chapter  1
19 Pages

Justifying international action

International law, The Hague and diplomacy before 1914
WithWilliam Mulligan

The Hague conferences reflected the importance attached to international law, yet they also challenged how political leaders and diplomats had understood the meaning, application and scope of international law. Integrating late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century diplomats, politicians, journalists and others' sensitivities to international law requires scholars to reconsider assumptions about the workings of international politics before 1914. Understandings of international law became an important test for foreign policy's legitimacy. Diplomats remained ambivalent about the possibility that conventions could secure peace, but their ambivalence revealed how international law could work as a restraint. German politicians and diplomats repeated the mantra of international law in private conversations and public speeches until the conference convened in Algeciras in 1906. International law could only gain traction during the war because it had been an important way of thinking about international politics before the war.