Back in 1899, the Tsar of Russia wanted to be seen as a peacemaker and helped arrange the world’s first arms limitations talks, which didn’t garner many concessions except for halting the use of expanding bullets. Although the U.S. never signed that agreement, it has held to it for more than a century. Well that could be changing.
The Hague Peace Conventions
His ministers sometimes gave Tsar Nicholas II of Imperial Russia frank talk (at least they did in the pre-Rasputin days). Old Holy Russia was firmly stuck in the 18th century with the 20th century peeking over the horizon. While French business loans were pouring in and in 25 years aimed to catapult Russia into an industrial powerhouse that could stand as an equal in Europe, the Tsar’s generals pointed to the fact that the country’s military, though they could put 15 million men in the field when fully mobilized, they couldn’t arm, clothe, or equip them much less cough up the needed amounts of heavy artillery and infrastructure to support them if called to fight a modern power.
Since Nicky would likely not be able to be a warlord in his lifetime, he aimed for securing peace and slowing the global arms race that was rapidly leaving Russia in the dust.
With this in mind, he called on all of the major world powers to convene in neutral Holland for The Hague Peace Conference that opened on 18 May 1899, the Tsar’s birthday. There, the Russians introduced a sweeping proposal that would have frozen technology as well as fleet and army sizes, in their tracks.
Well, the great powers though this was hilarious and largely rejected everything to do with disarmament, they did agree to some basic “civilizing” laws of war and the beginnings of what would constitute a war crime.
They did come up with three prohibitions of on munitions that civilized countries should do away with in war (with other civilized countries).
- To prohibit the launching of projectiles and explosives from balloons or by other similar new methods.
- To prohibit the use of projectiles, the only object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases.
- To prohibit the use of bullets, which expand or flatten easily in the human body, such as bullets with a hard envelope, of which the envelope does not entirely cover the core or is pierced with incisions. This was a continuance of the Declaration of St Petersburg in 1868, which banned exploding projectiles of less than 400 grams (6172 grains or 14.10 ounces).
The final acts of the Hague conference were signed by the 27 delegates— but not ratified by the participating states, thus they have no binding force.
Did it do any good?
Well, as you may know, the Hague agreements didn’t do a lick of good for the Tsar, as he found himself in a disastrous war with Japan in 1904, narrowly escaped losing his throne in 1905 in a Revolution, was again plunged into war in 1914 (had to keep face on those French loans!) then lost his throne in a more successful Revolution in 1917 and his head in 1918 during the follow-on Civil War.
As for the three prohibitions, starting in 1911 with the Italians, first airplanes and then dirigibles were armed with bombs and projectiles, and have remained that way ever since.
The Germans introduced chemical warfare in 1915 (although they at first released the gas from canisters rather than firing it from shells, although both sides later did this).
Finally, the ban on “bullets that expand or flatten easily” was kept in defacto place due to the fact that full metal jacketed bullets penetrated deeper and allowed the possibility that one bullet could hit multiple soldiers and take 2-3 out of action rather than just 1:1.
But of course, this didn’t stop the U.S. from using trench shotguns in war from 1917 to the present, stuffed with soft lead buckshot, which was much more devastating than a “dumdum” bullet. Nor did it stop German and Japanese troops from occasionally using wooden rifle bullets in WWII. Nor did it stop dumdums from being issued to both British and French troops off and on in both World Wars, much to the delight of German propaganda organs.
Moreover, in conflicts between “civilized powers” who signed The Hague and later Geneva conventions, and Third World countries and non-nation states, of course, there has been little or no control over the laws of war. The Italians, Soviets, and Spaniards used chemical weapons in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Morocco respectively.
An official move to hollow-points in U.S. service
The U.S. Army’s latest XM17 Modular Handgun System tender, which aims to replace the 1985-adopted M9 Beretta 9mm pistol with a new and more updated weapon, is asking for hollow-points.