International Canals


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. International Canals is Number 150 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Written by Edward Arthur Whittuck (1844−1924), a specialist in Roman and international law associated with the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics and Political Science, the study is one of relatively few in the series issued under the name of an individual author. The book is concerned with the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal, “interoceanic canals,” which, by virtue of their commercial and strategic importance, had acquired a special status under international law. The section on the Suez Canal discusses the background to the building of the canal, the legal and practical aspects regarding its protection, and the negotiations to internationalize the canal. The latter led to the conclusion of the Convention of 1888, signed by nine European powers, which stipulated that “the Suez Maritime Canal shall always be free and open, in time of war as in time of peace, to every vessel of commerce or of war, without distinction of flag.” The section devoted to the Panama Canal covers the history of antagonism between the United States and Great Britain over the construction and operation of an isthmian canal in the Western hemisphere. It focuses on the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850 and the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1901, which superseded the earlier agreement. A concluding section discusses the roles played by both canals during World War I. The appendix includes the texts of the main treaties governing the international legal status of the canals.

Last updated: February 18, 2015