1. Policy of Isolation:
After the overthrow of Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, England followed a policy of aloofness from European politics.
It is true that from 1815 to 1822 she co-operated with the other members of the Quadruple Alliance to maintain peace in Europe but after the death of Clastlereagh in 1822, Canning came to power.
He was not enamoured of international co-operation, and consequently the era of Congresses ended after the Congress of Verona in 1822.
In spite of this, Canning had to intervene in the Greek War of Independence. Palmerston also intervened in Belgium, Egypt and the Balkans. After the defeat of Russia in the Crimean war, England kept aloof from European politics for more than a decade. In 1877, the famous “Bulgarian atrocities” took place. Thousands of Christians were murdered by the Turks. Gladstone appealed to Disraeli to come to the help of the oppressed Christians, but the latter refused to do so. Russia came to the help of Bulgaria and declared war against Turkey.
The latter was defeated and forced to sign the Treaty of San Stefano in 1878. By this treaty, Russia came to have a dominant position in the Balkans. This could not be tolerated by Great Britain and Austria. The result was that they asked her either to submit the Treaty of San Stefano to Congress of European statesmen or take the consequences of non-compliance.
When Russia found that Great Britain and Austria were making military preparations on a large scale and there was every likelihood of war being declared, she decided to submit. She was already exhausted and could not afford to fight against the fresh soldiers of Austria and Great Britain. At the Congress of Berlin, Great Britain was able to deprive Russia of her gains by the Treaty of San Stefano. She also got the Island of Cyprus. When Disraeli came back from Berlin to London, he declared that he had brought “peace with honour”.
On the whole, Great Britain followed a policy of isolation towards European affairs. This policy was considered to be in the best interests of the country. There was no necessity of continuously interfering in European politics when the same purpose could be served by occasional interference.
However, it became clear to the British statesmen towards the end of the 19th century that it was impossible to continue to follow a policy of splendid isolation. A more positive policy was made necessary by certain developments in European affairs since 1870.
Bismarck established the hegemony of Germany in Europe. Between 1871 and 1890, he was the most dominant personality in European politics. As he had injured the national pride of France in 1871 by taking away Alsace and Lorraine he feared a war of Revanche. He knew full well that France would try to get back Alsace and Lorraine and consequently he tried to isolate France in Europe.
With that object in view, he formed the Three Emperors’ League in 1873. It brought together the Emperors of Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary. The League broke down in 1878 as a result of the differences between Austria-Hungary and Russia on the occasion of the Congress of Berlin. In 1878-79 the relations between Russia and Germany became very bitter and that led to the making of the Austro-German Alliance of 1879.
By this alliance Germany and Austria-Hungary bound themselves to help each other in case of an invasion from Russia. Although this alliance was made for 5 years, it was renewed every time it fell due and continued to exist up to 1914. In 1882, Italy joined the Dual Alliance of 1879. Thus the Triple Alliance came into being in 1882.
When Bismarck was in power, he tried his utmost to isolate France and with that object in view maintained friendly relations with Russia. He was able to revive the Three Emperors League in 1881 and it continued up to 1887. As the differences between Russia and Austria became very acute in 1887 on account of the Bulgarian question, Bismarck entered into the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia in 1887.
This continued up to 1890 when Bismarck resigned. The Treaty of 1887 lapsed on account of the attitude of William II, the Kaiser of Germany. The mutual interests of Russia and France brought them together and the Franco-Russian Alliance was made in 1894. Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy were on one side and France and Russia were on the other.
Taylor says that it is customary to speak of the last 20 or 30 years of the nineteenth century as the period of “splendid isolation” in British foreign policy, but this is true only in a limited sense. The British certainly ceased to concern themselves with the balance of power in Europe as they supposed that it was self-adjusting. However, they maintained close connection with the continental powers for the sake of affairs outside Europe, particularly in the Near East.
The Mediterranean entente was a firmer combination against Russia than anything we had entered into earlier in the century. Until the autumn of 1893, the British still believed that they had “the liberal alliance” with France up their sleeve if they ever really needed it. However, everything was changed after the signing of the Franco-Russian alliance. Hitherto, they had assumed that they could pass the Straits in case of war with Russia and a squadron had been kept more or less permanently in the Aegean.
After the alliance of 1893-4 the full resources of both the Mediterranean and Channel fleets were to be required to deal with the French and it was disputed whether they could do so or not. Chamberlain is stated to have observed, “The British navy in the Mediterranean would have to cut and run—if it could run. Moreover, the Russian fleet was now supposed to be formidable and it was thought that the Russians would be able to reach Constantinople by sea avoiding the long land-route which put them at the mercy of Austria-Hungary. This demanded a change in the policy of England.
It was at this time that Great Britain felt that she was all alone in European politics. It was feared that in the event of a war, Great Britain might find herself in a difficult position. She thought of having allies and her first preference was for Germany. Queen Victoria was the maternal grandmother of William II There was also a theory in those days that the English came from Germany. Moreover, the competition between France and England in Africa left her no other choice. However, there was no good response from the German side.
2. Fashoda Incident:
On 2 September 1898, Kitchner won the battle of Omdurman in the Sudan and 4 days after he learnt that a French expedition under Captain Marchand had occupied Fashoda, higher up the Nile. The Anglo-French conflict over the Nile valley reached its decisive point. It was not a conflict between equals because the British had control of Egypt and the French wanted only some compensation for giving up their claim to Egypt.
The French policy in the Upper Nile was a face-saving affair from the first to the last. Every sensible French politician knew that Egypt had been lost for good in 1882 and all that they asked for was something to satisfy the public opinion in France Their ultimate object throughout was to restore “the liberal alliance” with Great Britain.
Until March 1896 when the British Government decided to reconquer Sudan, the French policy had been reasonable. Even a token occupation of the Upper Nile would have strengthened their diplomatic position. Until the Italian defeat at Adowa they could hope for cooperation from Abyssinia.
However, once the British put the question of the Upper Nile on a military basis, there was no place for diplomacy and the French were bound to lose unless they were prepared to fight and that was not possible for them in 1898 That was due to the fact that their navy had been neglected and the Dreyfus case had completely upset the internal politics of France.
There was no desire in France to fight against Britain for Egypt Delcasse had become the Foreign Minister of France in June 1898 and there seemed to be no difference of principle between him and his predecessor Hanotaux. Delcasse himself had helped to launch the Marchand expedition and Hanotaux had himself tried for an agreement with Great Britain. In June 1898, Delcasse had no clear-cut plan except to improve the diplomatic position of France.
Experience convinced them that Germany was not willing to come to any friendly understanding with France and hence Delcasse decided to reconcile Great Britain and Russia. The Fashoda crisis caught Delcasse unprepared. He knew that France could not go to war against Britain and his only hope was to put the question back on a basis of diplomacy.
He offered “the liberal alliance” to the British Government provided he was given some reasonable compensation. At the same time, he sought diplomatic backing from Russia and even from Germany. Both of these policies failed. Lord Salisbury summed up his attitude in these words, “We claim the Sudan by right of conquest because that is the simplest and most effective”.
The British arguments were the Mediterranean fleet and Kitchener’s army and their terms were unconditional withdrawal by Marchand. There was none to support France. Though the Russians welcomed Anglo-French conflict, they were not prepared to help France. Vague assurances of loyalty to the Franco-Russian alliance were of no avail. There were no prospects of any help from Germany.
The latter was not prepared to offend the British as she wanted their support in the Far East. Germany had everything to gain from French humiliation and resentment. She wanted France to rely more and more on Russia in order to keep her away from Britain. Under these circumstances, Delcasse had no alternative but to surrender.
In November 1898, Marchand left Fashoda. On 21 March 1899, Great Britain and France made an agreement by which France was excluded from the Valley of the Nile. That agreement did not settle the question of Egypt and the French attitude towards the British occupation remained unchanged. They continued to protest and hamper Cromer’s schemes of financial reorganisation. Fashoda and its aftermath was for the French a crisis in political psychology and for the British not even that. They carried the day with normal peace-time strength.
The extra cost of Fashoda to the British Admiralty was £13,600. Fashoda finished off what remained of the Mediterranean entente. Great Britain needed neither Italy nor Austria-Hungary. Italy had to seek reconciliation with France. In October 1898, while Marchand was still at Fashoda, William II paid a second visit to the Ottoman Empire.
3. Britain Approaches Germany:
At this time, efforts were being made by men like Chamberlain to win over Germany. When Victoria died in 1901, William II went to England and stayed there for many days. He expressed feelings of profound sorrow at the death of Queen Victoria. People were impressed by it.
He boasted of Germany’s links with Great Britain. He took pride in the fact that he had been associated with the British navy. The result was that great honours were showered on him. The British statesmen thought that that was the most opportune time for entering into an agreement with Germany.
The offer was duly made, but unfortunately there was no friendly response. The reply of William II was that “the road to Berlin lies through Vienna.” The reply had a damping effect on those enthusiasts who were clamouring for an alliance with Germany. The result was that all attempts to win over Germany were given up and Great Britain thought of finding allies in some other direction.
4. Anglo-Japanese Alliance (1902):
The first breach in the policy of splendid isolation was made in 1902 when Great Britain entered into a Treaty of Alliance with Japan. The treaty declared that Great Britain and Japan were actuated “solely by a desire to maintain the status quo and general peace in the extreme East.” Their object was to uphold “the independence and territorial integrity of the Empire of China and the Empire of Korea.” Equal opportunities for commerce and industry were to be guaranteed to all nations. England was stated to have special interests in China, and Japan both in China and Korea.
It was provided that if either Japan or England was involved in a war with any other power in defence of her interests, the other country was to remain neutral. If Japan or England ‘ was involved in a war with two or more Powers, the other country was to join the war. The result of this treaty was that Japan got the protection of British sea-power against the hostile intervention of France or Germany or both in the case of a Russo-Japanese war.
The story of 1895 was not to be repeated again when Japan was deprived of her gains in the war against China. By this treaty, Great Britain was able to withdraw her navy from the Pacific Ocean and thereby concentrate herself in the North Sea where she was apprehending danger from Germany.
5. The Entente Cordial (1904):
England was not satisfied with an alliance with Japan alone. As the menace from Germany began to grow, her search for friends increased. In 1903 Edward VII visited France and he was cordially received everywhere in that country. It left a very good impression on his mind Edward VII personally hated William 11 who called him by the name of old peacock.
This created a congenial atmosphere in which the two countries could come near each other. After the visit of Edward VII President Loubet of France and Delcasse visited England. There was an exchange of views among the statesmen of England and France with regard to the outstanding disputes between the two countries.
The ultimate effect of all this was the Entente Cordiale was signed on 8 April 1904 The Entente was not an alliance but it certainly removed the cause of friction between the two countries and thereby made it possible for them to co-operate more and more with each other By the Entente France recognised the special interests of England in Egypt and Great Britain agreed to back the special interests of France in Morocco.
As regards the Newfoundland fisheries, it was agreed that France was to give up her claims to the coastline and Great Britain was to give all facilities to French fishermen on the coastline of Newfoundland. The other outstanding conflicts were also resolved by mutual negotiations.
Taylor says that the Entente Cordiale appeared to contain, a gross inequality because the British gains in Egypt operated immediately and the French gains in Morocco depended on their future exertions. However, the inequality was apparent and not real. The British were already established in Egypt beyond all challenge and their gain was merely a free hand for Cromer and his financial schemes.
On the other hand, the French were at liberty to add the finest part of North Africa to their Empire. When Delcasse gave up Egypt, he renounced a cause which ranked second to the los provinces. When Lord Lansdowne gave up Morocco, he wrote off a country unknown to all except a few traders and experts in strategy. Both British and French opinion believed that France had paid the higher price.
The result was that the Entente was on trial in France as it was not in Great Britain. The Entente was essential for France but it was merely an advantage for the British. But the French had paid cash down and the British with a promissory note. British good faith was on trial. They had to back the French in Morocco when international difficulties arose.
All that the Entente did for the British was slightly to lessen their naval needs in the Mediterranean and to give Cromer a field-day in Egypt. Paul Cambon wrote thus on the conclusion of the Entente, “Without the war in the Transvaal which bled Great Britain and made her wise, without the war in the Far East which made for reflection on both sides of the Channel and inspired in all a desire to limit the conflict our agreements would not have been possible.”
Taylor does not accept this view The British yielded nothing of the demands they had made in 1890’s before the Boer war. The only change was perhaps their loss of faith in the ability of independent Morocco to keep going. The great change was on the French side. The Far East and the Far East alone caused the Anglo-French entente.
As time went on, the Entente Cordiale became stronger and stronger. There were certain factors which forced Great. Britain and France to come nearer each other. The defeat of Russia in the Russo- Japanese War (1904-05) forced France to depend more and more on England.
The growing strength of the German navy compelled Great Britain to concentrate all her naval forces in the North Sea. The result was that she had to withdraw her naval forces from the Mediterranean. That could be done safely only if the French navy took over the defence of the Mediterranean Sea. This forced England to depend more and more on France.
The attitude of Great Britain on the occasion of the three Morocco crises showed that she was coming nearer and nearer to France. When France tried to establish a foothold in Morocco in 1905 William II went to Tangier and declared that Germany would not tolerate the establishment of French control in Morocco. Germany also demanded the dismissal of Delcasse and the summoning of a conference on Morocco. Both of these demands were accepted and preparations were made for the Algeciras Conference in 1906.
On the eve of the Conference, military and naval staff talks were held between French and England. At the Conference itself, England backed France and Germany found herself practically all alone. Likewise in 1908 andI911, Great Britain backed France against Germany. When Lord Haldane went to Berlin in 1912, the British Foreign Minister declared that England would not sacrifice France for any price. Thus the ties between England and France kept on strengthening with the passage of time.
6. Anglo-Russian Convention (1907):
It was in the interests, of France that reconciliation should be brought about between England and Russia. Delcasse had done his best to achieve that. Even after his dismissal, efforts continued in that direction. The result was that in 1907 was made the famous Anglo-Russian Convention.
As a result of this agreement, a solution was found for the settlement of the disputes between England and Russia with regard to Afghanistan, Tibet and Persia. As regards Afghanistan, it was agreed that Russia would not interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and deal with that country only through the British Government.
The agreement was disliked by the Government of Afghanistan because she was not consulted with regard to its terms. As regards Tibet, both England and Russia agreed not to interfere in the internal affairs of that country. Both the countries accepted the suzerainty of China over Tibet.
As regards Persia, its northern portion was recognised as within the sphere of influence of Russia and its southern part was recognised as the British sphere of influence. Central Persia was left under the control of the native government of that country. The Anglo-Russian Convention treated what is known as the Triple Entente.
It is clear from above that at the beginning of the 20th century, Great Britain gave up her policy of splendid isolation and entered into those alliances which resulted in the war of 1914.
7. Foreign Policy of Sir Edward Grey (1905-16):
After the resignation of Lord Lansdowne, Sir Edward Grey became Foreign Minister of England in December 1905. He was England’s Foreign Minister at a time when she was passing through a very critical period. It goes to the credit of Sir Edward Grey that he handled the situation in a masterly manner and did all those things which enabled England to win the World War I.
If one were to ask the question as to what exactly was the policy which determined Grey’s attitude at the Foreign Office, one cannot do better than quote Grey himself According to him, “If all secrets were known, it would probably be found that British Foreign Ministers have been guided by what seemed to them the immediate interests of this country when making elaborate calculations for the future.”
If that was the statement which he made about the British Foreign Ministers in general, he himself was no exception to the general rule. He was never opposed to the Triple Alliance, but would like to have reconciliation between the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente. There was one definite object which could be seen in all his actions. He was determined to find allies for England. He was not a follower of the policy of isolation. He did not want war, but his policy was to see that if war came, England was not all alone. He directed his foreign policy with that objective in view.
8. Grey and Morocco Crises:
Grey’s attitude in 1905-6, 1908 and 1911 with regard to the problem of Morocco shows that he was determined to fight against Germany, and not willing to allow her to crush France. There was a definite commitment on the part of the British Government to allow France to have a free hand in Morocco.
As France had agreed to British control over Egypt, there was no justification on the part of England to hesitate from fulfilling her part of the bargain. Germany demanded the dismissal of Delcasse and that was done. She also demanded that the Morocco question should be referred to a conference and France also gave way on that point. France had to submit before Germany because she was not sure of any definite help from England.
So far, the attitude of England might have created some doubt in the minds of the French. But when the French Ambassador, Cambon, put before Grey the possibility of an unprovoked attack by Germany, Grey, with the consent of the British Prime Minister, allowed the holding of “military conversations” between the French and British staffs. Prof Trevelyan approves of this.
According to him, “To contemplate a contingent possibility of British intervention and yet have no war plan ready would have been madness, for while Britannia was fumbling with her sword, the Germans might be in Paris in a month. The military conversations of 1906 were amply justified, as events of August 1914 were to show.”
However, this action of Grey was criticised by his opponents. It was contended that the “Staff Talks” paved the way for a military alliance. It was farther maintained that although Grey professed to give no guarantee of help to France, yet by his actions, he committed England to come to the help of France if the latter was attacked by Germany. Grey declared that neither government was bound by the “Staff Talks” to any particular policy. England was not committed to any policy from which she could not deviate if her interests so demanded.
The “Staff Talks” took place in January 1906. When the Conference met at Algeciras to decide the Morocco question. Grey stood by France. The importance of Grey’s attitude on the occasion of the Conference has been put in these words by Trevelyan “Germany had resented Lansdowne s settlement of Anglo-French quarrels in 1904 and wished to show France that she could not depend on England Grey showed her that she could. It was the testing of the Entente.” Although England supported France, she tried to impress that she was not bound. However, the impression created on Germany was that France would be helped by England at the time of her difficulty.
In the Casablanca case of 1908, Grey supported France against Germany and the latter had to keep quiet In 1911 Germany objected to the interference of France in Morocco. The Sultan of Morocco was afraid of his safety on account of the rise of a pretender. On the pretext of protecting the Europeans in Fez the French sent their troops to the capital of Morocco.
The Foreign Minister of Germany did not approve of this move of France. While putting pressure on Paris, he ordered the German gunboat, the Panther, to proceed to Agadir. Germany refused to withdraw her ship unless her own interests were safeguarded. Sir Edward Grey was shocked at the German attitude.
He regarded the voyage of the Panther as an unprovoked attack on the status quo and made the following declaration. “We were of opinion that a new situation had been created by the despatch of the German ship to Agadir. Future developments might affect British interests more directly than they had hitherto been affected. We could not recognise any new arrangements that might be come to without us.”
He told the French Ambassador that “the British Government deems a discussion necessary between France, Germany. Spain and England,” Although the attitude of Germany was rather provocative, the Mansion House speech of Lloyd George in 1911 made it clear to Germany that England would fight if her honour and interests were attacked. It was under these circumstances that Germany came to her senses and adopted a reasonable attitude.
9. Anglo-Russian Convention (1907):
Sir Edward Grey tried to bring England and Russia together by removing the causes of friction between the two countries. It was in the interests of the Entente Cordiale that friendly relations should be established between Russia and England. Russia was a friend of France. In the event of a war between Russia and England, France was bound to suffer. Through the efforts of the Government of France and Sir Edward Grey, the Anglo-Russian Convention was made in 1907.
By this Convention, the two countries settled their differences with regard to Afghanistan, Tibet and Persia. Both of them recognised the suzerainty of China in Tibet and pledged themselves not to interfere in her internal affairs. Russia agreed to deal with Afghanistan through the British Government. She also agreed to give up her right to deal directly with the Government of Afghanistan.
Likewise, Russia was given Northern Persia as her sphere of influence and she recognised the interests of England in Southern Persia. As a result of the efforts of Grey the Entente Cordiale of 1904 was converted into the Triple Entente of 1907.
Although the Anglo-Russian Convention was attacked on the ground that England sacrificed her interests in Persia and gave very favourable terms to Russia, Trevelyan is of the opinion that the Convention “was the only possible course consistent with our own safety.”
A.J.R Taylor says that the Triple Entente was essentially a settlement of differences and not a disguised alliance. Its two great weaknesses sprang from causes inside Great Britain and Russia and not from any German threat. On the one side, the Russians found it difficult to moderate their ambitions for long. They soon slipped back into assuming that Russia was the greatest or even the only power in the world.
The temptation to cheat in Persia was increased by the fact that the capital of Persia was in the Russian zone. Whatever the Foreign Ministry said in St. Petersburg, the Russians at Teheran constantly encroached upon the independence of Persia. On the British side, the Triple Entente stirred up imperialist and radical opposition.
Russia was the most reactionary power in Europe and hence the Entente seemed an unprincipled act of “power politics”. This was particularly so because the Russians worked against the Parliament in Persia. Radical feeling turned even against France. Her association with Russia, instead of making Russia respectable, made France appears reactionary and militaristic.
French ambitions in Morocco were blamed for the crisis of 1905 and Germany was presented as a pacific power threatened by French longings for Alsace and Lorraine and by Russian designs in the Balkans and at the Straits.
If the Germans had kept quiet, the Triple Entente might have dissolved but the German actions turned it into a reality. In August 1907 when the Entente was concluded, both the British and Russians supposed that they had no quarrel with Germany except in regard to France.
The Russians were pledged to defend French independence and the British were committed over Morocco but neither appeared a dangerous issue. The Germans were no longer attempting to bring France into subordination and the French were feeling their way towards a bargain with Germany over Morocco by which they would get political supremacy in exchange for sharing the economic advantages.
Grey’s attitude towards Russia and France requires elucidation and appreciation. Both the countries complained that although England professed to be their friend, she was reluctant to commit herself to come to their help whenever they were attacked by any other Power. However, Grey’s policy had a great advantage and was calculated to maintain the peace of Europe.
While he kept the hands of England free to follow any policy she considered necessary for her own safety, it had a very healthy influence on the attitude of France and Russia. If Grey had committed England to help Russia and France whenever they were attacked, that would have encouraged them to pick up a quarrel with Germany and Austria-Hungary.
This is clear from the events of 1914. At first, France and Russia hesitated, but when it became clear to them that England would come to their help, Russia at once declared herself on the side of Serbia and thus the Great War of 1914 started. However, the hesitant and indefinite attitude of Grey served a purpose. In the absence of such an attitude, war would have come earlier.
10. Grey and Germany:
It was wrong to say that Grey was in any way inimical to Germany. He was not an enemy of Germany as such. His cry of August 3, 1914, in the House of Commons, “I hate war, I hate war,” gives a peep into his mind. Grey had no intention to fight against Germany. He was always ready to do all that lay in his power to remove the causes of friction between the two countries.
Grey’s policy towards Germany can best be explained in the following words of Lichnowsky, German Ambassador from 1912 to 1914. “It was not his object to isolate us, but to the best of his power to make us partners in the existing association…Without interfering with England’s existing friendship with France and Russia, a friendship which had no aggressive aims…he wished to arrive at a friendly rapprochement and understanding with Germany in order to bring the two groups nearer.” Grey’s policy was to bridge the gulf between the Franco-Russian Alliance and the Triple Alliance. It was unfortunate that William II consistently rejected the opinions and advice of his ambassadors and followed that of his military and naval experts.
Grey made every effort after 1906 to remove all causes of friction between Germany and England. He did his best to tackle the problem of Anglo-German naval rivalry. He made it very clear to the German Government that Britain’s naval supremacy would be maintained at all costs, but she was prepared to come to a settlement with Germany to have a proportionate reduction in the navies of the two countries.
Unfortunately, William II treated every British offer as a sign of weakness. The policy of Tirpitz was to keep peace by frightening his rivals. He believed in the “exaggerated estimation of fear as an instrument of negotiation.” Germany believed that she could terrify England into submission, but she was sadly mistaken. No doubt England was in favour of maintaining peace, but it is wrong to maintain that she was prepared to do so at the cost of her safety and self-respect.
William II refused to make any naval concessions unless Britain undertook to remain neutral in the event of a Franco-German war. Without such a guarantee, the Kaiser was not prepared to reduce his navy. His contention was that he “did not wish good relations at the expense of the fleet.” It was under these circumstances that the negotiations broke down in 1912. Grey was not prepared to sacrifice France in order to maintain good relations with Germany.
The failure of the naval negotiations in 1912 did not discourage Sir Edward Grey. He continued his efforts to bring about an understanding between England and Germany. By June 1914, an agreement was reached with regard to the Berlin-Baghdad Railway and the fate of the Portuguese colonies in case Portugal abandoned them. The friendly settlement averted a quarrel and brought the two countries nearer.
On the occasion of the Bosnian crisis of 1908-09, there was every likelihood of a war. However, Grey used his good offices to avert the crisis and Europe was saved from a catastrophe.
11. Grey and the Balkan Wars (1912-13):
Reference may be made to the attitude of Sir Edward Grey towards the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. He did his level best to localize the trouble in the Balkans. A conference was held in London under his President ship and he was very much impressed by the success of the experiment in international co-operation. But for his tactful handling of the delicate situation, there is reason to believe that the trouble might have spread to various parts of Europe and that was not in the interests of Europe which at that time was a powder magazine.
When Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria Hungary, was murdered in 1914 at Sorajevo, Grey suggested a conference for the settlement of the dispute. If William II, instead of giving carte blanche to Berchtold, had agreed to the suggestion of Grey, there is reason to believe that the Great War might have been avoided.
It goes without saying that Grey’s foreign policy strengthened the position of England in the international field. She had allies on which she could depend. She was not all alone in Europe. Grey’s policy was responsible for postponing the war for some time. Unfortunately, on account of the working of powerful adverse forces, war broke out in 1914 and England was also dragged into it.
12. Anglo-German Relations (1890-1914):
During the latter half of the 19th century, the relations between Germany and England were friendly, Germany was not suspected as a rival by Great Britain. On the occasion of the Franco-Prussian War, public opinion in England regarded Napoleon III as a danger and not Bismarck.
The Iron Chancellor made it a cardinal principle of his policy to keep on good terms with the British Government. He was not prepared to do anything which might result in the alienation of Great Britain. That was one of the reasons why he refused to develop the navy and acquire colonies for his country.
He know full well that Great Britain would not tolerate the building up of a strong navy by Germany as that was liable to threaten the very existence of that country. On more than one occasion, Bismarck suggested to Disraeli and Salisbury the formation of an alliance between the two countries. He remarked thus in 1889. “The peace of Europe can be secured by the conclusion of a treaty between Germany and England.”
However, Salisbury refused to enter into an alliance with Germany. Bismarck appointed his son, Herbert, as the German ambassador in England. Frederick, the son of William I, was married to the daughter of Queen Victoria and this brought the two countries together. In England, a theory was prevalent at that time that the ancestors of the English came from the north of Germany. All these factors brought the two countries together.
13. Exchange of Zanzibar for Heligoland (1890):
Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary of Great Britain, proposed to Herbert Bismarck the transfer of the Island of Heligoland to Germany with a view to strengthen the friendly relations between the two countries and in 1890, a treaty was signed by which Germany recognised the British protectorate over Zanzibar and the basin of the Upper Nile up to the border of Egypt as within the British sphere of influence. Great Britain promised to urge the Sultan to sell the coastal strip to Germany. Germany also got the Island of Heligoland which was very near to her and could be developed for naval fortification.
The deal was criticised, in both the countries but Salisbury and Caprivi defended it. The contention of Salisbury was that Heligoland was of no strategic value to Great Britain. It could be captured by Germany at any time in the event of a war with that country. To quote him, “We have made an agreement which removes all dangers of conflict and strengthens the good relations of nations, who by their sympathies, interests and origin, will always be good friends.” Zanzibar was to be the key of an empire in Eastern Africa.
According to Stanley, Great Britain exchanged a trouser-button for a suit of clothes. The contention of Caprivi was that Germany could not surrender Zanzibar as she had never owned it. Moreover, there was no possibility of acquiring it as the British position was stronger there than that of Germany.
To quote him, “We must ask ourselves how much colonising strength we possess, how far the available money and human resources will go. Germany has too many irons in the fire. It is no use having her hands full of things of which she cannot make use. The worst thing that could happen to us would be to give us the whole of Africa, for we have got quite enough as it is.” William II approved of the deal in these words. “Without a battle, without the shedding of a tear, this beautiful island has passed into my possession. We have acquired it by treaty, freely concluded with a country to which we are indebted for the transfer.” However, Bismarck criticized the deal on the ground that Germany would have got the island without paying the price she actually paid.
William II professed feelings of great friendship for Great Britain from time to time. When the Prince of Wales visited Berlin in 1890, the Kaiser put on the uniform of an English Admiral and referred to the brotherhood of arms at the battle of Waterloo (1815) and expressed the hope that the British Navy and the German army would keep the peace of the world.
During his visit to England in 1891, William II remarked thus. “I have always felt at home in this lovely country, being the grandson of a queen whose name will ever be remembered as a noble character and a lady great in the wisdom of her counsels. Moreover, the same blood runs in the English and the German veins. I shall always, so far as it is in my power, maintain the historic friendship between our nations. My aim is above all the maintenance of peace. Only in peace can we bestov our earnest thoughts on the great problems, the solution of which 1 consider is the most prominent duty of our time.”
Friendly relations between the two countries were thus maintained. William II crossed to Cowes every summer and the members of the English royal family were always welcomed in Berlin. The German Chancellor declared thus in 1893. “I fully agree that the aim of our policy is gradually to win England for an official adhesion to the Triple Alliance.” Towards the end of the same year, agreements relating to the delimitation of the Kilimanjaro district and the hinterland of the Cameroons were also amicably settled. The boundaries of Togoland were also amicably fixed.
However, according to Dr. Gooch, “The sky began to darken in 1894 and Anglo-German relations were never to regain the confidence and intimacy of the opening years of the reign of William II.” Bad blood between the two countries was created by the partitioning of Africa. A treaty of 1894 between Great Britain and the Congo Free State leased the Sahr-e-Ghazel district to King Leopold of Belgium for life.
In return, Great Britain got a strip of territory west of Tanganyika for the proposed Cape to Cairo Railway and telegraph line. The British Government had no right to give Bahr-el-Ghazel to Leopold and the British acquisition of the territory west of Tanganyika was opposed to the terms of the Congo-German Treaty of 1884. Germany protested and Great Britain gave up that strip of territory. However, the incident left an unpleasant memory.
On the occasion of the opening of Kiel Canal, William II invited all the Great Powers. According to Gooch, “The host had a friendly welcome for all his guests but his warmest words were reserved for Great Britain.” He observed thus on that occasion: “Ever since our fleet was established we have tried to form our ideas in accordance with yours and in every way to learn from you. The history of the British Navy is as familiar to our officers and the seamen as to your selves. I am not only an Admiral of the Fleet but the grandson of the mighty Queen. I hope you will express our heartfelt thanks to Her Majesty for her graciousness in sending you here.”
At this stage, a change was noticed in the manners of William II. His behaviour became objectionable. He tried to dominate. He called his uncle “an old peacock”. Besides this personal factor, many other factors complicated the situation. A section of the British Press began to criticise William II and advised him to be considerate like his grandmother. Lord Salisbury was not friendly towards Germany.
His views on the question of Armenia were different from those of Germany. He was convinced that Turkey could not be reformed and, consequently, he stood for its partition. However, the policy of William II was one of maintaining the integrity of Turkey and establishing the most friendly relations with that country.
The situation in Africa also complicated the position. President Kruger of Transvaal had visited Germany in 1885 and asked for help from Bismarck, but the latter had refused it. However, things changed after the resignation of Bismarck. Germany began to take more and more interest in South Africa and Kruger could hope to get help from Germany. In 1894, two German warships were sent to Delagoa Bay as a demonstration against British interference.
The German consul in Pretoria declared in January 1895 that Germany was determined to support the Transvaal in its efforts to maintain political equilibrium. Naturally, Great Britain protested, but Germany maintained that she was doing only that which was necessary to safeguard her own interests. The British Government was asked to put a check on the activities of Jameson and Rhodes.
14. Kruger Telegram:
Both Great Britain and Germany were in opposite camps in South Africa and were trying to put a check on each other. There could be a clash at any time between the two countries. On 30 December 1895, Jameson’s troops crossed Mafeking. The German ambassador informed the British Government that the attack on the Transvaal could not be tolerated.
The raid failed and Jameson and his companions were arrested. When William II heard the news of the failure of the raid, he sent the following telegram to President Kruger. “I heartily congratulate you on the fact that you and your people, without appealing to the aid of friendly Powers, have succeeded in your unaided efforts in restoring peace and preserving the independence of the country against the armed bands which broke into your land.”
The President sent the following reply. “I express to Your Majesty my deepest gratitude for Your Majesty’s congratulations.” William II wrote thus to Nicholas II “I hope all will come right, but come what may, I will never allow the British to stamp out the Transvaal.” The Kruger telegram had a very unfortunate effect on the Anglo-German relations. The Morning Post wrote. “The nation will never forget this telegram and it will always bear it in mind in the future orientation of its policy.” Lord Salisbury observed thus in 1899. “The raid was a folly, but the telegram was even more foolish.”
In spite of this, the relations between the two countries were friendly for a brief period and that was due to certain circumstances. Great Britain was opposed to Russia and France, both in Asia and Africa. In 1898, England and France were on the verge of a war on the question of Fashoda. Great Britain was also opposed to Russian penetration into China and was determined to check it.
The Triple Alliance Powers supported Great Britain against Russia and France and that brought the two countries together. William II sent a telegram of congratulations to the British Government on the occasion of the victory of Atbara. In 1898 the Duke of Devonshire and Chamberlain arranged an interview with the German Ambassador in London and a proposal for an Anglo-German alliance was put forward.
However, there was no response from other side in spite of the fact that the offer was made thrice. William II seemed to be more interested in maintaining friendly relations with Russia than in entering into an alliance with England. His feeling was that Great Britain was trying to find “a constitutional army to fight for their interests.” Much could not be expected in these circumstances.
However in October 1898, Great Britain and Germany entered into a secret treaty by which they divided the Portuguese colonies into spheres of influence. But nothing came out of it as Portugal recovered from her financial difficulties. Mr. Rhodes visited Berlin in 1899 and William II extended to him a hearty welcome.
Germany promised to allow Rhodes to carry the telegraphic wires through German East Africa. Rhodes was so much pleased with the interview that he referred to William II as “a big man, a broad-minded man.” He asked William II to send a number of Rhodes’ scholars to the Oxford University every year. According to Dr. Gooch, “This visit was one of the factors in the Kaiser’s friendliness to Great Britain during the Boer War.”
When the Boer War started in 1899, the world opinion seemed to be on the side of the Boers and Great Britain was considered to be the bully. In 1900, Russia and France proposed intervention in the Boer War, but William II refused to do so. He also refused to meet Kruger when the latter ran away from the Transvaal, although he was warmly greeted in Paris.
In 1899, William II paid a visit to England and he was given a hearty welcome. Chamberlain availed of this opportunity to discuss the possibility of an Anglo-German reconciliation and cooperation. He referred to the “natural alliance” between the two countries. To quote him, “At bottom, the character of the Teutonic race differs very slightly indeed from the character of the Anglo-Saxon race.” Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria declared thus. “In this war, I am on the side of England.”
When Queen Victoria died in 1901, William II went to England and shared the grief of the royal family. Englishmen were very much impressed by his attitude on that occasion. It appeared as if there was a possibility of bringing the two countries together. Both Great Britain and Germany cooperated with each other on the occasion of the Boxer Rising in January. Waldersee, a German, was selected the Commander of the Peking Legation as a result of the backing of Salisbury. Germany also promised to support England in her efforts to check the Russian influence in China.
In 1901, Chamberlain proposed to discuss with the German Government all the outstanding disputes between the two countries and thereby, prepare the ground for an alliance with that country. Although William II was favourably inclined, Bulow refused. The British Government asked Germany to collaborate with her to oppose the fortification of the settlement of Tientsin in China by Russia, but the latter refused to do so. In March, 1901, Germany proposed that if she guaranteed the British Empire, the latter should join the Triple Alliance and also bring Japan with her.
However, the negotiations were to take place at Vienna. Lord Lansdowne, the British Foreign Minister, refused to do so. The view of William II was that Great Britain wanted to use the German sword against Russia. The same was the view of Waldersee. William II referred to the Ministers of King Edward VII as “unmitigated noodles”. Such an atmosphere was not congenial to an alliance between the two countries and no wonder Chamberlain gave up all hopes by June 1901. To quote him, “If the people in Berlin are short-sighted, there is no help.” It was in these circumstances that Great Britain entered into an alliance with Japan in 1902.
In 1902, it appeared that the relations between the two countries were going to improve. Lord Roberts and Brodrick accepted an invitation to attend the manoeuvres of the German army. William II also refused to meet the Boer generals who came to Germany to collect funds. He also visited England. In 1903, Germany and England cooperated in the blockade of Venezuela.
However, there was again a set-back on account of the question of the Berlin-Baghdad Railway. Public opinion in England demanded that under no condition should the British Government agree to cooperate with Germany. That was bound to endanger the very safety of the British Empire in India.
In 1904, Great Britain made the Entente Cordiale with France. She also supported France on the occasion of the Algeciras Conference in 1906. The Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 created misgivings in the mind of William II as he began to feel that the Triple Alliance was not a match for the Triple Entente. Great Britain also supported France on the occasion of the Morocco crises in 1908 and 1911.
There was also going on a naval competition between the two countries. Germany under William II and Tirpitz was determined to defeat England in the field of naval development. The British Government was not prepared to allow itself to be beaten. The result was that the relations between the two countries became strained to the maximum.
15. Lord Haldane:
Lord Haldane, British Minister of War, was sent on a mission to Berlin with a view to arrive at some settlement with the German Government. The main object of the mission was to lessen the tension between the two countries arising out of naval competition. Unfortunately, his mission was a failure. William II was not prepared to give up naval programme of his country. Germany was determined to beat Great Britain in the field of naval strength and thus the British Government was not prepared to concede. No wonder, his mission was a failure.
There was no ground for reconciliation between Great Britain and Germany. Great Britain was not prepared to allow William II to make Germany the strongest power in the world. The simple problem was who was stronger out of the two and that could be decided only by a war which was fought to the finish. It was under these circumstances that the war of 1914 became inevitable. No wonder, when Germany backed Austria-Hungary on the question of Serbia, Great Britain took up the cause against Germany and supported France and Russia who in turn supported Serbia.