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Crimean texts

[Transcribed by Megan Stevens]

The Times 15 Jan 1855 p 6


Lawyers and diplomatists are, of course, to be regarded as objects of eternal aversion by every well-regulated mind, and a man of spirit will never willingly commit himself to the tardy and tortuous course of a Chancery suit or a negotiation. Yet the most heroic achievements and successes of war are terminated and secured by the pens of a few elderly gentlemen sitting round a green table, for, as long as there are private rights to be protected or public rights to be defended, it is to this unattractive form of protocols and parchment that they must be reduced at last, and, unless war is to continue for ever, negotiation must, sooner or later, stop its evils and perpetuate its results. It is therefore not only without regret, but with very great satisfaction, that we hear of the possibility of reopening negotiations for peace, and that satisfaction is only diminished by the distrust which cannot but be felt for the sincerity of our antagonist. His conversion has been somewhat too abrupt, and his protestations of a desire for peace are said to be too lively, to be received with unlimited confidence. But, on the other hand, it is nonsense to suppose that English Ministers and diplomatists, acting in the closest union with those of France, are so shallow and incapable as to be outwitted by Russian artifices, which must very shortly be brought to a more positive test; and we have the most entire conviction that, whatever course these negotiations may take, they will in no degree slacken or suspend the practicable operations of war. We have, therefore, nothing to lose by them, and we may have much to gain; for, though Russia may find reasons in her present position to desire the termination of this contest, it is less easy to discover what she can hope to gain by any fresh attempt to impose on the good faith of Europe. The first step towards these preliminaries has been an ostensible recognition of all the principles for which the Allied Powers profess to be contending, and, provided that recognition can be reduced to such terms as to give us solid guarantees of its sincerity, our demands are satisfied. Lord PONSONBY has published a pamphlet within the last few days to show "that the true policy of the allies is to wrest from Russia every territory that Russia has wrested from Turkey in the last 70 years, and to restore to the SULTAN all those territories, and to reject every project for a peach which should not have that end for its object." Assuming that the allies could without difficulty perform their part of this enterprise, we should be glad to know how the SULTAN is to govern and defend these vast Christian provinces, conterminous with the Russian empire, which were wrested from the PORTE when it was far more powerful than at the present day? For Lord PONSONBY “hears with sorrow of intentions to ameliorate the state of the Turks, by the intervention of allies,” and begs that “the Turks be left entirely to themselves for the management of their own concerns.” If this last recommendation were adopted, and things followed their natural course, that Power which is the object of so much solicitude to Lord PONSONBY would soon undergo the fate Mr. COBDEN has assigned to it. It is enough to state these extravagant propositions to expose their absurdity, and it would convey the deepest censure on the policy of the allied Powers to suppose them capable of protracting this war for objects of the most impossible attainment, and worthless if obtained. We are making war for things possible and necessary, not for fantastic schemes of conquest, vengeance, or ambition.

If this negotiation is now or hereafter to arrive at any definite result it must be by limiting it to practical objects, and not by loose threats or vague demands which cannot be realized. The most important of these practical objects, and that which Russia is most likely to resist, is the cessation of her preponderance in the Black Sea. Yet on several grounds we think it may be shown that similar arrangements have sometimes been made in other instances, and that in this instance they arise naturally out of the facts of the case. The first limitation of the kind which occurs to us is that of the navigation of the Scheldt. When the Seven United Provinces extorted from PHILIP IV of Spain the recognition of their independence they compelled that Sovereign by the 14th Article of the Treaty of Westphalia to close the Scheldt altogether to foreign ships. Such was the public law of Europe until 1785, when JOSEPH II attacked this restriction, and it was abolished upon the entry of the French in 1792 — a measure which was one of the causes of the rupture with England. In the course of the next 20 years Antwerp became a great naval and commercial port, then belonging to the French territory; but it was stipulated by the Peace of Paris in 1814 that Antwerp should henceforth be a commercial port only, and the same condition was renewed in the treaty of separation between Belgium and Holland, signed in 1831.

To quote another example of a different character. The great chain of the North American lakes forms a tract of water bounded on the north by the British possessions, and on the south by the United States. To avoid all fear of aggression on either side, the two countries entered into an arrangement in 1818, which is, we believe, still in force, to limit their naval forces to one gunboat on Lake Ontario, two on the Upper Lakes, and one on Lake Champlain, each not exceeding 100 tons burden and carrying one gun. So that, in proof of her desire to live at peace with her neighbours, Great Britain has voluntarily surrendered any advantage she might derive from a naval establishment on those waters.

Russia has never scrupled to assert in the most peremptory manner her exclusive naval supremacy where she had the means of enforcing it. Thus, at the time of the Armed Neutrality, she endeavoured to close the Baltic against foreign ships of war; and by her last treaty with Persia the SHAH was compelled to submit to a stipulation that, “as, ab antiquo, the only vessels of war which have the right to navigate the Caspian Sea are those which carry the Russian military flag, no other Power can have any vessels of war on that sea.” If this doctrine of an exclusive right ab antiquo has any value at all, it belongs in the case of the Black Sea indisputably to Turkey. Down to the middle of the last century the Black Sea was exclusively Turkish, both for ships of war and of commerce. As late as the Treaty of Belgrade in 1739 it was expressly provided that, “as for what relates to the commerce of the Russians in the Black Sea, it shall be carried on in ships belonging to the Turks.” At that time Russia had not a sail on those waters, and it was not till 1783 that the PORTE conceded to Russia the privileges necessary to the free navigation of the Euxine for commercial purposes. The construction of a powerful Russian fleet in the Black Sea is a fact entirely new to the balance of power in Europe within the last 50 or 60 years; for it has gradually arisen out of the conquests and annexations of territory by Russia along the northern coast. Odessa and Sebastopol have sprung into existence in less than the same interval of time, and for purposes equally menacing to the PORTE. The result has been, that in less than a century this inland sea, which was exclusively Turkish, was on the point of becoming exclusively Russian, when the entry and occupation of these waters by the allied fleets changed the aspect of affairs. The Russians navigate the Black Sea, not by any original right, but by virtue of certain concessions made to them by treaties in the last century. All those treaties are now in abeyance; at the peace they will probably be superseded by some general arrangement for the navigation of the Black Sea, which will limit the aggressive character the Russian navy has assumed there. It is entirely consistent with precedent, and with the obvious dictates of sound policy, to enter into arrangements for the limitation of naval forces in particular situations, whence they are likely to be used for purposes of aggression. No place was ever so obnoxious to that objection as Sebastopol and the fleet in its harbour, because, as the Black Sea was closed against all foreign attack, and the Russians had nothing to fear from the Turks, these forces could only be designed to be employed against Turkey, and there all the preparations for the overthrow of the Ottoman empire were collected. The reduction of that fortress and the limitation of the Russian ships of war in the Black Sea are therefore indispensable conditions, if the preponderance of Russia is to cease, and Constantinople to be secured, and these are the most essential parts of any negotiation for peace.

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