Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Towards 1914: 1 (1894-1904)

'The All-Highest'; Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941)

The Dual Entente
The idea of a Franco-Russian alliance was not new as it had been advocated by panslavists and French nationalists, but it remained insignificant so long as Bismarck nursed Russia and encouraged French expansion overseas. As Russo-German relations cooled, the Reinsurance Treaty was allowed to lapse.

This did not mean an alliance was inevitable as there was considerable dislike in Russia of France’s republican constitution. However, the two powers were becoming increasingly close economically and hostile to what they saw as Britain’s expansionism.

In July 1891 the French fleet paid a symbolic visit to Kronstadt and diplomatic notes were exchanged. In August 1892 Russia promised to go to war if France were attacked by Germany alone and in return France promised to come to Russia’s help if she were attached by Germany (but not if she were attacked by Austria-Hungary). This agreement was full of significance for the future: Europe was now on the way to being organized into two armed camps. At the end of 1893 a diplomatic convention was signed (and ratified in 1894) to reinforce the military one. In 1894 Nicholas II paid a state visit to Paris. So secret was this alliance that the public did not become aware of it until 1897 and most French ministers did not know its precise terms until war broke out.

Britain and Turkey
How did Britain come to abandon the support for Turkey that had been the keystone of its policy throughout the 19th century?

The deaths of Alexander of Battenberg in November 1893 and of Alexander III in 1894 eased Russian relations with Bulgaria. In 1895 another Balkan crisis loomed when a series of officially instigated massacres of Armenians took place in Turkey. Public opinion was greatly agitated in Britain though not in the rest of Europe. The British government wished to condemn the massacres but at the same time not allow a repeat of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877. Britain had now become thoroughly disillusioned with Abdul Hamid II who had failed to implement the promised reforms. It now seemed morally impossible to defend Turkey. At the same time the old strategic arguments for defending the access to the Mediterranean seemed out of date:
(1) the Straits could no longer be defended successfully against the combined Franco-Russian fleets;
(2) the route to India could be better secured by maintaining control of Egypt and was no longer dependent on the balance of power in south-east Europe.
On 19 January 1897 the British Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Lord Salisbury spoke in the Lords in the debate on the Queen’s Speech. This speech marked a dramatic reversal of British foreign policy by condemning the entry into the Crimean War.
‘The parting of the ways was in 1853 when the Emperor Nicholas’s proposals were rejected. Many members of the House will keenly feel the nature of the mistake that was made when I say that we put all our money on the wrong horse.’
But this remarkable change in policy did not have an immediate practical outcome. In 1897 Britain was isolated. She was at odds with France over the Sudan and relations with Germany were worsening.

Britain and Germany
Kaiser Wilhelm II: the photograph tries to draw the eye away from his withered left arm
By the end of the nineteenth century Kaiser Wilhelm II's unpredictable behaviour was causing great concern in Britain.

In 1893 Britain had protested against German railway building in Asia Minor, which had begun in 1888 when a German syndicate obtained a concession from Turkey.

Germany took the side of Britain’s opponents in colonial disputes and wars. From 1889 Britain and Portugal were at odds over Delagoa Bay (Maputo Bay, Mozambique) which arose when the Portuguese seized the railway running from the bay to the Transvaal. In 1894 Germany sent two warships to) as a demonstration against British pressure on Portugal.

(The dispute was referred to arbitration, and in 1900 Portugal was condemned to pay nearly 1,000,000 pounds in compensation to the shareholders in the railway company.)

On 2 January 1895 news of the Jameson Raid, an excursion by British freebooters into the Transvaal, reached Berlin. On the following day the Kaiser sent a telegram to President Paul Kruger congratulating him on its suppression. British public opinion was outraged.

Alfred von Tirpitz
In July 1897 Bernard Heinrich von B├╝low became secretary of state (and chancellor in 1900) and Alfred von Tirpitz became head of the Admiralty.

This marked a new turn in German politics, the abandonment of Bismarck’s contention that Germany was a ‘satiated’ power. It coincided with increased anti-German feeling in Britain as newspapers whipped up a campaign against German goods.

In 1898 Wilhelm visited Sultan Abdul Hamid II and secured a Turkish concession to Germany to extend the Berlin-Baghdad Railway to Basra, thus giving Germany access to the Persian Gulf.

During the Boer War Britain’s sense of isolation increased. The one consolation was her naval supremacy which enabled her to ride out world opinion.

The world c. 1900
Was the First World War inevitable?
In some respects the world was more orderly than it had ever been. Much had been done to mitigate the disorder of international competition. Colonial disputes had gone to arbitration and had been peacefully resolved. More questions were decided by arbitration between 1880 and 1900 than in the previous eighty years. Many people believed, with reason, that the world was becoming more peaceful.

There was also acceptance of the need to limit armaments, however difficult this might be to achieve in practice. The first Nobel Peace Prizes were awarded in 1901.

In 1899, at the instigation of Nicholas II, a conference met at the Hague, where it was decided that a permanent court of arbitration should be set up to which disputes could be referred and the International Court was set up in the same year. It was agreed to prohibit some modern weapons such as dum-dum bullets and poison gas.
A second Hague Conference met in 1907.

The enhanced prestige of the United States can be seen in the success of the Spanish-American War and Theodore Roosevelt’s mediation which ended the Russo-Japanese War in August1905. The treaty recognized Japan’s paramount interest in Korea and marked the formal abandonment by Tsarist Russia of her Far-Eastern dreams.

Britain’s alliances
In 1902 Britain ended its long period of isolation, which the Boer War had so strikingly demonstrated, by entering into an alliance with Japan. It was strictly limited and was inspired by concerns over Russian and German influence in China and Manchuria and was only to last for five years. This gave the Japanese the assurance of Britain’s neutrality if Japan went to war with Russia. But it did not address British concerns about Russian activities in Afghanistan and Tibet.

Relations with France were bad after the Fashoda incident and mutual hostility was inflamed by the Dreyfus affair and the Boer War. But Britain and France also had common concerns over Germany and the British and French Foreign Ministers sought ways to ease hostilities. In 1903 Edward VII visited France and tensions eased. The outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 made the need for an agreement even more urgent.

In April 1904 the Entente Cordiale was signed.
Britain was allowed to consolidate its hold on Egypt and France was allowed to establish a protectorate over Morocco; Siam would be left an independent buffer between Burma and Indochina This did not, in practice, give Britain a great deal. Nevertheless, it was a diplomatic turning point.