins to see that that happy age disappeared along with the conditions which made it possible; that those conditions can never be revived; and that if the silent war between the oak and the elm and the pine is ever to cease it must be by some regulation of their conditions of life in the exercise of their newly acquired reason.

When the statesmen and the citizens whose destinies they direct reach this point in their speculations they will admit -- as they all do, though not all admit the necessary conclusion -- that however varying in other respects nations may be, they are coming to an agreement, as the reasoning trees of the forest might do, on one common object; and that the attainment of it requires the rejection of the theory of an isolation that cannot be maintained, in favor of an active cordial coöperation.

Before considering the outlines of a state policy based on that assumption it may be profitable to note the growth of a policy -- our own -- which originated in an almost express denial of it.

To assist in such a study the "Survey of American Foreign Relations" (while following its guiding line of historical approach without expression of bias in connection with observed facts) traces the origin and development of four cardinal doctrines in American policy, -- isolation, the Monroe Doctrine, the freedom of the seas and the open door. The first is the parent stock of which the others are necessary offshoots. Yet those others are a direct denial of the first. This fact shows how a tradition of something which had little real existence except in fancy may vitally affect some of the real things of life. Isolation, while perhaps believed and intended to be absolute, was not so from the beginning and soon became very limited. In its origin it meant only isolation from Europe and the peace-disturbing influences of European political institutions. At that time Europe was for us the world. A policy of isolation could not then have contemplated that our closest contacts with Europe would be made in the most remote parts of the earth.

Of course, the essence of the doctrine was self-defense. We had obtained our independence and forced its recognition on the world by war. This had resulted in the setting up of a form of government and of political institutions that were thought likely to excite hostility in European quarters, even where our struggle for independence had been looked upon with indifference or favor. Security seemed to demand a complete separation from that part of the world whence alone any danger was feared.

How, and to what extent, could that isolation be maintained? Plainly, to no greater extent than then existed. There could be no avoidance of a moral contact. Without knowing it or intending it, we ourselves, by the unpreventable influence of our peculiar institutions, began to wage a destructive warfare on all others. The prevention of the penetration of political cultures and ideals from either side to the other -- that was impossible. No seas have ever been found so wide, no mountains so high, no deserts so arid and trackless, no fleets nor serried lines of armed men so strong, as to prevent the passage of winged thought. And for the student of our history it is a rather awesome thing to reflect upon, that during the first century and a half of our existence, when our policy was based upon the belief that we were ringed about by potential or probable enemies, it was not fleets and armies but the silent penetration of our ideals that overthrew dynasties, forms of government, political institutions which we professed to fear. We have won a bloodless war. The victory has destroyed many of the conditions that alone could justify such isolation as we ever had. Victory is great in proportion to the good use that is made of it, the conversion of enmity into friendship, the durability of the peace that follows. The responsibility for attaining this rests mainly upon the victor.

As to the possibility of physical isolation, we set ourselves from the beginning to destroy it. While still pinning our faith to it, we were doing more than any other people to devise the means to break down every barrier to physical and mental contact. By the acquisition of alien territory we thought we were pushing other peoples further away; we were only bringing ourselves into wider and closer contact with them. Our fathers had magnificent visions of our future extension of territory. They believed that our activities and influences would be largely confined within this domain and that we would remain a people physically and politically apart. They did not foresee the time when science would eliminate time and space; when their children would transmit their thoughts on the wings of lightning under the sea; when they would sail across its surface in fewer days than their fathers required weeks, and fly over it with a provision of three sandwiches for their journey; when the political institutions whose influences they dreaded would become assimilated to our own. Two peoples cannot remain aloof without giving up the idea of mutual trade. That was the last thing that our fathers intended. Those who inherited the instincts of so many generations of explorers and traders neither could nor would stay at home. Men crowded across our land frontiers, bartered their goods in the Antilles and on the Spanish main and in every port of the world, everywhere spurning imaginary barriers. It was the beginning of the invisible struggle between the gradually interlacing roots of the forest growth. There being little regulation except the law of the strongest, this invisible struggle began -- as is always the tendency among men -- to take the form of threatened or actual violence. It resulted in a near-war with one European nation, an actual one with another. And these did not occur in defense of a doctrine of isolation but in a demand for the better protection of our rights in friendly contact.

All this was playing its part in gradually preparing the way for the Monroe Doctrine. This, primarily, embodied a method for our own defense. It was influenced by the belief, which had already become a tradition, that we could maintain, in part at least, our attitude of isolation. This, in a physical sense, had to be abandoned as the result of the growing intimacy of trade relations. In a political sense it seemed that it might be maintained by preventing foreign powers from extending (perhaps by actual invasion) institutions, inimical to our own, on any part of this hemisphere and thereby inevitably endangering our own peace. The doctrine was the necessary consequence of there being no sufficient regulation of international relations, and will doubtless be adhered to so long as that condition exists.

The Monroe Doctrine, crystallizing though it does a belief in the advantages of isolation, is in reality based upon the practical recognition of the advantages of international cooperation. It would be a mere form of words without such coöperation, moral and physical. When it became a cardinal doctrine in our national policy the spirit of the political institutions of all nations of North and South America was the same. The enemy of those of one was, potentially, the enemy of all. Therefore, though announced as a matter of self-interest to us, it breathed the spirit of a league of one group of political institutions against another antagonistic one. In a world governed by force, its general acceptance, whether a willing one or not, tended to preserve international peace and proved its wisdom. A tool that has been found good will not be thrown away until a better one is in our hands.

But, under this doctrine, the United States did not assume rights of suzerainty. Interference with trade, for example, would have at once aroused the combined hostility of Europe and of our sister republics. And it would have been repugnant to our fundamental conception of international right. Had it been otherwise, this doctrine intended to preserve the peace would have fomented war. But if we guaranteed freedom of trade for Europe we wanted her to guarantee the same for us. As the Monroe Doctrine grew so did the doctrine of the freedom of the seas as a cardinal point in our national policy. Its essence is that on the part of all nations there shall, in time of war, be the minimum possible interference with sea-borne commerce. Nations which recognized the freedom of the seas in time of peace claimed, in the temporary character of belligerents, certain powers as being the ancient usage and custom. And probably no usage is more ancient. Attempts at its limitation began before historical times, for there are evidences of it in the earliest records. It is seen in the international custom to which the Romans, many centuries after it began, gave the technical name of hospitium. This originally indicated the status of a trader and his goods on alien soil where his very presence was an affront to the local gods, but which from motives of self-interest came to be tolerated and finally officially sanctioned provided he put himself in the custody of a native who became responsible for his compliance with the local customs of religion. In that term is the origin of all international law.

But as nations grew stronger one after another sought not the freedom but the dominion of the sea. She has been like Helen of Troy, "wooed of many suitors," each wanting her for himself. From the days of the Phoenecian, when the Mediterranean was "the sea," to well-nigh our own, each great sea power in turn has sought to betroth itself to her in the spirit of the words of the Venetian Doge who from the deck of the Bucentaur threw his ring into the Adriatic saying, "Desponsamus te, mare, in signum veri perpetuique dominii." None could effectually make it one mare clausum but there have been various maria clausa. When perpetual dominion could no longer be maintained over any part of the high sea the right to close it as far as they can, and dare, is still claimed by belligerents as a right of war. A nearer approach to this could hardly be made than was done in the recent war. And until the law thus made is changed we can say again with Grotius that in time of war our frontier is the enemy's coast.

Before this revival of an "ancient usage and custom" of war there had been a tendency towards an amelioration of its rules relating to commerce on the sea. Commercial interests were more in control. None had a greater interest in this than the United States. A nation had not so very much to gain by a consistent attitude of peace if in peace it had to suffer the losses of war by the disruption of its commerce in the ceaseless quarrels of other nations. Gradually the doctrine of contraband of war was evolved, absolute or constructive, according to the circumstances of each case. Merchandise that was not so listed was assumed to be free from interference. But even this required the exercise of the harassing right of search accompanied by a more or less arbitrary and biased determination of the character and destination of the goods. And necessarily the list of contraband steadily grew.

The doctrine as developed was applicable under conditions that no longer exist. Nations went to war with limited and relatively small armies. They were a class apart from the general population. The war was a duel limited to these armies. Whether or not the civil population was well fed, clothed and supplied with medicines, the war ended with the defeat of one army or the other. But long before the World War there was foreseen and predicted the result when "nations in arms" go to war. When every agency of a government is involved in it, when not only the armed forces but all men, women and children must contribute their pounds or ounces of energy to the struggle, then every article of trade down to the food and medicines for little children and for the helpless sick in hospitals becomes lawful prize for the belligerent that can seize it, or at best may be taken for a price and sold. In addition, if a belligerent is strong enough he rations all neutral countries in a position to carry on their ordinary trade with his enemy, seizing or stopping all other neutral peaceful trade with them. Some think that such a course would be repugnant to American sentiment. It depends. An official of his government, writing recently on the effects of the blockade during the World War, says that after we entered the conflict "the American Government acted far more drastically and severely than the British." The severity of this kind of blockade may force many neutral states into the war as the only way to minimize disastrous interference with their trade, because if any favors are to be shown by the belligerent it will be only to those who help him. We often speak of the interdependence of modern states. The recent blockade proved that it exists to a degree never before conceived of. The writer above referred to says: "Even after the coalition of the Central Powers covered half Europe with its conquests and occupations, its lack of sea-borne supplies created wants and deficits which, in their turn, created others, and in the end the entire populations of Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and Turkey broke down under the strain created by these progressive discomforts and sufferings."

The fact remains that for a nation strong upon the sea the rigid and ruthless blockade is the most terrible and effective weapon in its armory. Such nations, knowing that this weapon will become still more effective as interdependence increases, will be loath to surrender its full use. Even another war fought on this issue, and another victor, might not compel it. For to this same weapon the latter may owe his victory. Probably nothing but international reason can do it. When a nation says, as some now do, that without the exercise to the full of this ancient usage and custom there will be no use in its going to war, perhaps the time has come when it will consent to use its reason in submitting to such a regulation of its so-called natural right as will minimize the chances of its ever having to exercise it at all. Until the great nations do this, the freedom of the seas in time of war will be the medieval Doge's verum dominium for the one that can control it. As long as it must remain a doctrine in our national.policy, it imposes a duty upon us to do our best in formulating and directing the reason of the world in a matter so important for our own peace.

The doctrine of the open door necessarily grew with that of freedom of the seas. The sea may be free, yet a nation may impose restrictions on its trade from foreign countries. If these are uniform in application no particular nation can regard them as unfriendly manifestations towards itself. It is a principle of the common law of all civilized nations that uniformity of application is the essence of justice. It is to guard against inequality of treatment that the "most favored nation" clause is inserted in treaties of amity and commerce. The contention of the United States has therefore been that in her trade with any nation she is entitled to privileges equivalent to those granted to any other. The doctrine was originally of importance in our trade with the Orient. It may become of equal importance in connection with the "mandated" territories created by the Treaty of Versailles. Manifestly, in a world of trading nations it is a doctrine that makes for the maintenance of peace.

What bearing can these considerations have in the mind of the citizen on his country's policy? None at all, unless they lead to the conclusion that most of the troubles of the world result from the unwillingness of the nations to agree upon certain basic things necessary to accomplish an object that they all desire. We and a good many others have declared in the most solemn terms for a policy of international peace and that we shall make it effective by the settlement of all our disputes by pacific means. That should be the first of the cardinal doctrines in a new national policy, and if it were sufficient as it stands it need be the only one. But it is generally admitted that as it stands it must be accepted only as a first step. And the next step -- admittedly a slow one, but one that can be hastened -- would seem to be a declaration, in specific terms, of the rights and obligations of states in cases that are and have been provocative of disputes and war. This means the preparation of a code of international law. No state can have a greater interest in this than the United States. We have before us four means for the pacific settlement of our disputes. The first two, diplomacy and conciliation, are generally ineffective when a state believes that it has a vital interest at stake. And in such a case a state will not tolerate an indefinite postponement of the settlement. There are two means left -- arbitration and judicial procedure. We have declined to be bound to an appearance before an international court of justice because we claim that there is no sufficient law for that court to administer. If we remain bound by the declaration that we have made we may have to secure a decision in a vital case by arbitration when undoubtedly we would prefer to appeal to a clear-cut law which we had helped to make.

Therefore, it would seem that the intelligent citizen might well ask his Government to pursue stages somewhat as follows in recasting our national policy:

1. The recent declaration for a policy of international peace, signed August 27, 1928.

2. The codification, clarification and amplification of international law.

3. The retention of the present doctrines of our policy which make for peace, until in the gradual codification of law one or another becomes unnecessary.

4. The reduction of preparations for national defense only so rapidly as a growing international good-will enables all the great nations which are armed for the same purpose to agree upon reductions in just proportions.

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  • GENERAL TASKER H. BLISS, former Chief of Staff of the United States Army; member of the Supreme War Council; member of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace
  • More By General Tasker H. Bliss