The rights and duties of neutrals

A general history

Stephen C. Neff
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This book describes the general forces which have shaped the law over the centuries, beginning in the Middle Ages and continuing to the present day. The law of neutrality is the law regulating the coexistence of war and peace. Its history is the story of the competition between opposing right, those of belligerents against those of neutrals. Belligerents claim a right to take whatever steps are necessary to bring their foes to heel including, when necessary, interrupting their trade with neutral persons. Neutrals claim a right to carry on doing 'business as usual' with the warring sides, with whom they are at peace. The most striking feature of the treaty network of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was its liberality towards neutrals. The single most important sign of lenient treatment of neutral commerce concerned the carriage of enemy property at sea. The eighteenth century was particularly rich in armed-neutrality initiatives. France was frequently their sponsor, with varying degrees of overtness, even though it was belligerent itself. The Convention on Neutrality in Naval War was more complex than its land-warfare counterpart. It combined a number of prohibitions upon belligerents with affirmative policing duties on neutrals. Neutrality considerations featured in several of the other Hague Conventions as well. The code-of-conduct advocates naturally favoured continuing the pre-war programme of codifying the law of neutrality, to bring it up to date in the light of the harsh experiences of the recent conflict.

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