Reflections On Vattel
Several things can be said about Vattel's discussion of the issue. One is that it is quite self-interested, from the perspective of Europeans. A marked contrast can be found in the writings of contemporary scholars from among the Indigenous peoples who were on the receiving end of colonisation, such as James Anaya or Robert Williams or Mick Dodson.
A second comment is that land and territory is discussed solely in terms of its use as an economic resource. It was in this economic context that Western thinkers had developed their notion of a scale relating to land use, ranging from hunter-gatherers, at the bottom, up to settled commercial societies, at the top.
A third comment is to repeat that this discussion does not justify the total takeover of the territories of those who do not cultivate the soil. Nor does it justify the total disregard of their prior rights. It would simply justify the takeover of 'a part of those lands', such being land 'of which they made no actual and constant use'.
Keywords: colonialism, colonisation, conquest, land use, terra nullius
Author: Nettheim, Garth