The Arbitration Revolution

  September 22, 2021   Read time 2 min
The Arbitration Revolution
For much of the nineteenth century arbitration was the primary objective of internationalist and peace societies. There were different variants of the arbitration concept, but all boiled down to the stipulation that nations agree to submit their differences to impartial adjudication before resorting to the use of armed force.

As early as the 1840s the APS and its president William Jay championed the idea of requiring nations to incorporate arbitration procedures into international agreements. Jay and his colleagues focused on Anglo-American relations as the easiest and most likely place to begin a broader global effort to institutionalize arbitration. They argued that binding arbitration agreements would increase international security and diminish the likelihood of war.

The arbitration issue catapulted to the top of the public agenda in 1871 when the famous Alabama case was successfully resolved through third-party mediation. This dispute over US demands for Civil War indemnity was settled by a five-member international tribunal, whose judgment was accepted by the US and British governments in the Treaty of Washington. The Alabama decision gave a major impetus to peace movement demands for the strengthening of international law.

The case touched off a flurry of political activity on behalf of arbitration. In 1873 British peace leaders W. Randal Cremer and Henry Richard secured passage of a resolution in the House of Commons calling for the arbitration of international disputes. In the United States Senator Charles Sumner introduced a similar measure endorsing the principle of third party arbitration that was approved by both houses of Congress. In France Frédéric Passy gained 112 signatures from members of the Chamber of Deputies in support of a Franco-American arbitration agreement. Similar campaigns on behalf of arbitration emerged in the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and Canada.

In 1873 European supporters of arbitration founded the Association pour la réforme et la codification du droit des gens, which in 1897 became the International Law Association. Its members included lawyers, business executives, bankers, and government officials. In the United States, Frederick Stanton, the former governor of Kansas, formed the National Arbitration League. In London pacifist and advocate of industrial cooperation Hodgson Pratt established the International Arbitration and Peace Association, which in 1881 attracted delegates from eighteen nations to an international arbitration assembly in Brussels.

In 1895 Belgian scholar Édouard Descamps developed an incremental strategy to win political support for arbitration, proposing the creation of voluntary tribunals to address noncontroversial issues. This was the basis upon which the Permanent Court of Arbitration was established at the 1899 Hague Peace Conference. Descamps and other progressives hoped that the beginning of arbitration, even if on a limited basis, would establish the habit of third party mediation among nations, and that the practice would become steadily more institutionalized and extend to matters of national security.