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Janus-faced Mediation: A Treaty for the Pacification of Greece, 1826–1827

By: Viktorija Jakjimovska

The 19th century brought civil wars to the forefront of the international legal agenda. Hostilities within the boundaries of one state were not seen as an international matter except insofar as they constituted a direct threat to the interests of third states, or, more generally, to the equilibrium and repose of Europe. The Greek War of Independence (1821–1832) offers a glimpse into 19th-century third-state attempts at mediation in civil wars. Such practice posed salient questions on the status of a non-state actor on the international plane, the perceived limits of mediation, and the blurry lines between mediation and intervention in the context of civil wars.

The rebellion in the Greek provinces of the Ottoman Empire erupted in 1821. Initially the European Powers were reluctant to interfere. The situation was, however, complicated by the strengthening of the rebellious movement and the fact that the Greek conflict became enmeshed in the Russo-Ottoman tensions that threatened to destabilize the arrangements in Europe following the Congress of Vienna. Great Britain resorted to a policy of containment against Russia’s wish to include the resolution of the Greek question within the ongoing peace negotiations with the Ottoman Empire, which ended with the conclusion of the Ackerman Convention in October 1826 (76 CTS 411).

On 4 April 1826, after obtaining a formal request for mediation by the Greeks, Great Britain and Russia negotiated a Protocol signed at Saint Petersburg (76 CTS 175). The Protocol contained foundational principles that later wound their way into treaty terms: a proposal for mediation, a substantive arrangement of the relations between the contending parties, and a clause of disinterestedness for Greece. The provisions stipulated that, first, in case mediation was accepted by the Porte, the allied powers would introduce a proposal for Greece to remain a dependency of the Ottoman Empire but be governed by its own elected authorities (Articles 1 and 2); and, second, in case mediation was rejected, the terms of the Protocol would remain unaltered in further efforts at reconciliation, unilaterally or in concert (Article 3). Finally, conscious of the possible risks of misuse of the Protocol, the parties included, in Article 5, a self-denying clause stating that the parties ‘will not seek … any increase of Territory, nor any exclusive influence, nor advantage in commerce for their Subjects, which shall not be equally attainable by all other Nations’. The self-denying obligations thus alleviated the consequences of a possible war between the allies and the Ottoman Empire.

Shortly after the conclusion of the Protocol, Britain and Russia sent invitations to the other European great powers—Austria, France, and Prussia—to participate in a definitive arrangement for the pacification of Greece. The collective character of such an arrangement would have increased its legitimacy and offered better guarantees to the treaty. France accepted, while Austria and Prussia dissented from the proposal.

A Treaty for the Pacification of Greece was finally signed in London on 6 July 1827 (77 CTS 307). It contained almost identical provisions to the ones found in the Saint Petersburg Protocol. The Preamble of the treaty stipulated that allied interposition in the civil war was justified on the basis of (1) formal invitation of one party to the conflict (Greece), (2) self-preservation based on the general threat to the stability of Europe and impediments to the maritime commerce caused by disorders and acts of piracy in the Archipelago, and (3) sentiments of humanity. The operative provisions of the treaty contained, first, mediation and immediate armistice to enable the start of any future negotiations (Article 1); second, arrangements for reconciliation almost identical to the ones outlined in the Protocol (Article 2); and third, a self-denying clause repeating verbatim the main text of Article 5 of the Protocol (Article 5).

The offer of mediation was secretly tied up with a threat for more direct intervention. The Treaty of London was reinforced with an additional article to be applied in case the Ottoman Porte declined the mediation. According to its provisions: (i) the inability of the Porte to deal with the ‘inconveniences and evils’ described in the Preamble of the treaty necessitated immediate measures such as establishing commercial relations with the Greeks and exchange of consular agents; (ii) if the Porte should decline the proposed armistice or the Greeks should refuse to carry it into execution, the allies would jointly interpose their squadrons in the territorial waters of the Greek provinces to prevent any collision; and (iii) should the previous two measures prove inefficient, the allies would establish a forum in London to pursue further efforts and measures for the pacification of Greece.

The proposal was immediately accepted by Greece but rejected by the Ottoman Porte as an unlawful intervention in its internal affairs. As a matter of law, the Porte invoked the principle of independence and the laws that emanate from its sovereignty as fully and exclusively applicable to its rebelling subjects. It further delved into the inappropriate usage of the treaty terms ‘mediation’, ‘armistice’, and ‘pacification’ to the conflict. According to the Porte, these terms belonged to diplomatic vocabulary as applied between states and were thus inoperative in a situation where a state was criminally punishing its own ‘deviant’ subjects.

The Treaty of London was further criticized by Prussia and Austria. According to them, third states could not mediate upon the request of insurgents—a non-state actor—as that would constitute a manifest violation of the principle of independence as established in the law of nations. Furthermore, the employment of coercive measures contained in the additional article constituted intervention outside the framework established within the Congress of Vienna.

The Ottoman rejection of mediation triggered the measures envisaged in the additional article. Until the final resolution of the conflict, the allies produced 51 Protocols of Conferences in London and 36 Protocols in Constantinople. They unanimously approved a naval blockade on the coast of Greece, used force against the Ottoman fleet at the bay of Navarino, and deployed French troops in the Morea. Moreover, in 1828 one of the three mediating Powers, Russia, declared war on the Ottoman Empire, which ended with the Treaty of Adrianople (80 CTS 83). The Treaty of London remained a touchstone for the allied interposition throughout the conflict and its final resolution with the Treaty of Constantinople (82 CTS 477).

Protocol of Conference between Great Britain and Russia, signed at Saint Petersburg, 4 April 1826 (76 CTS 175).
Treaty between France, Great Britain and Russia for the Pacification of Greece, signed at London, 6 July 1827 (77 CTS 307).

Foreign Office, Papers relative to the affairs of Greece, 1826-1832 (London: J. Harrison and Son, 1835).
Davide Rodogno, Against Massacre: Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire 1815-1914 (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2011), 63–91.
Will Smiley, ‘War without War: The Battle of Navarino, the Ottoman Empire, and the Pacific Blockade’, Journal of the History of International Law 18 (2016) 42–69.