1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ultimatum

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

ULTIMATUM (from Lat. ultimus, last), a word used in diplomacy to signify the final terms submitted by one of the parties in negotiation for settlement of any subject of disagreement. It is accompanied by an intimation as to how refusal will be regarded. English diplomacy has devised the adroit reservation that refusal will be regarded as an “unfriendly act,” a phrase which serves as a warning that the consequences of the rupture of negotiations will be considered from the point of view of forcing a settlement. This opens up a variety of possibilities, such as good offices, mediation, the appointment of a commission of inquiry, arbitration, reprisals, pacific blockade and war.[1]

As regards the alternative of war, the Hague convention relative to the Opening of Hostilities of the 18th of October 1907, provides as follows: —

“Considering that it is important, in order to ensure the maintenances of pacific relations, that hostilities should not commence without previous warning,” it is agreed by the Contracting Powers to “recognize that hostilities between them must not commence without a previous and explicit warning in the form of either a declaration of war, giving reasons, or an ultimatum with a conditional declaration of war.”

As reasons for a declaration of war are necessarily in the nature of an ultimatum, the ultimatum may now be regarded as an indispensable formality precedent to the outbreak of hostilities.

Another Hague convention of the same date respecting the limitation of the employment of force for the recovery of contract debts provides as follows: —

“Being desirous of preventing between nations armed conflicts originating in a pecuniary dispute respecting contract debts claimed from the government of one country by the government of another country as due to its subjects or citizens,” the Contracting Powers agree “not to have recourse to armed force for the recovery of contract debts claimed from the government of one country by the government of another country as being due to its subjects or citizens.”

This undertaking, however, is not applicable when the debtor state refuses or neglects to reply to an offer of arbitration or, “after accepting the offer, renders the settlement of the compromis impossible, or, after the arbitration, fails to comply with the award.”

Under this convention, in the cases to which it relates, the alternative of the ultimatum is ipso facto arbitration, and it is only when the conditions of the convention have been set at naught that other measures may be employed.


  1. To these may be added a new unofficial method devised by the Turks in connexion with the Austro-Turkish difficulty over the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, viz. the boycotting of the goods and ships of the natives of the state against which the grievance exists. This is a method open to weaker as against more powerful states, which can have serious coercive and even complicated consequences under the influence of democratic institutions.