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Francisco de Vitoria, Relectiones (1538-1539)

War is essential in Vitoria’s work because Vitoria’s concept of sovereignty is elaborated mainly in terms of the sovereign’s right to wage war. As Vitoria constructs a law of nations, administered by the sovereign, he reintroduces Christian norms as universal rules endorsed by jus gentium. Evangelizing is authorized not by divine law but by the law of nations, and may be likened now to travelling and trading. Vitoria argues that “…ambassadors are inviolable in the law of nations (jus gentium). The Spanish are the ambassadors of Christendom, and hence the barbarians are obliged at least a fair hearing and not expel them.” Thus, acceptance of the Christian faith could not be forced and should not serve as an excuse for conquest.

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The Original Grotian Moment

in February 1603, in which ships commanded by Jacob van Heemskerk of the Dutch East India Company seized the Santa Catarina, a Portuguese merchant ship, without explicit authorization to do so. To defend the seizure, the Dutch hired a 26-year old lawyer named Hugo Grotius, who claimed that it was a legitimate challenge to Portugal’s monopoly on commerce with Asia.  The incident happened off Singapore’s upper east coast, near Changi, where the Santa Catarina was anchored after sailing from Macau to Malacca. Grotius' opinion would subsequently be published in Mare Liberum (The Free Sea) and De Jure Praedae (On the Law of Prize and Booty).  Grotius’ arguments about the freedom of the seas, and just war, would be folded into his corporate works that became the foundation of the modern law of nations.

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