Great Powers and Outlaw States
Unequal Sovereigns in the International Legal Order
By Gerry Simpson
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 2004
Online Publication Date:July 2009
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511494185.003
The history of the international system is a history of inequality par excellence. [T]he sovereignty and equality of states represent the basic constitutional doctrine of the law of nations.
In 1602, Spain and The Netherlands were embroiled in a long running war in Europe and this conflict carried over into hostilities between Dutch trading companies and Portuguese and Spanish maritime interests in East Asia. During one of many engagements on the high seas, an affiliate of the Dutch East Indies Company had captured a Portuguese vessel named ‘The Catherine’. On 9 September 1604, a Prize Court in Amsterdam declared the capture lawful and held that the vessel belonged to the Dutch company. The matter probably would have rested there were it not for the fact that among the company shareholders were members of a Mennonite sect who disapproved of war, refused to accept their share of the profits and threatened to establish a competing company in France.
In the same year, Hugo Grotius was about to turn twenty-one. He took a keen interest in the Catherine case and spent the remainder of the year composing his first major work, De jure praedae (Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty), a defence of the Dutch seizure and a sketch of a theory of international law to be fully realised in his classic De jure belli et pacis (The Law of War and Peace). De jure praedae begins with the words:
A situation has arisen that is truly novel and scarcely credible … namely: that those men who have been so long at war with the Spaniards … are debating as to whether or not, in a just war and with public authorisation, they can rightfully despoil an exceedingly cruel enemy …
Reference Type: further-reading