Page:EB1922 - Volume 31.djvu/37

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

essential security at home was so well guarded; hers was the only alliance on the continent. But ever since 1870 acute ob- servers had foreseen that, some day or another, France and Russia would join together in order to redress the balance of the continent. This event took place in Aug. 1891. The agreement (which was formulated in an exchange of notes) was based on " the renewal of the Triple Alliance and the more or less probable adhesion of Great Britain to the political views of this alliance." It contained two clauses: one that the two Govern- ments would agree together on any question of such a kind as to endanger the general peace; and the other that, in case either party was menaced by an attack, they would agree together on the measures to be taken. Two years later, however, after long negotiations in which many difficulties were encountered, this was supplemented by a military convention (Dec. i8p3-Jan. 1894): if either France or Russia were attacked by Germany, France or Russia respectively would apply all her forces to attack Germany. If the forces of the Triple Alliance, or one of the Powers of which it consisted, were mobilized, France and Russia would immediately mobilize. The number of troops to be employed was specified, and it was agreed that there should be joint action between the general staffs and interchange of all information relative to the armies:;pf the Triple Alliance.

But even after this there wafc little real cordiality in the relations between Russia and France. Russia, moreover, was occupied with Asiatic affairs, and had come to a friendly agree- ment with Austria as to the Balkans which was confirmed by an exchange of notes on May 8 1898. The internal dissensions of France (it was the time of the Dreyfus trial) weakened the influence of that country abroad. France indeed was protected against the danger of a new attack from Germany, but received little support from Russia in the normal discussion of diplomatic matters. The essential change took place at the turn of the century. Up to this period Great Britain had held aloof from the continental system. The British occupation of Egypt had resulted in a continued estrangement from France, and on the whole there was a tendency towards a close understanding with Germany and the other members of the Triple Alliance. This understanding was now broken. The first serious differences arose out of South African affairs. The Kriiger telegram of 1896 was a flash of lightning; no storm followed, but this and the intense animosity against Great Britain shown during the Boer War were symptoms that could not be neglected. By a large party in Germany the consolidation of British power in South Africa was regarded as the loss of a sphere which they had marked out for German expansion. Though the matter is still extremely ob- scure, there is no doubt that during 1898, 1899, and 1900 proposals were discussed in every chancellery in Europe for a European coalition against England, and the impression produced in other countries was that such a coalition would be welcomed by Germany. Equally important was the altered attitude of Ger- many towards the Near East. The great and legitimate expan- sion of German commercial and economic interests was accom- panied by a growing cordiality with the Porte, and during his visit to Damascus, in 1897 the German Emperor proclaimed himself the protector of all Mahommedans throughout the world an utterance which from anyone but him would have been justly regarded by France and Great Britain as an unparalleled provocation. There was also a serious conflict of interests in the Far East. The evidence which came from many sources was sufficient to make it obvious to every British statesman that a continued political isolation was dangerous. England must have friends, and friends on whom she could rely.

From 1898 to 1901 advances were repeatedly made to Germany by Great Britain, and the project of a definite diplomatic under- standing, nay even of a defensive alliance, was ventilated. The suggestions were accompanied by warnings that if an arrange- ment with Germany was not reached, then recourse would be had to the opposed alliance. The offers were rejected; the warn- ings disregarded. To the German Foreign Office, to Prince Billow and to the Emperor, it was an axiom that there could be no real friendship, as they said, " between the whale and the bear."

They feared, or professed to fear, that an alliance with England would only mean that they would be used as a military advance post against Russia; in the case of war the brunt of the fighting would fall upon them, while Great Britain would gather up the spoils in Asia. " The danger was imminent that if Germany allied herself with England she would have to undertake the role against Russia that Japan assumed later single-handed." They believed that they could do better business by playing off the rival empires against one another, by refusing to commit them- selves either to Russia or to England, and by using the rivalry to extend their own influence and possessions.

The German Navy. But there was another influence at work. One of the chief tasks which the German Government had set itself was the building of a great war fleet. It was the considered opinion of German statesmen that, if they were to come to a friendly diplomatic arrangement with England, this would inevitably compel them to limit their naval development; they affected to think that a fleet built by a Germany friendly to England would be a fleet built under patronage and limited by the British insistence on superiority at sea. This they did not desire; they preferred, therefore, full freedom to build against England, trusting that it might be possible to avoid a serious conflict during what Prince Biilow calls the " danger period of construction." It was indeed the new naval ambitions, more even than the rejection of the British offer of an alliance, that conditioned the whole European situation. After all, in 1887 Bismarck had offered an alliance to Lord Salisbury, and the rejection of this offer did not mean any serious misunderstanding. The building of the German fleet was an action of a very different character. It could only be compared to the similar work by which from 1857 onwards the Prussian army, after a period of comparative stagnation and inefficiency, was brought up to the highest point of perfection, and we know how this great instru- ment of war, when perfected, was used to further Prussian policy. There could be no doubt that the navy, when completed, would also be used for the same object, and in fact the responsible spokesmen of Germany took care to leave no doubt on this point. They wanted the fleet to support their diplomacy. In the memo- randum which accompanied the great Navy bill of 1900 this was clearly stated. The navy must be such that, " even for the greatest sea Power, a war with it would involve such risks as to jeopardize its own supremacy."

It would be an error to suppose that the German Government were deliberately looking forward to forcing a war with England. Still more misleading to assume, as so many did in England, that the object was an invasion. There has never been forthcoming any evidence of any kind to justify the belief that the German military and naval programme included the landing of a hostile force upon England's shores. The danger was of quite a different character, but it was none the less serious. The calculation was that if there was a fundamental difference between British and German policy, the possession of a great fleet would enable Ger- many to get her way, because England might be put in such a position that she would not dare to risk war. And what was the kind of point on which such a difference of policy might arise? Had the German fleet been in existence during the Boer War, there can be no shadow of a doubt that it would have been used to support European intervention. And again, it had become the avowed policy of the German Emperor to use his friendship with the Sultan as a means of winning the confidence of the Mahommedan world, and this we have his own words for it was an instrument which might in necessity be used to render impossible the position of England in Egypt or to arouse difficul- ties in Mesopotamia, in Persia, in India itself. It was the calcula- tion that if any such controversy arose, Germany would not be alone; if she were allied to some other Great Power which pos- sessed a formidable navy Russia, France, Japan, or the United States the predominance at sea, on which the very existence of the British Empire depended, would be imperilled.

It is not necessary to enter into details of the German fleet, nor to discuss the very complicated controversies which constantly recurred. It is sufficient to point out the main out-