In his work "The Law of Nations or the Principles of Natural Law" Emer de Vattel uses authoritative appeals which express his views to the reader that in an international society of sovereign states, each state has certain undeniable rights and duties to which they are obligated. He states that in the law of nature men have mutual duties to assist one another. Since men are incapable of providing sufficient for themselves to improve their state of being, they must therefore "work together for the mutual improvement of their condition in life" (Vattel, 100).
Nations are bound by the same laws of nature and duties that individuals are bound, however a sovereign nation is only obligated if it has the ability to provide for a nation in need without placing itself in harms way. The basis of Vattel's argument is like the golden rule. "Do unto others as ye would have them do unto you. " If nations hope to receive help and strength during their times of need the must also provide that same measure of charity to others when able.
Vattel states that "Whatever we owe to ourselves we owe also to others, as far as they are really in need of our help and we can give it to them without neglecting ourselves. " It is a matter of our duty to humanity. All nations, if they are to expect aid in their times of need, must give of their support, resources and essentially all they possess. Vattel also argues this point, "Do not raise the objection that a sovereign has not the right to expose the life of his soldiers for the safety of a foreign nation with which he has not contracted a defense alliance.
He may happen to have like need of help; and therefore by putting into force the spirit of mutual assistance he is promoting the safety of his own nation. " Vattel does not limit the duty that nations owe to one another to only times of war but also times of distress from uncontrollable elements such as famines, pestilences or natural disasters. Nations have the duty to provide necessary provisions for nations as long as they are able without placing themselves in scarcity.
"If that nation can pay for the provisions furnished it, they may very properly be sold at a fair price, for there is no duty of giving it what it can provide for itself, and consequently no obligation of making a present of things which it is able to buy" (101). It is also Vattel's view that nations have the right to ask for assistance whenever they feel the need however they may not demand that provisions be given. Every country also has the right to determine whether or not they are capable of extending aid without disregarding the duty to their own people.
However there is no right or authority that allows one nation to compel another to receive aid. Vattel makes the claim humanity should come from the "pure source" of love, "then we shall see Nations aid one another with sincerity and true kindness, labor earnestly for their common happiness, and promote peace without jealousy and without distrust. " He also explains that there should be no consideration of religion when rendering aid, but that nothing is required except that he be a fellow man.
It is to the advantage of nations to build friendships with other nations and be careful not to offend, for the more friends you have the less enemies you have. Sovereign nations are not obligated to provide for another nation that would use the provisions against the first. This would be a failure of its duty to itself. It is in the best interest of nations not to provide a nation suspected of planning to destroy another, however Vattel states that "but where there is question of the necessities or conveniences of life the nation ought to sell them to others at a just price and not make use of its monopoly as a means of oppression.
" However I would ask in regard to this comment, how can you ensure that a nation you sell goods to will not trade or sell them for a price to your enemy from whom you have withheld the goods? If a country seeks to gain provisions that will aid them in achieving their goals, they would be willing to pay a great price to obtain those goods. I would argue that a nation has the right to withhold goods or services if they are to suspect that those goods may be traded to those who seek to use against them for unjust purposes. There is a very interesting thought that Vattel mentions as he talks about a "beautiful dream.
" He states that if the principles of altruism were followed by all, then the world would have peace and we would have a great Republic. But this dream cannot be realized because of certain men who seek power and dominion over others. In a way of addressing the duties and obligations of nations Vattel introduced the theory of just war. Just as we as individual human beings have the right to protect ourselves and prevent harm to ourselves, nations too have these rights. In his theory of just war, Vattel implies that all nations are, under certain circumstances, justified in going to war or committing acts of war against other countries.
Vattel suggests the main events which would warrant such actions toward another nation. First he says that nations have the right to resist any attack and to protect themselves from harm. This he calls the "right of self-protection" (107). Vattel backs up this argument by reemphasizing his statement that individuals and nations have the right to ascend to a higher state of being, and that this right would be meaningless if we are not at the same time able to prevent any attempts to stop us in this goal. It is also his conclusion that a nation has the right to prevent any act of injustice brought upon it.
However the nation must be cautious to not act upon "vague and doubtful suspicions," for if a nation acts without a basis of proper information and does injury to another it then becomes the antagonist. Vattel continues on to say that if a nation has received harm of another in any way, it then has the right to seek a redress of abuses. However I do not believe that Vattel adequately addresses how a nation is to judge the level of revenge or retribution required to receive justice. Was the United States justified in dropping two atom bombs on the country of Japan? There needs to be a great deal of judgment involved in the act of retribution.
If a nation is excessive in the retaliation it commits against the instigators then it can also expect consequences to come upon them. Acting prudently, nations have the right to punish acts of injustice or inhumanity as a way of deterring future acts of the same nature. They have the right to bring down those who seek destruction of peoples and those who desire to bring into submission other nations. Vattel's comments on the rights and duties of nations, and the theory of just war are very appropriate methods to building better and stronger nations and are the basis by which any just nation should conduct its affairs.