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Great Britain and naval arms control: international law and security 1898-1914

Keefer, Scott Andrew (2011) Great Britain and naval arms control: international law and security 1898-1914. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis traces the British role in the evolution of international law prior to 1914, utilizing naval arms control as a case study. In the thesis, I argue that the Foreign Office adopted a pragmatic approach towards international law, emphasizing what was possible within the existing system of law rather than attempting to create radically new and powerful international institutions. The thesis challenges standard perceptions of the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907 which interpreted these gatherings as unrealistic efforts at general disarmament through world government, positing instead that legalized arms control provided a realistic means of limiting armaments. This thesis explores how a great power employed treaties to complement maritime security strategies. A powerful world government was not advocated and was unnecessary for the management of naval arms control. While law could not guarantee state compliance, the framework of the international legal system provided a buffer, increasing predictability in interstate relations. This thesis begins with an account of how international law functioned in the nineteenth century, and how states employed international law in limiting armaments. With this framework, a legal analysis is provided for exploring the negotiations at the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907, and in the subsequent Anglo-German naval arms race. What emerges is how international law functioned by setting expectations for future behaviour, while raising the political cost of violations. Naval arms control provided a unique opportunity for legal regulation, as the lengthy building time and easily verifiable construction enabled inspections by naval attachés, a traditional diplomatic practice. Existing practices of international law provided a workable method of managing arms competition, without the necessity for unworkable projects of world government. Thus failure to resolve the arms race before 1914 must be attributed to other causes besides the lack of legal precedents.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2011 Scott Andrew Keefer
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Sets: Departments > International History

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