Page:EB1922 - Volume 31.djvu/38

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

standing facts which are beyond dispute. The building of the German fleet was governed by the Law of 1900 (that of 1898 was purely preliminary), which was amended in 1906, 1908 and 1912. The original Law determined that the permanent establishment of the fleet should be 38 battleships and 20 armoured cruisers; each ship was to be replaced once every 25 years. By this the standard of building was finally set down. The Act of 1908 determined that battleships and cruisers were to be replaced once every 20 years instead of 25. That of 1912 increased the number of battleships and cruisers to 6 1 . The effect of this would be that, when the programme was completed, Germany would have five squadrons of battleships, of which three were to form the active fleet, two the reserve. In order to understand the full effect it must be remembered that the Law, though it deter- mined the number of vessels, did not deal with their character, size, or fighting power. When dreadnoughts and super-dread- noughts were introduced, an old ship of (say) 10,000 tons would be replaced by one of 25,000 to 27,000 tons with a corresponding increase in speed and armament. Moreover, especially by the last Law of 1912, arrangements were made for a very great addition of smaller vessels, destroyers and submarines, and above all for keeping the personnel of the navy at such a standard that the whole of the fleet would be available at any time of the year. The total effect was that there was stationed in the Baltic and in the North Sea a fleet stronger than any other except that of Great Britain, and larger and more powerful than the whole of the British fleet had been 20 years before.

This menace was one which had to be met. No child could suppose that it would not affect the whole trend of British policy. The Germans themselves knew this well. What they feared was that England would attack while she still enjoyed her previous naval supremacy and before the German fleet had grown large enough to be dangerous. But this policy of a " preventive " war was never even seriously considered by responsible British states- men. Their answer was the only possible one. In the first place the British fleet must be strengthened and its whole organization altered. A fleet, like an army, must be found in the place where it is wanted. In the old days the North Sea had been empty of ships; it was in the Channel, in the Mediterranean, in the Atlantic, that the British fleet was placed. The centre of gravity was the Straits of Gibraltar. Circumstances were now changed, and so a great reorganization was effected by which outlying stations were denuded of ships and the bulk of the fleet was stationed in the North Sea.

The Mediterranean had also, however, to be guarded. Austria was increasing her fleet, and Italy was an ally of Germany. As early as 1900 a naval agreement (this has not been published) had been made between the three Powers of the Triple Alliance. To meet this danger in 1912 it was agreed by England that France should concentrate the greater portion of her fleet in the Mediterranean; in the event of a common war with Germany it 'would fall to the British fleet to defend the northern and western coasts of France. In the same year a naval convention was concluded between France and Russia; with the building of the Kiel Canal the importance of the Baltic in naval strategy had increased. In 1913 a further naval convention between the three Powers of the Triple Alliance was made, and in May 1914 proposals were made for naval conversations between Russia and Great Britain; it is to be noted that at the end of June in the same year the enlargement of the Kiel Canal, by which the biggest ships could pass through it, was completed.

All this was not enough. The German plan was based on the assumption that Germany would be able to gain further allies in addition to those she already had. England also must have allies. Now that Germany was becoming the second naval Power, England could no longer afford to regard with equanimity Ger- man military predominance upon the continent of Europe, for this might eventually mean the further weakening of France and, whether by war or by diplomacy, German control over the Low Countries. It might also mean the pressing down of Ger- man influence through the Balkans into the Mediterranean. It must never be forgotten that the acts of the Triple Alliance dealt

not only with the continent of Europe, but with the Mediter- ranean and the shores of Africa. The success of the German schemes required one of two things, either an alliance with other states against England, or such increase of German preponder- ance that they would become, for political purposes, subject to German will. It was necessary, therefore, for England to guard against either contingency, and she could only do so by enter- ing into a firm understanding to join with them in resistance to any unprovoked act of German aggression.

These considerations were so weighty that alone they are sufficient to explain and justify the action of the British Govern- ment. The further information which has now become available completely substantiates them. We now know from the letters of the Kaiser to the Tsar, which were published after the Russian Revolution, that throughout the whole of the reign of Nicholas II. the German Emperor had been using the strongest personal pressure upon him to bring about an alliance between Germany and Russia, the point of which was avowedly directed against Great Britain, an alliance into which France would be forced to come. This had been his policy long before the establishment of the Entente with France; whatever the subject of the diplomatic negotiations at the moment might be whether it was Armenia or Crete or South Africa or Egypt, neutrality during the Russo- Japanese War, or Morocco always we see the same ambition. He hoped to create trouble for India by encouraging a Russian move on Afghanistan, and for this purpose to arouse the slumber- ing passions of Islam: " Remember what you and I agreed upon at Peterhof, never to forget that Mahommedans were a tremen- dous card in our game in caSe you or I were suddenly confronted by a war with the certain meddlesome Power." He encouraged Russia to give support to Turkey as against Great Britain in the Persian Gulf:

" Last but not least, an excellent expedient to kill British inso- lence and overbearing would be to make some military demonstra- tions on the Perso- Afghan frontier. . . . Even should the forces at your disposal not suffice for a real attack on India itself, they would do for Persia."

All this culminated when on July 24 1905 he persuaded the Tsar to sign the Treaty of Bjorko, a secret alliance against England which it was his hope would afterwards be joined by France. This is the kind of method by which he professed to be guarding the peace of Europe. The judgment of King Edward made to a Danish diplomatist may be recalled: " I will admit this, that with a man of so impulsive a temperament as the German Emperor at the head of the greatest Power in Europe, anything may happen." This correspondence was secret, but in diplomacy there is no absolute secrecy, and the rumours of it must be taken into account if we are to understand the profound distrust which was felt for Germany during these years.

Franco- British Entente. These were the circumstances in which a great change of policy took place. The first step was the British alliance with Japan. In this it had originally been contemplated that Germany should be a partner. But Germany did not accept the opportunity offered her, and, in addition, German action over the Manchurian agreement showed that no confidence could be placed in any German engagement. The alliance therefore was one between Japan and Great Britain alone. In 1904 a colonial agreement was reached between England and France, by which the numerous points of friction between the two countries were settled. The essence was that France recog- nized the British position in Egypt. To do so was a bitter blow to most cherished French traditions and ambitions. In return for this Great Britain recognized the special position of France in Morocco and gave up to France her claims and interests. This agreement in its original inception had, at any rate in England, no special point directed against Germany. It was probably due chiefly to Lord Cromer, but his efforts were sup- ported by Lord Lansdowne and King Edward VII. The object was merely to clear away the outstanding causes of contro- versy with France, but it was to have far-reaching results.

This agreement was quite unexpected and very unwelcome in Berlin. The whole basis of German diplomacy was cut away.