Carnegie Foundation | Peace Palace

Carnegie Foundation | Peace Palace

Carnegie Foundation | Peace Palace

Erik de Baedts


Letters to Andrew Carnegie | Carnegie Foundation | Peace Palace

Dear Mr. Carnegie,


When I entered the magnificent Peace Palace, full of engagement to give it my all to promote world peace, little did I know about how you made this impressive building, a beacon for the world, possible. Once appointed, I quickly learnt more about your remarkable life and your vision. I will not get into too much detail about the holistic nature of your vision on the evolving of humankind towards peace, supported by education and science; on the role of individuals, and more specifically the role of leaders, philanthropists, and heroes; and, eventually, the importance of books and the wisdom they contain for human development. Let me just share with you that I became more and more impressed, and humbled at the same time, since it is now up to us to take your legacy into its second century. The challenges we face are hardly less than during your day.

As I started reading about the origins of the Peace Palace that I have the privilege to manage, together with the Board of the Carnegie Foundation Peace Palace and our nearly 50 colleagues, I came across the deed by which you created the Foundation for the purpose of, in your words, “establishing and maintaining in perpetuity … [a] Temple of Peace.” You considered the creation of the Permanent Court of Arbitration inside this Palace “the most important step forward of a worldwide humanitarian character which has ever been taken by the joint Powers, as it must ultimately banish war.” Your analysis was so true. But a century later, we are not there yet.


Carnegie Foundation | Peace Palace


So I regularly look back to your words as a source of inspiration. Given your ideas on education and peace, you insisted that a standard library of international law be based at the Peace Palace, too. You established that this Peace Palace Library should also be maintained in perpetuity, and committed the Dutch government to that end.

Even with your strong belief in technology, you might not believe how a technology that could not be foreseen in your lifetime currently impacts this same library a century beyond its conception. In our day and age, the sharing of information primarily takes place through what you would probably see as a virtual reality, a global web of machines connected both by cables and wireless, giving access to the most diverse sources of information to people all around the world who can afford the technology and the tools.

This technology is considered by some a reason why this library would now become redundant. Those who, together with you, believe in the importance of the book, and understand the work of lawyers and academics, realise that books will always be the primary source for sharing knowledge and insights, even more so for the judges and the arbitrators who have to study all relevant resources to develop and underpin their awards. Therefore, no matter what form a book may take in the future, we struggle peacefully but diligently to maintain this crucial facility, the knowledge infrastructure you created for promoting peace through law.

To date, we are working hard every day to promote world peace and banish war. Yet even after terrible carnage in the past century, we still experience warfare on our planet, and we even see tensions rising again 100 years after you left us. Powers do not act so jointly at present. We sometimes experience feelings of despair, as you did when you were deeply troubled and disappointed during the last years of your life, as the Great War broke out after the Peace Palace opened its doors, and the spirit of idealism and hope quickly faded. But it never disappeared.

You lived to see the Armistice, and you may have hoped that lessons would be drawn: such wars never again. Lessons were learnt indeed, and shortly after you passed away, international powers were effectively joined when the League of Nations was established in 1920 to work towards world peace.

The nations recognised the wisdom that prevailed in the era in which you facilitated the erection of the Peace Palace: to promote peace through law. In order to settle conflicts peacefully, the League of Nations decided to add the instrument of jurisdiction to the instrument of arbitration. A second court was installed: the Permanent International Court of Justice. Of course, the first president of the Carnegie Foundation, Mr. van Karnebeek, with whom you opened its doors, was happy to also host this court at the Palace. With international arbitration and jurisdiction, the pathways for peace were laid, and they led to the Peace Palace.


In essence, since you initiated the Carnegie Foundation Peace Palace, we are here to make peace. It’s in our genes. A century beyond our founding, we still facilitate peace through law successfully. And we are adding peace through dialogue.


His successor, Mr. Cort van der Linden, wholeheartedly approved of another idea that was born during the Hague Peace Conferences when the first court was initiated: international law as the means to settle conflicts peacefully should be studied and taught as well. Education in peace through law — how well would that notion fit your vision? An academy for international law was to be initiated, and it is Dutch Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tobias Asser to whom we must give credit. He, together with your Carnegie Endowment for International Peace based in Washington, D.C., established The Hague Academy of International Law, and made sure this academy would also be based at the Peace Palace. Thus, the learning infrastructure for peace through law was available as well at the heart of your legacy.

It was a real pleasure, in my second capacity as Treasurer of this Academy, to allow for another program. In 2019, in addition to the renowned summer courses, a new course was started: winter courses in both public and private international law. As of this year, 1,000 bright young students are educated annually as lawyers and diplomats to work towards peaceful relations between states. Your League of Peace, as you called it in your Rectorial address at St. Andrews, is expanding every year.

Incredible as it may seem, war did happen again. The Great War would later be labeled the First World War, as mankind experienced a Second World War some 20 years later, not even halfway through the twentieth century. Could men treat men even worse than during the Great War? Yes, men could. And, unfortunately, it turns out in various places of the world that men still do.

Carnegie angel of international peace movement
Andrew Carnegie depicted by illustrator Charles J. Budd as the angel of the international peace movement.

Given its lack of success, after the Second World War the League of Nations was dissolved, and was replaced by another worldwide intergovernmental organisation for cooperation towards peace: the United Nations. Once again, it was decided that the principal judicial body for peaceful settlement of conflicts between states should be based here, at the Peace Palace: the International Court of Justice, a principal organ mentioned in the Charter of the United Nations, now also called the World Court.

It was during this period, after the Second World War ended, that idealism was on the rise again. Human rights for all men and women were even declared as a legal basis for human advancement. Since then, international law has developed tremendously as an invaluable source to settle conflicts peacefully in all kinds of areas. There are global conventions on children’s rights and cultural rights; conventions for international commerce; and for health, labour, and social rights. That is deeply satisfying and encouraging. Grotius would have been proud, and I guess you, too.

In order to make peace, more hearings and events take place at the Peace Palace than ever before. Your appeal to the reason of men has been heard. “Law not war” is the motto on a bench recently placed outside the Peace Palace.

We have hosted so many cases in which conflicts have been dealt with successfully. And we don’t even know how many battles have been prevented here, but our courts have dealt with the big issues of every decade. We are grateful for every human life saved because of cases settled peacefully at the Peace Palace. As a consequence of the many cases that are taking place currently, and because older, possibly hazardous materials used in building the Peace Palace should be replaced, renovation is needed to meet current and future demands. This renovation forces us to address fundamental questions: is the host country still committed to recognising and supporting the Carnegie Foundation? If not, what should our role be? What should our strategy be? You encouraged your heirs to act as we see fit. But I would have loved to have you as a sparring partner to deal with these questions.

In all honesty, we did not do everything right during the last century. Unlike fellow Carnegie institutions, we have not kept a financial buffer for maintaining and developing the Peace Palace. Instead, after the budget you so graciously provided for the building of the Peace Palace was exhausted, we relied on the commitment of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Dutch government has generously supported our cause for many decades. We recently realised that this dependence entails risks with a view to our mission and our position. We have become vulnerable. So we have to reach out to the likes of you to join our cause and continue the quest for peace together. Will there be an Andrew Carnegie in our time to finance world peace through law, including sustaining the Peace Palace?

As we are acquiring new skills to develop partnerships for peace, we are fortunate to have various Carnegie institutions with complementary missions with whom to exchange experiences and views. We owe it to the current President of Carnegie Corporation of New York, Vartan Gregorian, that he brought your institutions together again. It is great to experience how the family of Carnegie institutions is with us on our joint mission. When I was in New York for the very first time, meeting colleagues from throughout the world at the amazing Carnegie Hall, I was excited not just to attend the wonderful concert there, but also to meet these great minds and learn about so many impressive initiatives covering the whole breadth of your legacy.

Following a spontaneous plea to join hands in promoting peace, we are taking your legacy to the next level by cooperating more intensely. Just last year we held the very first Carnegie PeaceBuilding Conversations in your Peace Palace. It was inspiring. We launched partnerships for peace, and received wide support to organise dialogues with all kinds of partners to address the root causes of conflicts. Our job will remain the prevention of warfare, carnage, and the loss of human lives. And we do so with many more partners now.

You once said that the peaceful development of nations is their most profitable policy. You will no doubt be happy to learn about the most recent joint initiative of nations. The United Nations has agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals — specific goals to end poverty, hunger, and inequality. There are ambitious plans to enhance education, public health, and sustainable production and consumption. This program is probably by far the most ambitious global program to eradicate root causes of conflicts and develop new avenues toward peace.

We at the Peace Palace focus on a specific goal from this program: peace, justice, and stronger institutions. That is our core business. We are going to facilitate dialogues to promote stronger international institutions to reach these important goals.

For us here in The Hague, now the legal capital of the world, and, as home to the Peace Palace, the international city of peace and justice, it is an honour to follow in your footsteps and try to deliver peace and justice in our day and age. Yet we realise that arbitration and jurisdiction are crucial, but not sufficient. We need to add mediation and dialogue as instruments to settle complex issues peacefully and structurally, so we are laying the foundations for pathways to peace for the century ahead of us.

In essence, since you initiated the Carnegie Foundation Peace Palace, we are here to make peace. It’s in our genes. A century beyond our founding, we still facilitate peace through law successfully. And we are adding peace through dialogue. Together with the members of the Carnegie family of institutions and other partners, we create and support great events at a unique location in the world. This is how we bring people together and inspire them to make a change in as many human lives as possible. And we aim to develop more and more partnerships to work together towards world peace.

Thanks to you, Mr. Carnegie, we provide and maintain a tangible place of hope. We facilitate peace in action every day.

You believed that the world takes on a brighter radiance from the day the Temple of Peace opens its doors. We take pride in providing this ray of light to the people. There is hope for the entire world; peace is doable.

With warm regards,

Erik de Baedts