Peace Palace opens in The Hague

28 Aug 1913
  • The Hague
The Invitation, by Albert Hahn
The Invitation, by Albert Hahn

The Peace Palace (sometimes called the Temple of Peace) was officially opened in The Hague on 28 August 1913. It had been built to house the Permanent Court of Arbitration set up as a result of the 1899 Hague Peace Conference. The Court of Arbitration was the first of a series of international institutions that were to be created at the Hague over the following century.

Construction of the building was funded by Andrew Carnegie, a US industrialist, peace campaigner and philanthropist born in Dunfermline, Scotland. In 1901 he had sold his share in his Carnegie Steel Company for $226 million. The buyer was US banker John Pierpoint Morgan, who welded Carnegie Steel and other producers into the United States Steel Corporation - the first corporation in the world to be worth more than $1 billion. It was part of a trend towards giant corporations that was to stimulate a new wave workplace militancy and new forms of worker organisation over the years leading up to World War 1.

"The surprising action of the first Hague Conference gave me intense joy. Called primarily to consider disarmament (which proves a dream), it created the commanding reality of a permanent tribunal to settle international disputes. I saw in this the greatest step towards peace that humanity had ever taken, and taken as by inspiration, without much previous discussion." - Andrew Carnegie (Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie, 1920).

The First Hague Peace Conference was created by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. On 26 August 1898 foreign representative in St Petersburg were handed invitations for their governments to participate in a disarmament conference - an initiative that seems to have caught them by surprise.

Russia was at that time one of the most reactionary states in Europe, and also possessed the largest army in Europe. It had nevertheless, since the close of the Napoleonic Wars, played a leading role in systems of inter-governmental co-operation. These systems were, at least in part, intended as bulwarks against revolution. But some Russian initatives pre-figured modern systems of international law and arms control. A conference called by Tsar Alexander II in St Petersburg in 1868 had agreed a convention banning the use of explosive bullets, and anonther conference instigated by Alexander, and held in Brussels in 1874, had agreed a code on the laws and customs of war (though the draft code was never ratified).

Tsar Nicholas II's initiative therefore stood in a well-established Russian tradition, and perhaps reflected a degree of youthful idealism (Nicholas was 29 years old). It also happened to come at a time when Russian ambitions over Ottoman territory appeared to have stalled and Russia was redirecting its empire-building efforts towards China and the east. A slackening of the pace of the European arms race would perhaps have allowed Russia to invest more heavily in this new direction.

The international response to the Tsar's proposal was so cool that when he re-issued his invitation in January 1899, the plan for a disarmament conference was broadened and diluted into a general peace conference, with a programme that was partly a continuation of the 1874 conference on the laws and customs of war.

Sections of the world peace movement, especially in Britain and the US, mobilised in support of the Tsar's conference. Support for a system of arbitration to replace war as a solution to international diputes was at that time a key feature of the peace movement, and arbitration leagues had been set up in a number of countries.

When the First Peace Coverence finally convened in The Hague on 18 May 1899, high hopes were invested in it by the international peace movement. The 28 participating governments, on the other hand, seem to have hoped only to stall moves towards disarmament without embarrassment to themselves.

These circumstance combined to give weight to moves to create a non-obligatory system of arbitration. The conference agreed a Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, which included provision for a Permananent Court of Arbitration, with tribunals sitting at The Hague.

For more background on the events leading to the opening of the Peace Palace, see The Temple of Peace, The Hague Peace Conferences, Andrew Carnegie and the Building of the Peace Palace, Lesaffer, Randall , Mededelingen van de Koninklijke Nederlandse Vereniging voor Internationaal Recht, Volume 140, Issue 1-38, (2013) .