F.S. Northedge and M.J. Grieve, A Hundred Years of International Relations, (New York: Praeger, 1971), Chapter 5, "The Approach to the First World War," pp. 71-90

In the last two chapters we have seen how the European great powers were becoming stronger through the profits of commerce, shipping and finance. They also had increasing power over their subjects; and citizens, affected by the neo-military discipline of industry, came to accept controls on their behaviour and on their purses which a generation or so earlier would have been unthinkable. In most countries the press aided the state in leading citizens along the paths which the state indicated. This was not simply because some countries, like Germany and Russia, had semi-official newspapers, but because even in countries like Britain most newspapers-and--especially the new popular ones such as the Daily Mail--supported capitalism and were an important aspect of it. The influence of the press then was greater than it is now when people have more education and greater means of comparing information given in newspapers with that presented by other media such as television. This period before the First World War was still a time when people tended to believe that what they read in their newspapers must be true. And the bright new dailies, packed with information and also hints of how to make slender budgets go further, which had tended to stir up imperialism in the 1890s, now concentrated in the early twentieth century on material showing trade rivalry and tensions between the great powers. These sort of newspapers had found that nationalism was a winner; they did not forget this lesson of the imperialist outburst, but just turned it to different ends. It is evident that many workers responded easily to the nationalist drum, for the press did not create nationalism. But the press rendered this aspect of society obvious and probably magnified it; the press made nationalism volatile and a subject of news. Just as today the Balance of Payments figures focus attention and concern, so did nationalism at the end of the last century. Any editor who could report on a clash between the major states could sell his papers. And the tension was such that even minor embroilments--such as the Dogger Bank Incident in 1904-between nationals of different states might spark off trouble.

Nationalism at the end of the nineteenth century was a product of the striving of states to be strong and to make their influence felt in world affairs. It created a vicious circle in that it urged the state to encourage research to obtain the best and latest weapons of war, weapons which, if used, would tear down the fabric of international trade and finance which had been created in the years of peace. Statesmen were well aware of the dangers which use of the new weapons would bring. But then--as now--they tended to argue, as Salisbury did, that their use was unthinkable, so there was a thought vacuum between the military technologist who concentrated on how to obtain maximum kill and destructive results in war and the civilian sector which did not like to contemplate the holocaust which could ensue. But since none of the major powers wished to give up the right to wage war should they consider that the vital interests of their states required this, little was done to prevent the danger that any minor crisis might set the army machines into action. Even the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907 were more concerned with refining war rather than seriously encouraging disarmament.

Apart from these difficulties in the way of checking the danger of war, the legacy of laissez-faire in nineteenth-century thought also impeded action. One of the most striking aspects of nineteenth-century history was the tremendous economic change associated with industrialization. A web of international trade held the nation states together in mutual interdependence. It was believed that both self-interest and the importance of industrialists and financiers--who it was assumed would lose and not, as happened often, gain more money in war than in peace--would restrain the sections of society which might want war. This is the favourite nineteenth-century device of automatic adjustment again at work. But writers such as Henry Noel Brailsford, author of The War of Steel and Gold (1914), underestimated the effect of nationalism on industrialists and financiers and did not allow sufficiently for the fact that although these individuals might be very wealthy they often did not have political importance commensurate with their wealth. Nor did such thinkers allow sufficiently for the inbuilt nature of war in modern society based as it was on competing nation states, and their heavy emphasis on the wrongs of individual armaments makers in making profits from death indicates this superficial approach to the problem of war. Another argument, connected with nineteenth-century prosperity and the middle-class society which arose with it, was that war could not occur between major civilized states. This view was heard towards the end of the century when countries like Britain and France were being urged to turn their military capabilities against natives and not against each other. But this argument tended to be used selectively as, for instance, when Hanotaux, the French Foreign Minister, was trying to avoid war with Britain over the Sudan.


But areas for imperialist activity were now in short supply. By 1900 most spare territory in Africa had been seized upon. The major powers then turned their gaze towards China and considered the tempting profits which might come from its conquest. However, Britain and America were not keen to see China split up into high-tariff regions under control of powers like Germany and France and they used their influence to check a scramble for China Also, it had been clear since the episode after the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 when Germany, France and Russia interfered to check Japanese aggrandizement that Japan was preparing for war with Russia over areas such as Korea. This did not occur until 1904-5 when Japan soundly defeated Russia. But by this date the major European powers were too concentrated on difficulties within their own area to take advantage of Chinese weakness, and it was Japan which in the inter-war period gained control of much Chinese territory. Instead of a partition of China, France took most of the southern areas later known as French Indo-China, Korea passed to Japan in 1905 and was formally annexed in 1910 and Russia negotiated annexatory treaties now (1971) in dispute with Communist China. But the other major states did not make vast territorial gains and contented themselves with taking ports such as the British Wei-hai-Wei and trade concessions. In 1911 the Kuomintang revolution took place and Dr. Sun Yat-sen came to power and began to try to reform China; on his death in 1925 Chiang Kai Shek obtained control.

The failure to precipitate a scramble for China was particularly disappointing to William II of Germany. As early as 1894 he had told the Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, that he would like Germany to have a Chinese port in a region where it would not annoy Russia. Later on the German navy carried out surveys of the Chinese coast and when two German missionaries were murdered, William II used their deaths as justification for sending naval forces to take Kiaochow in November 1897. Germany set up a naval base at Tsingtao as well as obtaining a ninety-nine-year concession over a vast area of about two hundred square miles. This concession included mining and railway rights and led to the extension of German power in the Shantung province and the construction of a railway from Tsingtao on the Yellow Sea to Tsinan on the Hwang (Yellow) River. But by the late 1890s it was proving difficult to persuade German banks to subscribe capital for German colonies and so little profit either in terms of returns on capital or export of goods seems to have accrued to Germany from her territory in North China. But, as stressed earlier, economic gains or their possibility provided good window-dressing. William II's motives however were more concerned with demonstrating that Germany was a world power and gains in China symbolized this status. But the German position was relatively weak and in 1914 Japan overran the area and took Kiaochow which she held until 1922.

As a result of the seizures of ports and the gain of concessions by Germany, Britain, Russia and France, Chinese xenophobia developed. The ageing Empress Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi decided to use this feeling and encouraged 'The Society of Harmonious Fists' or 'Boxers' in their attacks on foreign missionaries, traders and diplomats. The German Minister, Baron von Ketteler, was murdered by an Imperial bannerman. His fate had been sealed earlier when he allowed German troops to fire on Tung Fu-hsiang's Moslem cavalry. The legations were put under siege, but on 14 August a force with units from six nations lifted the siege. A disgraceful looting of Peking then occurred, followed later by an equally disgraceful but more selective plunder of Chinese Imperial treasures by the great powers. Strong punitive measures were taken by the Europeans against the Boxers and the resentment they aroused encourage Sun Yat-sen's nationalist republican movement. But even after this furore died down China remained largely intact and was still nominally independent, but although not torn apart by a European scramble for territory such as Africa had seen, her future history for many years was to be dismal. The power of the central government, weakened by superstition and protocol and struggles for leadership, steadily declined. War lords took over throughout China, and the law and order given by the Manchu dynasty became a thing of the past. Isolation and poverty stamped the Chinese in this period and these two features, combined with traditional intellectual arrogance, led Communism to be adopted in an extreme form.


The failure of the Boxer Rising to sound the tocsin for a European scramble for China coincides with the time when European eyes were turning again to their own continent. Precisely why this change should have occurred around 1900 is difficult to explain, although how it happened is clear enough. But it is important to remember that imperialism continued well on into the twentieth century and that no hard and distinct line can be drawn. One of the major factors was that imperialism as it occurred at this time contained a large element of nationalistic competition between the major European powers. If the competition for an area was strong enough, new patterns of strategical thought came into play. In the case of Africa, this happened both internally and concerning the maritime coast, particularly in the Mediterranean and at its three entrance points of the Gibraltar Straits, the Black Sea and the Suez Canal. But similar intense competition did not occur over China. Africa and the Mediterranean area had an immense appeal to the European mind, steeped as it was in knowledge of Greek and Roman imperialism. But China had been on the world's edge of these classical cultures. And, at the beginning of the twentieth century, China's distance from the European heartland still tended to check the full effects of attempts to draw her into the extra-European network of politics.

The force of British imperialism was also beginning to decline, and since Britain had been such an important pathfinder for the other European states, we must not underestimate the significance of her new critical path. The rule for many years had been that where Britain went, it would be economically profitable and strategically necessary to follow. And now the needle of Britain's compass was quivering round to the home area. She had taken more imperial territory than any other country but now she needed time to absorb the implications, economic, social and political. However, this time for thought never came. After the Boer War, overt interest in empire declined. Then rapidly came the build-up towards the First World War followed by the Depression of the 1920s and 1930s, followed in its turn by the Second World War and the shifting off of colonial responsibilities grown too heavy which we overdignify by the name of decolonization.

By 1900 empire was no longer a bright new idea. It had become part of the Establishment and as such was up for attack. The willingness to attack was connected with economic and social changes in Britain. The rise of the trade unions and the initial foundation of the Labour Party as the 'Labour Representation Committee' in 1900 gave a new political importance to the working class.

The Boer War was a considerable shock to British confidence. It showed up the obsolescence of military tactics and materials, as well as revealing bitter feuds amongst the army chiefs. After a struggle which was often intense Britain managed to win the war by the spring of 1902. But the war had considerably dented the British image of successful competence. This was particularly so in relation notably to Germany. The Germans had argued earlier that prosperity had weakened the 'English fibre', but, as Lloyd George noted, the defeat of British forces during the war encouraged continental and German belief that Britain was now degenerate. If he was correct, this view may partly account for German willingness to try to push Britain in the years before 1914, perhaps in order to see just how much she would take. But apart from encouraging German belief in British degeneracy, the Boer War, like the 'sporting' colonial wars, foreshadowed what was to come when military logic was applied to civilian populations. This war led Kitchener to check civilian support for Boer guerillas by setting up the first modern concentration camps. To the British the Boer War taught the lesson of vulnerability. This came partly through fears of continental combination against Britain while she was bogged down in South Africa and partly through the realization that although Britain had a vast peacetime spread in terms of territory, naval power and military links, yet she lacked efficient defensiveness if her empire was challenged.

For Britain, one result of the Boer War was a process of reform throughout the Army, Navy and Foreign Office. In the Army reforms were carried out by men such as Broderick and Haldane. The latter,. for example, created the General Staff in 1906 and organized the nucleus of the British Expeditionary Force which was to interpose such an effective spoke to check the implementation of the Schlieffen Plan in 1914. The Boer War also taught the British that they must overhaul their imperial rule and must begin to make some concessions to the peoples whose lands they ruled. This process began in South Africa itself when the Orange Free State and Transvaal were granted self-government in 1906-7. In 1909 the Union of South Africa was created from these two states plus Natal and Cape Province. By the constitutional arrangements then made, Britain accepted a built-in situation of inferiority for the coloured peoples, since in the former Boer states only the whites with property had the right to vote whereas in Cape Province all persons with the required property qualifications could vote. The tension between the one attitude to the natives and the other was to prove a source of much future trouble. But in other colonies where the dominant pressure was from the coloured population itself, Britain made similar concessions to their elite. This occurred notably in India.

As early as 1892 some Indian notables were nominated as members of the Legislative Council and were also appointed to similar councils in the provinces. But, as in the Egyptian Chamber of Notables, these nominees could only ask questions and criticize; in short, they lacked power. In 1909 the Morley-Minto reforms gave India another step forward. By the Indian Councils Act the legislative councils were to become essentially elective and Indians were to be nominated to sit on the Executive Council in India and the Secretary of State for India's Council in London. These reforms are sometimes treated as though they were a step on the way to self-government, but this is misleading. Certainly the reforms gave more Indians practice in government, but they gave little or no training in political power for, as members of the councils objected, not infrequently the elected members would defeat a proposal emanating from the Viceroy only to find that the nominated members remained in the council and that the defeated proposal was implemented. Indeed, it might well be argued that the Minto-Morley Reforms, combined with the need to promise political concessions during the strains of the First World War, were the major irritants encouraging Indian resistance to British political control.


But while the decline in British confidence caused by the lessons of the Boer War began to produce a chain reaction of varied imperial concessions, the tide of danger in European international relations was rising and British attention was focussing on Europe itself and the possible sources of war. Misuse of a quotation by Salisbury sometimes leads to the term 'splendid isolation' being used as a shorthand phrase to cover British diplomacy prior to 1902 when the Anglo-Japanese alliance was made. Britain never could have safeguarded her wideflung interests, nor her vital need to keep Europe open to her trade, by anything resembling splendid isolation. But there is a distinction between British diplomacy before and after 1902. Up to 1902 Britain, largely because her power was on the whole unchallenged, occupied a fulcrum position in international relations. She was a central magnet and around her clustered patterns of alliances composed of other sovereign states. The British balancing position, existing because there was tension between the two other major European states, Germany and France, required that Britain stand aloof from their alliances.

This was the policy which Britain followed. It did not mean that arrangements for co-operation were not made when required, although it did mean that almost without exception these arrangements were for once and for all action. There were exceptions such as the British links with the Triple Alliance through the Mediterranean Agreements made to deal with the long-continued and potentially explosive question of partitioning the Ottoman Empire. But even the Mediterranean Agreements were amorphous, and the more their implications and operation are studied, the more nebulous they become. Again, it may he argued that even Salisbury sometimes made arrangements which involved future co-operation and tied up Britain for an indefinite period. The Anglo-German Portuguese agreement of 30 August 1898 laid down that in return for Germany renouncing interest in Delagoa Bay, Britain would allow Germany to take up part of any loan to Portugal with the Portuguese colonies as collateral. If it had become operative this agreement would have involved Britain in co-operation with Germany to divide up the empire of Portugal which by tradition was a British friend.

But Britain did not want more colonies nor did she want Germany, which had tended to encourage the Boers, to develop near South Africa. Why then should Salisbury, one of the most skilled diplomats of his time, have made such an unlikely agreement? It has been argued that he was buying time before the Boer War but it is also important to note that he demonstrated to his Cabinet, particularly Chamberlain, that over-activity in diplomacy is a fault. He also demonstrated that Britain lacked material to make a colonial agreement sufficiently important for German policy to be materially affected. Irony is a major vein in Salisbury and no doubt privately he enjoyed following every letter of the new forceful diplomacy advocated by Chamberlain and yet at the same time making a complete mockery of it. No loan was made by Britain and so the agreement never became operative. So much for Britain's arrangements for indefinite co-operation in the years before 1902.

The advantage of the type of diplomacy practised by Salisbury was that it laid stress on the fact that problems needed time to mature before solutions could be found through peaceful bargaining. In addition, although Salisbury's diplomacy was based on a firm awareness of British vital interests, he did not believe in having fixed lists of these interests. These two attitudes meant that he was well aware of the dangers of over-activity in diplomacy. But the new diplomacy of the late 1890s and early twentieth century as practised by men such as William II of Germany or Chamberlain consisted essentially of diplomatic shopping lists headed 'We want'. This new diplomacy was affected by the prevalent business ethic, not the older compromise formula of international relations which underlay agreements such as the Treaty of Berlin, but the compensation theory. On this formula each nation had a list of interests, and better relations between states could be achieved by a compensatory exchange which would give a more logical or easily worked state periphery.

Chamberlain had tried to obtain better relations with Germany in this way in the late 1890s but had failed. His failure had high-lighted the fact that if this was the chosen way to better Anglo-German relations, the material for such an improvement was lacking. On the other hand, although at this time British diplomats were too preoccupied with preventing France from raising the Egyptian question through invading the Sudan to consider this, if the compensation theory of diplomacy was applied to Anglo-French interests, there was an abundance of material for a colonial exchange.

Two other aspects of compensation diplomacy should be noted: one, that while agreements for exchanges could be reached to improve interstate relations public opinion might--as in the Anglo-French case--be slow to respond; two, compensation diplomacy only alleviated late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century interstate tensions momentarily, since the peripheral material for exchange was quickly exhausted and the very stress on the reasonableness of this method of improving international relations added to the existing tension when no future avenues for agreement could be seen. This alteration from the traditional compromise diplomacy of the nineteenth century to the compensation method of the close of that century and beginning of the next one sprang partly from a tidying-up of twenty years or so of imperialism, but was linked with the older alliances, between Germany, Austria and Italy on the one hand and Russia and France on the other, and pointed towards the ententes which were to link Britain decisively with the latter camp. To these alliances and ententes we must now turn.


In 1902 Britain took the first decisive step away from her traditional policy of avoiding involvement in alliances. It was in this year that Britain made a naval alliance with Japan in order to prevent a Russo-Japanese rapprochement on China. Lansdowne was not so much looking forward to co-operation with Japan in the Far East, for this involved difficulties with Australia and New Zealand as Sir Edward Grey emphasized in his memoirs, as hoping to avoid "dangers of commitment... by careful diplomacy and precise drafting". Lansdowne, like Chamberlain, believed that British diplomacy must enter a new era marked by alliances, and did not accept the older British attitude taken by Salisbury that Britain's balancing position between the major continental alliances meant that her diplomacy should lack emphatic links through alliances. Apart from needing the Japanese alliance to block Russia in the Far East, the British Cabinet also knew that only with Japan's aid could the British naval position in eastern waters be buttressed. An added incentive to make the alliance was the fear which existed concerning Britain's weakness in relation to a potentially hostile combination of the major continental powers which at times had seemed to threaten during the Boer War of 1899-1902. Hence the Japanese alliance might allow Britain to relax her efforts in the Far East in order to make her fleets nearer home stronger.

The Anglo-Japanese naval alliance was concluded on 30 January 1902. It was to last in the first instance for five years; it was then regularly renewed until 1921. It was a remarkable occurrence in modern international relations. On the one hand, it symbolized Britain's inability to muster naval force against her rivals in Europe and the Far East at the same time; thirty years later this was to become brutally clear when Britain was forced humiliatingly to conciliate Japan, now a decidedly hostile power, in order to face the growing Axis menace in Europe. On the other hand, the alliance marks the first occasion when one of the great European powers, or rather the primus inter pares of European diplomacy, was obliged to make friends with a non-European, an Asian, country' in order to be able to cope with a rival, Russia, within the European international system. In all preceding international relations the European great powers vied with one another from the basis of their own strength and that of their overseas dependencies, if they had any; or they stood together, as during the Boxer rebellion in China in 1900, in defence of their common supremacy over the extra-European world. Now a member of the inner circle of European great powers was calling on an Asian state to join the international system in order to redress an imbalance of power at the core of that system.

The alliance laid down that Britain and Japan both had political and economic interests in China while accepting that Japan had a special interest in Korea. In technical terms, the independence and territorial integrity of China and Korea were recognised; these were soothing words for the layman but implied for the initiated dominant Japanese interests in Korea and joint resistance, at least diplomatically, to further European encroachments to the disadvantage of the two signatories in China. The 'open door' for foreign trade in both China and Korea was guaranteed. The key clause in the treaty, however, was that which committed either party to neutrality if the other was attacked by a third state and to rendering it assistance if it was attacked by more than one such state. In concrete terms this meant that if a Russo-Japanese war broke out Britain would stand aside but if France aided Russia then Britain must come to the aid of Japan. Curiously enough, Lansdowne does not seem to have realized the dangers which the alliance involved of bringing Britain into a war which concerned Japan; this may have been because he assumed that Britain's link with Japan would be sufficient to discourage any Russian move in force to change the status quo in the Far East now that she was confronted by the novel backing of a European great power for an Asiatic state, or that he assumed France would stand aside.

Lansdowne's blindness on this matter indicates he valued the passive rather than the active values of the Anglo-Japanese naval alliance. But, if Lansdowne failed to appreciate the dangers of the agreement, they were certainly understood by Balfour. As time passed and the implications of the alliance were more fully grasped, the British realized that they must cultivate better relations with France. If France could be persuaded to improve relations with Britain then the dangers of France taking Russia's part in a quarrel with Japan over Korea would be lessened. Lansdowne's task became to improve Anglo-French feeling and throughout 1903-4 he negotiated for a general colonial settlement. These negotiations which began in August 1903 were also necessitated because Lansdowne had already tried and failed to get either an alliance with Germany or an adjustment with Russia. France was the last diplomatic stone to be turned. This must be borne in mind since it shows that although the Anglo-French Entente of 1904 became an instrument for co-operation against Germany, it was not initially designed to have this effect.

The Anglo-French Entente of 1904 was not made without considerable difficulties as the painful process of matching up compensation claims took place. But by the spring of 1904 Britain and France were both concerned about the possibility of trouble in the Balkans and this spurred them on to settle. The agreement was signed on 8 April 1904 and ended the main colonial disputes between Britain and France concerning Madagascar, Siam, West Africa, the New Hebrides and the vexed question of fishing rights off Newfoundland. Cromer had always been anxious to win a free financial hand for Britain in Egypt and to achieve political independence by casting off the dead hand of the Public Debt Commission or international Caisse de la Dette Publique. But this involved final acceptance by France that Britain was supreme in Egypt and so was a most delicate matter touching French national pride. The problem was that no equivalent compensation seemed available for France, but at a late stage in the negotiations, Delcasse', the French Foreign Minister, who was anxious to get France out of the dangerous position of being on poor terms with Germany in Europe and Britain in Africa, suggested that Britain and France should exchange promises of mutual aid concerning the futures of Egypt and Morocco. The British accepted this balance although earlier they had held back from making arrangements about Morocco partly to stave off the day of partition and partly because Germany which had a third share in economic developments in Morocco would expect territorial recognition of her stake. A secret article recorded the Anglo-French promises of diplomatic support concerning Egypt and Morocco, and Lansdowne misleadingly told the Germans in August 1904 that 'Britain could not be pledged by the new article to dispose of the rights of third powers'. Perhaps Lansdowne, with his liking for 'precise drafting', really believed that Britain had not in effect decided that France should be supreme in Morocco in the future, just as Britain was to be dominant in Egypt. But crises over Morocco in 1905 and 1911 were to find Britain co-operating with France against Germany.


Germany is treated in many books as the diplomatic troublemaker of Europe from the 1890s to 1914 and it is worth looking afresh at this assumption. The European diplomatic system was based on competition up to and including war if necessary; it was also, by were the late 1890s, based on the idea that interstate relations should be improved by compensatory exchanges of territory or promises of aid. The weakness of European international relations in the early twentieth century was that the traditional nineteenth-century view the that any diplomatic agreement concluded should be in rough harmony with the interests of all major powers was tending to be ignored. In the early nineteenth century the European powers had been taught by the Napoleonic wars to achieve a degree of harmonization of interests when diplomatic agreements were made. It was not merely a philosophical point for debate that each state had a certain importance in European international relations, and therefore had a certain title from its relative ranking to consideration when agreements were made. Napoleon's rise to power and his victories had taught the European states that they must respect each other and must be wary of any state seizing undue power through territorial gains. When this danger seemed to threaten, as for instance when Russia tried to become successor to the power of the Ottomans in Turkey in 1878 through the Treaty of San Stefano, the European powers concerted action and held conferences which forced the offending state to recognize and respect other powers' interests.

The problem created by German dynamism in the late 1890s and early twentieth century was that material--territory--for the dispersion of this energy was lacking. In this respect, the problem posed in European relations at this time was comparable to that created by the Napoleonic state at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Modern Germany, like Napoleonic France, could only express its power by trying to reassemble European territory in new patterns. Germany, it is true, did make intermittent efforts to obtain an outlet through colonization but part of the explanation of her failure to succeed in this territorial media appears to lie in the fact that she did not--because of her fluctuating attitude--manage to convince other states of the reality of her colonial ambitions. Even when Germany pressed a colonial case, there tended to be a degree of ambiguity and disengagement which puzzled and misled other colonizing states. Statesmen were never quite sure just what Germany would do, and on occasions became highly indignant because she showed aggressive interest in territory which they had been led to believe concerned her not at all. But in any case most of the useful colonial territory, China apart, was gone by the time Germany showed interest.

When the other major European states, including Britain, at a similar stage of historical growth as Germany, there was sufficient territory to absorb their energy: Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Turkey had occupied themselves with the Balkans and Near East, Prussia had turned eastwards, Russia had ample scope in the Far East and in Central Asia while Britain, like France, had sent her ships out over the high seas and taken her empire. No such development lay open for modern Germany. In colonial matters she could push and try to blackmail states like Britain in order to make them disgorge some of their gains but, and here lay the danger for the European state system of the nineteenth century, the easiest way for Germany to express her economic and military power was by trying to tear apart the thin ligaments of order which held Central Europe together, to attack Poland or even Russia or to turn west against a France already depleted by the losses of the war of 1870-71. If modern Germany had been a liberal democracy, the problem she posed in international relations in the early twentieth century might not have existed. There would have been controls through argument and discussion which would have alleviated the dangers of war, but modern Germany above all was an efficient bureaucratic and military machine created by Bismarck. He had been able to manipulate it--although even he towards the end of his period of power had had serious difficulties--but his successors were not his equal in will or intellect. The machine dominated the men and it was geared towards war sooner or later.

From 1871 onwards modern Germany had been the key to European history. If she had wanted stability in Europe, this could have been achieved by some understanding with Britain but, as we have seen, on a number of occasions the Germans resisted British attempts at rapprochement. At its best, an understanding with Britain could only have given Germany colonial gains at the expense of France; it could not have given Germany the freedom of action in Europe which she was never able to bring herself to abandon, although it could have given her security. Yet, even allowing for this background, it is clear that to single Germany out as the international troublemaker of the early twentieth century is misleading.

This can be illustrated by looking at the two Moroccan crises. The first occurred in March 1905 and arose out of a complex of German motives, political, military and economic. Germany had claimed that she welcomed the Anglo-French Entente of 1904, although all her earlier diplomacy from 1882 onwards had relied on the assumption that friction over Egypt would keep Britain and France apart not only in Africa but also in Europe. Politically, it was important for Germany to assess the weight of the Entente and to see just how far Anglo-French co-operation would stretch. Germany had economic and financial interests in Morocco and had a good case for being considered in any future partition of the country--yet she was ignored. But perhaps the most important catalyst in provoking Germany into action lay in the fact that during 1904-05 Japan was engaged in war with Russia and, to the initial surprise of European complacency about Asiatics, gained victory after victory. By 1905 not only was Russia a beaten power militarily but the defeats and the privations of war had created a revolutionary situation at home; in short, Russia was in no position to aid France should Germany choose this moment to strike against her. The idea of a further strike at France had never ceased to exercise the minds not only of German military men but also of her politicians. How seriously they took the idea is difficult to assess, but whenever there seemed an opening for attack, someone would be sure to canvass the possibility.

This mixture of political, military and economic motives led Germany to put pressure on France in 1905 over Morocco. The Kaiser visited Tangier on 31 March 1905 and announced that Germany would aid the Moroccans. The French government was seriously alarmed and tried to appease the Germans by engineering the fall of their Foreign Minister, Delcassé, and attempting a rapprochement with Germany. It is possible that further concessions might have been forthcoming, but the Germans made a serious tactical error. They pressed for an international conference without ensuring, as Bismarck had done in 1878, that the members would back German wishes. By the time the conference was held at Algeciras in January to April 1906 the nations were not so much concerned about the future of Morocco but about the German war scare against France. The outcome was that Britain, backed by the United States, supported France and only Austria-Hungary stood by Germany. Yet Germany had had a good case for being considered in relation to Morocco but unfortunately the Germans did not know when to stop.

Germany had set out to disrupt the Anglo-French relationship by using the Moroccan issue as a test case but instead she cemented the co-operation between the two powers. A similar effect resulted from the second Moroccan crisis which developed over Agadir in 1911. The Germans, again with good cause, considered that the growth of French power in Morocco was likely to infringe upon their rights. The gunboat Panther was despatched to Agadir, a little harbour on Morocco's Atlantic seaboard, but this show of German force frightened the British because it implied that the Germans might develop Agadir which lay too close to Gibraltar for comfort. Again, the French were more conciliatory than the British and more willing to recognize that Germany had a claim to compensation. Early in November 1911, a Franco-German agreement was made by which Germany recognized the French position in Morocco in return for compensation in the shape of territory in the French Congo. Both of the Moroccan crises increased Anglo-French technical co-operation: the first episode led to joint military talks on policy should war occur with Germany, and the second crisis caused similar joint naval discussions. It is true that the conjectural nature of Anglo-French co-operation was emphasized, but by the early twentieth century, war for states had become a ponderous business, and the likelihood was that plans made beforehand would structure future military conflicts.

The crises also stimulated Germany military planning. The Schlieffen Plan which dominated German tactics in the First World War was finalized in December 1905. We can see that the tidying-up of colonial material through the compensation technique which went on between 1899 and 1914 was not only important per se, but also increasingly represented much deeper European attempts to manoeuvre support with an eye to the potential continental conflict which seemed to threaten each year, either through some scare about Germany and France or over the Balkans. This tidying-up process also went on in the Near East and in Central Asia. Some historians stress that such negotiations, as for instance between Britain and Germany over the Baghdad Railway, were going on right up to the eve of the First World War, as though this meant the outbreak of war was an accident, or as though there existed an underlying current of international relations flowing in favour of peace. But it is difficult to accept this view. Certainly, as one historian has commented, 'No war is inevitable until it breaks out', and the old simpliste view of a number of steps leading inevitably to the First World War in the form in which it occurred needed rebutting. But there were factors in international relations in the early twentieth century which tipped the scales in favour of war, not any particular war, but some form of aggression arising from the mixture of fear and acceptance of war which prevailed then.

It was this fear which had initiated the chain reaction of compensation diplomacy which characterized the period before 1914. It was evident to the Germans, even though they were by no means convinced that Britain would stand by France if major war occurred, that Britain, France and Russia had strengthened their diplomatic and general position by successful compensation diplomacy. This grouping of powers had become known as the 'Triple Entente' although there were few direct links between all three except some financial ones. On 31 August 1907, Britain and Russia had made an entente based on an acceptance of regions of influence in Persia and the supremacy of British interests in Afghanistan, and both powers accepted that they should not intrigue in Tibet. The Russians also considered that the entente, although it did not say so, meant that Britain would no longer bar Russian dominance at the Straits provided this was accepted by the other states. Yet the fluctuating nature of European diplomacy in this period is well illustrated by the fact that Russia, which had strong economic links with Germany, might well have made some agreement with that power instead of with Britain. But the balance towards Britain resulted from the Russian desire-springing from the high cost of industrialization and the arms race-to float loans on the London Stock Exchange.


In retrospect it hardly seems surprising that Germany should have decided to unleash Austria in the Balkans and so trigger off the First World War. The German state was powerful and important, but it did not receive the diplomatic consideration commensurate with its status in the early twentieth century. This situation was partly accidental in that the forces in German political life favouring colonial development were relatively slow--although not as slow as once claimed--in asserting themselves over the well-known views of Bismarck. It is true that colonies seem a somewhat artificial growth for Germany if we consider her position in Central Europe, her three land frontiers and her military tradition. These factors also account for the vagaries of German colonial policy. But the serious aspect of this relative lack of colonial gains made by Germany was that, when in the early twentieth century states became especially conscious of the dangers of war and began to try to lessen interstate tension through colonial compensation agreements, Germany remained isolated and outside these moves, partly because she lacked colonial material and partly because her unsubtle diplomacy, even when she had a good case as over Morocco, tended to range important states against her. But German diplomacy, after Bismarck had gone, was in the hands of much weaker men; it became an unstable combination of threat, duplicity and vacillation. On the eve of the outbreak of the First World War, although Germany had pressed Austria to war with Serbia before the other states could interfere, yet at the same time there were contra-indications. William II wanted only a partial attack on Serbia and favoured the 'Halt in Belgrade' plan and even the German Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, showed interest--when, however, it was too late--in stopping major war.

In the relatively slow run-up to the First World War and the consequent mobilizations, declarations of war and summoning of fleets, it is clear that there was no copybook application of the terms of the formal alliances. The alliances were merely the ridges which showed the fear and tension of the major states in 1914 and all the powers, in one degree or another, seemed afflicted by the view that if they did not act now it might be worse for them later on. War, or Armageddon as it was often called, came on 28 July 1914 when Austria declared war on Serbia. Trying to look ahead, and with the failure which generally attends prophecies in international relations, Colonel House commented: