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1907 Second Hague Peace Conference

The Second Hague Peace Conference, was convened in 1907 at the initiative of President Theodore Roosevelt. The Second Hague Peace Conference of 1907 [15 June-18 October 1907] produced thirteen separate conventions. The Second Hague Peace Conference dealt with the subjects of the immunity of unoffending private property of the enemy upon the high seas, the limitation of force in the collection of contract debts, arbitration, an international prize court, and the project for the establishment of a permanent court of arbitral justice, composed of judges acting under a sense of judicial responsibility and representing the various languages and systems of law.

Germany initially had no ambition to embark on a policy of big battleships, and it was hoped that by a reduction of non-essential weights it would be possible to construct battleships of 11,000 to 13,000 tons displacement at least equal in fighting power to British, American, and French ships of somewhat greater size. Moreover, the North Sea coast of Germany, in the opinion of British naval officers, was so shallow as to be unsuited to big ships. Restricted views dominated the design of all the docks which were constructed for the German fleet. They were built to suit battleships of the Kaiser Frederick III class, and a slight margin only was left in view of possible increase in the size of men-of-war. The German Admiralty thought that 15,000 was the extreme limit of size in other European navies, and conjectured that by economies of weights they could obtain equal fighting efficiency for their purpose on about 13,000 tons, especially as they had no belief in the tactical value of high speed, which then meant heavy machinery and boiler equipment, before the advent of the Parsons marine turbine and water-tube boilers of various types. But with the advent of the HMS Dreadnought in 1906, all these considerations were cast aside as Germany joined the world-wide move towards larger all-big-gun warships.

During the Second Hague Peace Conference America and Britain tried and failed to get arms limitation agreements. President Theodore Roosevelt suggested that the size of battleships be limited to 15,000-ton class vessels, to halt the construction of Dreadnought-type battleships. The limits were opposed by the Germans in no small measure because they saw them as efforts to limit German naval growth, then perceived as a challenge to the absolute supremacy of the Royal Navy in European waters, as well as world-wide. An increase in German and Japanese naval power was expected to place a heavy burden on the US which straddled both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. At the beginning of October 1906, the US military assessed that even if the Congress were to give the green light for the construction of two battleships a year, the US would be unable to keep up in the global race to become the second strongest navy in the world after England.

The attempt of various Governments, particularly the English and Russian Governments, to have the question of the limitation of armaments discussed at the Second Hague Conference failed as a result of the opposition of Germany. A special visit to the European cabinets, undertaken by the Councillor of State de Martens, had no result. Only twice during the Conference was the question of armaments touched. In the plenary session of 17 August 1907, Sir Edward Fry delivered an address which he closed with this declaration:

"The Government of His Britannic Majesty, recognizing that several Powers desire to restrict their military expenditure, and that this object can only be realized by the independent action of each Power, has thought it to be its duty to inquire whether there are any means for satisfying these aspirations. My Government has therefore authorized us to make the following declaration:

"The British Government believes that in this way it might be possible to arrive at an understanding with regard to the expenditure which the States which should undertake to adopt this course would be justified in incorporating in their estimates. The Government of Great Britain will be prepared to communicate annually to Powers which would pursue the same course the program for the construction of new ships of war and the expenditure which this program would entail. This exchange of information would facilitate an exchange of views between the Governments on the subject of the reductions which it might be possible to effect by mutual agreement.

"In conclusion, therefore, Mr. President, I have the honor to propose to you the adoption of the following resolution:

"The Conference confirms the resolution adopted by the Conference of 1899 in regard to the limitation of military expenditure; and inasmuch as military expenditure has considerably increased in almost every country since that time, the Conference declares that it is eminently desirable that the Governments should resume the serious examination of this question."

After the United States of America, France and Spain had expressed their sympathy with the words of Fry, and the United States and Spain had expressly declared that at the time of the convocation of the Conference they had reserved the right of discussing the question of armaments, the President proposed the adoption of the English motion, which was unanimously voted.





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