Paper on International Relations Offered
One of the Preliminary Reports offered with this issue is an examination of "International Relations and Treaties in the Book of Mormon" by Mark Davis and Brent Israelsen. Their purpose is to identify "principles of the law of nations" in the Book of Mormon.
They cover five topics: (1) The Nephites and Lamanites formed almost immediately into national states, a form characteristic of ancient Israel, that represents cultural or ethnic nations in political form. Such states differ from tribes, which exist largely as kin subgroups, and the larger empire which unites heterogenous cultural groups.
(2) Citizenship was usually determined by culture and race. Aliens had few rights and could be killed or enslaved at will (as Ammon nearly was). Citizens did not seem to be free to leave their country without the express permission of the king. Occasionally, however, whole groups could be assimilated, as were the Anti-Nephi-Lehis or the people of Zarahemla, at which time they seemed to lose any separate identity.
(3) Diplomatic relations seem to have been primarily "ad hoc and informal" when the two nations were not at war. If peacetime trade also produced political understandings, they are not reflected in the Book of Mormon.
(4) War was, as the authors point out, "the central relationship between the Nephites and the Lamanites." In the absence of international law, any dispute could escalate to a defense by arms.
(5) The only guarantee of a treaty seemed to be the military ability to enforce it, and indeed, an agreement did not seem binding unless it were reached after some kind of contest. Interesting parallels can be found between ancient Near Eastern treaties and those in the Book of Mormon.