Law and History Review


Sovereignty and the Laws of War: International Consequences of Japan's 1905 Victory over Russia

Douglas Howland c1

The Russo–Japanese War (1904–1905), recently commemorated with several international conference volumes, is identified by a majority of contributors as the first modern, global war. In making such a judgment, these scholars note its scale, its nationalism, its colonialism and geopolitical repercussions. What is surprising, however, is that no one has remarked on another significance: it was the first war in which both belligerents pledged to adhere to the international laws of war. In that regard, the Russo–Japanese War marks a culmination of the tireless international diplomacy to secure legal limitations on warfare in the nineteenth century. In 1904, both Russia and Japan justified their operations according to international law, for the benefit of an international audience who had five years earlier celebrated some progress with the signing of The Hague Conventions in 1899.

(Online publication February 14 2011)



Douglas Howland is the David D. Buck Professor of Chinese History at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee <>. This article is part of a larger project on sovereignty in nineteenth-century east Asia and its relation to international law. He thanks editor David Tanenhaus of LHR and the anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments on an earlier draft of this essay.