Th. Rothstein Justice, 25 February, 1911, p.2.
Source: Justice, 25 February, 1911, p.2;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Let me state at the outset that I have no opinion whatsoever to offer on the military merits or demerits of the Flushing project. In Holland itself opinions are greatly divided on the question, some holding that the scheme is useless for the purpose intended, and others advocating different means to achieve the proposed end. The question in its purely military aspect is immaterial to us – we are only concerned with its political and legal aspects.
Now, taking the legal aspect first, we all know that international law is a thing largely composed of thin air; but I must confess, without any prejudice and without any bias, having read practically everything which has appeared on the subject in this or other countries, that a case more preposterous than the one got up by the jurists on the Anglo-Franco-Belgian side against Holland on the present occasion has never yet been raised on any international affair, To hear Professor Westlake or Professor Nys argue, you might imagine that Holland has undertaken to defend the neutrality of Belgium or at least bound herself to facilitate its defence by other Powers. There is absolutely no such suggestion in the Treaty of 1839 which governs the case. Holland has merely recognised the neutrality of Belgium, and its maintenance devolves solely on the five Great Powers which signed that treaty. It may be quite true that by constructing fortifications at the mouth of the Scheldt Holland would be obstructing the action of the British Fleet coming up to the assistance of Belgium; but it does not follow either from the treaty by which Holland has recognised Belgian neutrality or from the general principles of international law that Holland is bound to give the guaranteeing Powers facilities to discharge their obligations, or that she is obliged to afford those facilities by a certain route, or that she must give them to one particular Power among the five concerned. By closing the mouth of the Scheldt to the British Fleet, she is only closing her own territory against its violation by a belligerent, and, so far from frustrating the rights of the five guaranteeing Powers – supposing she had no business to do so – she is leaving other routes (for instance, via Ostend) open for any of their fleets, and the whole land frontier of Belgium open for assistance from France. Moreover, it is too frequently forgotten that the river Scheldt, though constituted by the Treaty of Vienna an International river in the sense of being free to the navigation of all merchant navies, is, both in its mouth and the entire lower course down to the narrow neck, leading to Antwerp, Dutch territory, in consequence of which Holland, if she desires to preserve her own neutrality, in case of a war between England and Germany, is not only entitled, but is actually bound to close it against the passage of any of the belligerent fleets just as much as she is bound to resist the passage of any troops through her eastern provinces. Would those who demand that the mouth and the lower course of the Scheldt should be left open for the passage of the British Fleet be prepared to allow Holland to permit German troops to enter along the Rhine the Dutch eastern provinces? It only needs putting the question in this form to see the absurdity of the arguments used by the Anglo-French-Belgian jurists. Their disingenuousness is further proved by the fact that as recently as 1890 Belgium herself approached the Dutch Government, in view of the defenceless state of the Scheldt, to repair the forts at Terneuzen, on the way to Antwerp, at her own expense, volunteering, in addition, to supply a Belgian garrison for the fortress should at any time a war break out. At that time neither Belgium nor any of the five Powers saw in the proposed scheme of closing the Scheldt an attempt to infringe the treaty of 1839: it was only found to be so in the present instance, when it is surmised that Germany is at the bottom of the scheme. So wonderfully do the conceptions of international law vary when the political interests change Small wonder if even a militarist like Charles Malo, of the patriotic “Journal des Debats,” has felt himself constrained to acknowledge that the legal case against the Flushing project was not worth a brass farthing.
So much for the methods used by the Chauvinists in this country and in France with a view to representing Germany as the highwayman of Europe, trampling and under foot every law, human and divine, against whom the most drastic proceedings would be justified. There can be no doubt that the practical purpose for which this legal campaign was raised was to get up a sort of European areopagus after the manner of the one contemplated with such bad results after the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovinia by Austria, in order to humiliate Germany; thereby repaying her in the same coin in which she had made France and Enland pay over the Morocco question. Alas, for the mischief makers! Just as in March, 1909, so now a single word from her sufficed to cause the whole bubble to burst, and to turn the defeat prepared for her into new diplomatic victory over her opponents. And if Sir Edward Grey, as shown by his recent reply in the House of Commons, still cherishes some faint hope of “friendly” conversations on the subject between the five guaranteeing Powers, including Prussia, my advice to him is, Don’t! He and his friends have not a leg to stand upon, and even The Hague Tribunal will find against them.
It is practically the same with the material or political aspect of this interesting Flushing question. To hear the gentry of the Anglo-Franco-Belgian Press talk about Germany being at the back of the scheme because she intends, in case of a war between her and France, to turn the left flank of the French Army by forcing a passage through Belgium and thus violating her neutrality you might imagine that they are in possession of the secrets of the German General Staff, or, at least, have some unguarded utterances of German generals or the German Press to go upon. There is, however, nothing of this kind. It is “notorious” – so runs the phrase – that Germany intends doing this or that but when you come to inquire about the elements composing this “notoriousness” you find nothing but these gentlemen’s own strategical surmises. It is “notorious,” they say, that the French line of fortresses on the East is so impregnable that Gerrnany cannot possibly hope to break through them, and will have to turn the flank of the French Army by forcing her troops through Belgian territory. It is also “notorious” that the German reserves are so enormous that there is between Cologne and Mulhausen no room for their proper deployment, and, consequently a portion of them, if they are to be used, must be forced through Belgium. Lastly, it is “notorious” that Germany is building strategical railway lines and accumulating war material in the district round Aix-la-Chapelle.
adjoining Belgium, which circumstance clearly points to her intention of mobilising troops on the Belgian frontier as soon as war breaks out, and sending them over to France through Belgian territory.
This is all very “notorious,” but at the same time highly unconvincing. It is clearly impossible to say whether the German General Staff shares the Anglo-French view of the fortresses on the Alsace-Lorraine frontier especially as a recent inquiry made in France has shown that the French themselves do not entertain too high an opinion about the state in which they are kept. Equally foolish is it to suppose that because Germany may not find it possible to deploy all her vast army in a single line along the French frontier she would have to penetrate into Belgium. With equal justice one may argue that because France may not find it possible to deploy her own big army along the frontier she would have to make an attempt to turn the left wing of the German army by forcing herself through Switzerland. In addition, these two surmises are mutually contradictory, since if Germany’s frontal movement would be arrested by the French for fortresses at Verdun or Belfort, her course through Belgium would equally be arrested at Liege and Namur. As for the last reason given in support of the theory of German invasion of Belgium, it is “notorious,” after the recent revelations concerning the alleged acceleration of German navy construction, how easily such things turn out to exist only in the imagination of their authors. For the rest, even if it be true that Germany is making preparations for mobilisation in the vicinity of the Belgian frontier, the fact admits of a totally different construction – namely, that she herself expects an attack on that side that is, through the Belgian territery – on the part of France and England.
Here we approach the heart and substance of the Flushing question, which is so carefully concealed by the lawyers and publicists on the Anglo-French side. Before, however, we deal with it, it is as well to note how slender the foundations are on which the theory of German designs upon Belgian neutrality is based. Nothing can be easier than to excogitate reasons why Germany, in case of a war, would be bound to act this way or that way in preference to another. In a similar manner you can theorise – and the Germans do it, if you read either the “Marine Rundschau” or the articles of ex-Colonel Gädke – as to how England and France would act, and come to the conclusion that they would be bound to infringe the neutrality of Denmark, or even of Belgium. “Narrow is the world,” said Goethe, “and wide is the brain: closely side by side live the thoughts, and violently clash against each other the things in space.” Everything in the world, as you think of it is possible, and nobody can prove that Germany may not contemplate the violation of Belgian territory, should the necessity for it arise. But you must have something else besides your logic and bad feelings before you can make out a political case against her, and in this instance you have absolutely no tangible facts to base yourself upon.