Peer-reviewed scholarly article published in:Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d'histoire XXXI, August/août 1996, pp. 227-255, ISSN 0008-4107 © Canadian Journal of History
THE MAKING AND PUTATIVE IMPLEMENTATION OF A BRITISH FOREIGN POLICY OF GESTURE, DECEMBER 1905 TO AUGUST 1914: THE ANGLO-FRENCH ENTENTE REVISITED
The Liberal cabinet of Campbell-Bannerman inherited in December 1905 from its Conservative predecessor a commitment to France that was both specific and vague. This commitment was embodied in Article IX of the Anglo-French Agreement of April 1904. The text of Article IX was: "The two Governments agree to afford to one another their diplomatic support, in order to obtain the execution of the clauses of the present Declaration regarding Egypt and Morocco."
Until November 1912 this was the only British obligation towards France. In November 1912 the Asquith cabinet authorized the foreign secretary to write to the French ambassador that "if either Government had grave reason to expect an unprovoked attack by a third Power, or something that threatens the general peace, it should immediately discuss with the other whether both Governments should act together to prevent aggression and to preserve peace, and, if so, what measures they would be prepared to take in common."* This more general and wider-ranging commitment was the only additional commitment made until 2 August 1914, when the cabinet authorized the foreign secretary "to give an assurance that if the German fleet comes into the Channel or through the North Sea to undertake hostile operations against the French coasts or shipping, the British fleet will give all the protection in its power."*
From December 1905 up to and including August 1914 only a small minority of ministers in the cabinets of Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith were convinced that the gains to be derived from the entente with France outweighed the liabilities attached to it. The core of this minority consisted of R.B. Haldane, Sir E. Grey, and H.H. Asquith. It was to these individuals that Haldane was referring when he wrote to Asquith in 1922, when the latter was preparing a volume of memoirs: "As Edward Grey always said amongst ourselves . . ."* Between mid-1909 and mid-1911 W.S. Churchill and D. Lloyd George began to share the outlook of this minority, the former rather more thoroughly and, after 1911, rather more consistently, than the latter.* From July 1912 to April 1914 the minority could count on J.E.B. Seely, Asquith's choice as Haldane's successor at the War Office.
The original members of this minority were all Liberal Imperialists, a faction within the Liberal party led until 1904 by the former prime minister and foreign secretary, Lord Rosebery. How tightly-knit this group was, how closely its members collaborated, and how committed it was to continuity of foreign policy and the policy of the entente with France, must first be demonstrated. It was Haldane, always the driving force within the group, who took the initiative in the autumn of 1905, in a bid to ensure continuity of foreign policy. On 12 September 1905 he wrote to Lord Knollys, Private Secretary to King Edward VII: "We believe that the Opposition cannot emerge from its present condition unless we can, with our friends and followers, to some extent shape policy. To do this implies that our group should form a sufficiently strong and important minority in the Cabinet." Amongst the safeguards he wanted were the Leadership of the House of Commons and the chancellorship of the exchequer for Asquith and either the Foreign Office or the Colonial Office for Grey.* At the beginning of October Haldane went to Balmoral to pursue the matter. Also present were the prime minister, A.J. Balfour, and the foreign secretary, Lord Lansdowne, together with the "much consulted" Lord Esher. Haldane reported to Asquith that Esher had spoken to him "of you and Edward Grey in a very friendly way and went on to War Office and India matters in a very suggestive fashion." Haldane concluded that the result of the visit was that the Liberal Imperialists' plan was "thoroughly approved in all its details" and that "we have secured very cordial and powerful assistance."*
It was after a "long talk" on 13 January 1906 with Haldane (appointed secretary of state for war by Campbell-Bannerman) that Grey (appointed foreign secretary) authorized conversations between representatives of the British and French military and naval authorities, without consulting any other ministers, and without informing anyone else, except perhaps the king, that certain contacts had already taken place.* Asquith was seen by Grey on 19 January and told of what had transpired, several days before the prime minister was fully acquainted with the facts.* Campbell-Bannerman, who wrote at the beginning of February that "I do not like the stress laid upon joint preparations,"* had been presented, through the initiative and cohesion of his Liberal Imperialist colleagues, with a fait accompli. The French ambassador, for his part, appreciated that, as he put it, if Grey, Haldane, and Asquith quit the cabinet, "the foreign policy of the remainder might not be the same as with the late Government." This appreciation worked its way, via the British ambassador in Paris and Lord Knollys, to King Edward.*
The first three months of the year 1906 saw the first of four crises when war, between Britain and France on the one hand, and Germany on the other, was most definitely in sight. During the next crisis, in November 1908, the same French ambassador, Paul Cambon, concluded from a conversation between his military attaché and Lord Esher, that "nous avons pour nous . . . les Ministres les plus influents, le Premier Ministre [Asquith], ceux des Affaires étrangères [Grey], de la Guerre [Haldane], le Premier Lord de l'Amirauté [McKenna, Asquith's appointment to replace Tweedmouth], c'est-à-dire tous ceux qui ont la responsabilité des intérêts extérieures du pays." Between 5 and 12 November, Esher established that Asquith, Grey, and Haldane were all prepared to intervene by sending a force to the continent.*
At the beginning of the third crisis Churchill and Lloyd George, the new recruits to the Liberal Imperialist cause, dined with Haldane and Grey. Churchill recorded the outcome in a letter to his wife of 5 July 1911: "We decided to use pretty plain language to Germany and to tell her that if she thinks Morocco can be divided up without John Bull, she is jolly well mistaken."* Haldane spent the evening of 18 July with Grey; a cabinet was due to be held on the 19th. At it, Haldane raised the matter of relative forces on the Franco-German frontier. This was not well received by the majority of the cabinet. Asquith did not conceal from the king that a first-class row, or as he put it "a long and animated discussion," had ensued.* On 21 July, the cabinet's decision having been less rigorous than required by the Liberal Imperialists, Lloyd George, Grey, and Asquith composed a passage for a speech due to be delivered by Lloyd George that evening at the Mansion House. Cabinet clearance was not sought.* On 14 August, with the outcome of the continuing crisis still impossible to predict, Haldane arranged a dinner party of himself, Asquith, Grey, and Churchill in order to tell them "something of war." According to the Clerk of the Privy Council, Almeric Fitzroy, Lloyd George was also present, and the decision was that "anything practicable to accelerate a counter-stroke [should Germany attack France] must be done."* One outcome of that dinner party was that a meeting of the Committee of Imperial Defence was convened by Asquith for 23 August. Only the Liberal Imperialist ministers were invited; it was later described by Esher as "a packed Defence Committee" and "a small junta of Cabinet ministers."* Another outcome of the dinner party was that on 16 August Grey favoured the French ambassador with what he called his "impressions personelles," claiming that he had not consulted his cabinet colleagues about the consequences of a rupture in the Franco-German negotiations that were taking place. The impression derived by Cambon from this interview was embodied in a despatch. Cambon wrote:
Ce qu'il y a d'intéressant dans les paroles du principal Secrétaire d'état aux Affaires étrangères, c'est qu'il a parlé de l'Angleterre come si elle était l'alliée de la France au même titre que la Russie, et qu'il n'a pas semblé un instant mettre en doute que sa gouvernement ne se déroberait pas à l'obligation de nous soutenir.*
Also on 16 August Grey told the Russian ambassador: "In the event of war between Germany and France, England would have to participate."*
In the aftermath of this crisis (the Agadir crisis) Haldane dined with Grey, Asquith, Lloyd George, and Churchill on 25 October and had "a long and valuable discussion."* What Churchill, who had just been transferred to the Admiralty, would accomplish there, particularly in terms of collaboration and co-ordination with the War Office, was certainly on the agenda.
At the cabinet of 1 November 1911 the Liberal Imperialists were challenged in no uncertain terms about the expediency or otherwise of communications taking place between British and French military and naval representatives in regard to possible co-operation in the field, without the previous knowledge of the cabinet. Another "long and animated discussion" ensued, and the matter was postponed by Asquith for a fortnight so that tempers might cool and the Liberal Imperialists could prepare a defence of their position. On 4 November Churchill encouraged Grey to take up "a very strong position about military consultations with the French" at the next meeting. On 5 November he ended a letter to Asquith: "I think you and Grey will have to make the Cabinet face the realities next Wednesday."* On 13 November Haldane wrote to his sister: "Morley is getting up the old row again for tomorrow's Cabinet. Asquith came in here late last night and we concerted plans." Immediately after the meeting he wrote: "We had a fight yesterday in the Cabinet over the General Staff preparations. McKenna attacked me rather viciously. But the P.M. steered things through."* On 21 November Haldane again played host to Grey late into the night, as they went over the speech which Grey was due to deliver in the House of Commons on the 27th.*
In the crisis of July-August 1914 the Liberal Imperialists were just as inseparable. Asquith was with Haldane and Grey until 1 a.m. on the morning of 29 July. They arranged to meet together before the 11 a.m. cabinet of 1 August. They consulted together again during the night of 2 August. Haldane stayed with Grey from 31 July and throughout the crucial first days of August.* That Haldane, Asquith, Grey, and Churchill were the only civilians present at the War Councils of 5 and 6 August 1914 was entirely appropriate. It symbolized their pre-war cohesiveness and exclusivity.
The imperialism of the Liberal Imperialists took precedence over their liberalism, and great tension was generated as a result in the administrations of Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith. Right-wing journalists such as H.A. Gwynne, in 1906 editor of The Standard, regarded Haldane, Grey, and Asquith as "pillars of Empire,"* and were correct in so doing. Early in 1908, for instance, when Haldane was encountering opposition to his army reforms from the then radical and unreconstructed Lloyd George, he wrote to his sister: "One appreciates the point of view of the Radical stalwarts but it is not one from which the affairs of the empire can be conducted."* He continued to try to devise a military system capable of sending the British Expeditionary Force to the continent at the same time as the United Kingdom itself was being invaded, and in November 1908 told Asquith that if Britain failed France he would not give ten years' purchase for the British Empire.* Early in 1909 the still unreconstructed Lloyd George complained to Asquith about the size of the navy estimates, saying: "We must run the country on Liberal lines. If Tory extravagance on arms is exceeded Liberals who have nothing to hope from this Parliament in the way of redress of grievances will hardly think it worth their while to make any effort to keep in office a Liberal Ministry."* Asquith took the opposing stance of Grey, Haldane, and, in this instance, of McKenna, who were all prepared to resign on this matter. Immediately after the Mansion House speech of July 1911 John Morley complained bitterly of the new and Liberal Imperialist manifestation of Lloyd George, writing that "Even men from whom we should have looked for better things are showing that they have but poor grasp of the Principles of Peace, and little comprehension of the foundations of national strength."* In the summer of 1912 the Lord Chancellor, Lord Loreburn, who since December 1905 had been the most consistent opponent in cabinet of the Liberal Imperialist creed, wrote the following valedictory letter to Haldane:
My differences with you have always been this, you have been an Imperialist "au fond" and always in my opinion it is quite impossible to reconcile Imperialism with the Liberal creed which we professed, and on the force of which we received the support of the country. In this way we became hopelessly estranged on the greatest of all issues.*
Haldane succeeded Loreburn as Lord Chancellor. His own successor as secretary of state for war, Seely, delivered himself of the following opinion almost immediately: "We believe at the War Office that personal sacrifice of patriotic citizens is essential for the safety of the Empire."*
In 1916 Haldane wrote to a former assistant of his at the War Office:
The Expeditionary Force had a double purpose from the first. It was intended as a possible help to France if we made an agreement with Russia. But that was a state secret. The Cabinet hardly knew it. But down to 1914 there was little fear of a breach with Germany; it was only an emergency that we were providing against.*
The veil on Haldane's "state secret" was lifted, and the policy which the Liberal Imperialists wished to pursue was revealed, in the course of the Agadir crisis of 1911. The veil was lifted slightly at the cabinet of 19 July, already referred to, when Haldane insisted on discussing military strength on the Franco-German frontier. It was lifted rather more when in the first week of August Morley heard that the War Office had inquired of the Privy Council Office as to whether it had ready for immediate submission the proclamations necessary for calling out the reserves. This discovery elicited from Morley the statement that "The issue of any such Proclamations will be the signal of my leaving the Government."* The veil was fully cast off between 23 August and the end of October, as McKenna told regular members of the Committee of Imperial Defence who had been deliberately omitted from the meeting on 23 August of what had transpired on that occasion. Fisher, the former first sea lord who like Esher had not been invited to the 23 August meeting, fuelled the fire by writing from the continent that he had picked up reports that General Sir John French, the Commander-in-Chief designate of the B.E.F., had landed in France and had been expatiating, on his way to French army headquarters, "on the evident intention of joint military action."*
The cabinet meetings of 1 and 15 November were to reveal the extent to which the Liberal Imperialists were in a minority. The majority prepared well: Morley announced to Esher on 29 October that "Some of us propose to make a demonstration in force as to certain proceedings in the C.I.D., with which you are acquainted." J.A. Pease, the Minister for Education, had found McKenna on 24 October closeted with Loreburn and Harcourt, the Colonial Secretary. Harcourt explained that McKenna had been dismissed from the Admiralty because he had declined on 23 August to arrange, without cabinet sanction, for the fleet to convey troops to aid the French. In the diary which he kept, Pease wrote up the two cabinet meetings as one:
Asquith was weak and thought no cabinet was necessary but later on he saw he had backed the wrong horse and on 15 November we won a great victory for a principle. Haldane had to climb down and agree to our terms. Asquith, Grey, Haldane, Lloyd George, Churchill thought they could boss the rest, but were mistaken.
On 1 November John Burns, President of the Local Government Board, had recorded: "Cabinet today very interesting. Morley, McKenna, Harcourt, Pease and nearly all took a strong line about Cabinet supremacy over all other bodies in the matter of sea and land defence." Esher was not exaggerating when he wrote on 24 November: "There has been a serious crisis. Fifteen members of the Cabinet against five. The Entente is decidedly imperilled."*
The cabinets of 1 and 15 November 1911 marked a watershed in the history of the Entente. Despite what Haldane wrote to his sister on 16 November about having emerged "unhampered in any material point,"* the Liberal Imperialists were to be much more strenuously supervised and monitored by their victors than had hitherto been the case. Harcourt had made a copy of the resolutions passed on 15 November, despite being told by the Prime Minister, on Churchill's prompting, that it was an unwritten rule that ministers should keep no record of cabinet proceedings. At the end of the month a three point note based on this record was drawn up by Harcourt and Loreburn, sent to Morley, and shown by the latter to Asquith, Haldane, and Grey, who all accepted it as completely accurate. There is a copy of this note in the papers of John Burns. Dated 29 November 1911, it runs:
1. That at no time has the Cabinet decided whether or not to give either military or naval assistance to France in the event of her being at war with Germany.
2. That at no time has the British Government given any promise of such assistance to France.
3. That the Cabinet was not informed till the end of October of any naval or military preparations being made to meet the contingency of war this summer or autumn, nor was any plan for a landing of troops on the Continent at any time communicated to or approved by the Cabinet.*
Loreburn, who was no more above a certain deviousness of method than the Liberal Imperialists had proved themselves to be, and who in July and September had leaked to left-wing journalists what Lloyd George at least regarded as cabinet secrets,* certainly did not regard this as the end of the matter. As Grey's private parliamentary secretary recorded, the chief whip had found Loreburn "incensed that Asquith, Grey, Lloyd George, Winston Churchill and Haldane, `five amateurs' as he called them, should have met together and without consulting their colleagues in the Cabinet, decided in the event of war to land 150,000 men in France."* Loreburn was determined to extract from Sir Edward Grey a public statement to the effect that no obligation to give military support to France did exist or had existed. He believed that Grey had promised to make such a statement, and drafted a reply to make in cabinet. The concluding words of this draft declared that Britain was not under any obligation direct or indirect, expressed or implied, to support France against Germany by force of arms. Loreburn contemplated moving this as a resolution in cabinet and resigning if, as was most unlikely at that time, it was rejected. Although he did not go through with this, he did go to see Grey in the New Year. He also wrote, once, and visited, twice, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to whom he insisted that "Grey has done harm by his coldness and that Germany is reasonably alienated." The Archbishop was sufficiently impressed to demand from both Asquith and Grey a public repudiation of a story circulating in Germany to the effect that there had been a plan for the British fleet to attack the Germans without notice. This was pressure that neither prime minister nor foreign secretary could ignore. Asquith dealt with it by assuring Davidson in a letter that "the movements and operations of our Fleet this summer and autumn were perfectly normal"; Grey had to receive Davidson at the Foreign Office on 24 January 1912 only to be told in effect that his reticence and lack of frankness "had gone rather too far."*
In the early summer of 1912 Loreburn left the government through ill-health. A few months later he wrote to Bryce, "I certainly should have resigned over the German business had I not believed and been urged by colleagues to believe that I should serve the country best by staying and trying to get a sensible policy instead of what had been pursued." As it was, he continued to press C.P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian, to extract from Grey "a definite statement as to the nature of our relations with France and the obligations implied in them."* Of the colleagues he referred to, it was Harcourt who assumed Loreburn's mantle. Harcourt, whose "power . . . of moulding opinion by the quietest and often unobserved methods" was remarked on by Morley,* was a worthy successor. In the summer of 1912 he resolutely opposed any changes in naval distribution, and any conversations between the British and French admiralties, which could be interpreted as determining the future in the direction of alliance and ultimate naval and military co-operation.* As a member of the C.I.D. subcommittee on Attack on the British Isles from overseas, which sat for most of 1913, he made sure that due regard was shown to his and his friends' sensibilities. For example, he received the following from the secretary of the C.I.D. on 12 December 1913: ". . . your letter arrived when I was engaged in drafting on the difficult and delicate question of the Expeditionary Force and its objects. I believe I have hit upon a way of bringing the question in which will meet your approval . . ."; Harcourt was next shown a draft proof, about which Hankey wrote: "The part in which you are interested more particularly is paras 151 to 159. If they outrage your views so far that you think they ought not to be circulated even as a basis for discussion, I would be obliged if you would let me know at once."* A form of words acceptable to Harcourt was found. But he also continued to harry Grey, reminding him early in 1914 that the cabinet did not admit the existence of any such entity as a triple entente.*
Harcourt was assisted in all this by McKenna, who was determined to pursue from his new position as home secretary the spoiling policy which he had formerly pursued at the Admiralty and who had, as Loreburn had predicted, come out unmistakably into the camp of those opposed to the Liberal Imperialists.* Morley also contributed to the supervision of the Liberal Imperialists, helping in May 1912, for instance, to stop Asquith holding a C.I.D. meeting in the course of a Mediterranean cruise, something he described as "a dangerous and provocative experiment."* Almeric Fitzroy recorded what Morley said to him six months later, during the first Balkan war:
He fully recognised our difficulty if in the last resort we failed to support Russia and France, though, to apply Bismarck's famous remark about the bones of a Pomeranian Grenadier, he did not think the issue worth to us the body of one Territorial. He intimated that he at least would be no party to war arising out of such a situation . . .*
(Here Morley remained absolutely true to sentiments he had expressed in a letter to Rosebery shortly after the Casablanca crisis of 1908: "Clemenceau talked to me of our being ready as of old to send a force into the Low Countries. As if this would not delight the Kaiser, whose four millions would gobble up our 100,000 in quarter of an hour . . .";* a twelve page letter which Grey had written to him on 3 November 1911, at the height of the cabinet crisis, had failed to convince.)*
The post-November 1911 supervision and monitoring by Loreburn, Harcourt, McKenna, Morley, and others certainly had an impact. The emphasis placed throughout the summer of 1912 on the noncommittal nature of naval conversations by Churchill, for instance, was in deference to the role and influence of the opponents of the Liberal Imperialists; so was the first paragraph of Grey's letter to Cambon of 22 November 1912, which Harcourt, Morley and company regarded as another important document which safeguarded their position, as something upon which they could rely in a crisis, and use to supplement the sheer weight of numbers through which they had carried the day in November 1911; so was the stress laid upon the Director of military operations' visit to Paris in November 1912 "without power to commit H.M.G."* The impact can be demonstrated in another way. Almeric Fitzroy recounts an incident which occurred at a dinner at the Athenaeum in mid-1912, at which both Morley and Grey were present. One of the diners expressed the opinion that "Political divisions in France, bitter as they were, had not the same effect in stunting national policy." This was a statement that Grey received "with studious reserve."* Grey's "studious reserve" on this occasion is the best possible tribute to the influence and impact of his opponents within the cabinet from November 1911. What produced that "studious reserve" was still present in 1914: as the Russian ambassador observed of Grey, "Que sa partie et ses utopies le gênent est évident . . ."*
What is ironic is that the period of lack of supervision of the Liberal Imperialists was also the period of lack of effective planning to support France, and that the period of monitoring of the Liberal Imperialists' activities which followed was also the period during which Anglo-French and War Office-Admiralty co-ordination of planning made such progress that by the end of July 1914, although only just, Britain was for the first time in a position to render effective military assistance to the French.
On 16 April 1911 Grey sent Asquith an account of the circumstances in which he and Haldane had authorized the holding of military conversations in 1906. This account ended: "The military experts then conversed. What they settled, I never knew the position being that the Government was quite free, but that the military people knew what to do, if the word was given."* As Asquith already knew the genesis of the military conversations, this letter was probably designed to deceive Morley, to whom Grey asked Asquith to send it. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that what Grey implied, that he personally had had nothing to do with the progress of the talks after authorizing them, was not true. In 1907 he had sanctioned further developments, and personally redrafted instructions to General Lyttleton, the Chief of the General Staff; in November 1908, having been told by the French ambassador that naval co-operation had not been arranged, he undertook to speak to McKenna on the subject.* Following a memorandum from the D.M.O. to the C.I.G.S. in January 1911, moreover, both Grey and Haldane had assented to the railway companies being consulted by the General Staff.*
Just as Grey's interview of 24 November 1908 with Cambon revealed certain shortcomings, so did the memorandum of January 1911. For it pointed out "the danger which existed owing to the entire absence up to date of those elemental measures necessary for the methodical mobilisation, entrainment and embarkation of the Expeditionary Force." This was not all. In October 1910 the new D.M.O., General Sir Henry Wilson, requested the calling of the permanent subcommittee which the C.I.D. had set up in July 1905 to consider schemes for combined operations; he did so in terms which suggest that this subcommittee had not met for several years.* In July 1911 Wilson discovered certain other shortcomings. At noon on 26 July he was asked by General Nicholson, the C.I.G.S., when the expeditionary force could be ready. Wilson had to say that he did not know, as "the horse difficulty" had not been solved. He noted in his diary for that day, "We are unfortunately caught at a time when the proposals which I put forward for acceleration of mobilisation are not yet completed. We must do the best we can. Our rail and ship arrangements are worked out on many new Tables but the personnel may not be ready." On the next day it emerged, as he recorded, "that we can only just make the Cav[alry] Div[ision], 4 Div[ision] and A.T.s mobile. The 4th and 6th Div[ision]s will have no horses, no ASC personnel, no M.T. or M.T. drivers, no medical units . . ." The 28th of July was another day of "semi-scare and hasty preparation and scramble." Wilson found that "some of our stores had no web equipment, and still worse that we could only fight our Howitzers as 4 gun batteries and then only with half the proper amount of ammunition. Ewart [Wilson's predecessor as D.M.O.] has absolutely no medical arrangements made for the 4th and 6th Divisions." He concluded: "The scandal grows and I am keeping a diary so that I may write a minute on the whole situation."* By 16 August Wilson could contain himself no longer. He wrote to General Nicholson as follows:
There must be something radically wrong when a man in my position is forced to write, during a time of international strain, that he does not know when the Expeditionary Force can be made ready to take the field, nor even which of the larger units of that force could be made completely mobile, nor for how long the wastage of war can be made good; nor does he know if the Force will enter on the campaign with a serious deficiency in officers nor whether this deficiency will seriously increase. There must be something wrong when the officer responsible to you for the fighting efficiency of the Expeditionary Force in so far as plans of operations for that Force are concerned, is unaware that certain essentials in mobilisation equipment are (or were) deficient; is unaware how long a time will elapse before the Force is fully equipped with a re-sighted rifle and new ammunition; was unaware that there was a serious shortage in S[mall] A[rms] A[mmunition], or that the new howitzers would have to be fought in 4 gun batteries with a very inadequate supply of ammunition.*
Wednesday 16 August was a bad day not only for the C.I.G.S. but for the French ambassador. Two days earlier Cambon had returned from the Foreign Office to his embassy to discover a telegram from Paris informing him that there was no understanding between the British and French admiralties as to the role their fleets would play if engaged in war against a common enemy, and asking him to do something to remedy the situation. Cambon, who believed the situation had already been remedied as a result of his talk with Grey on 24 November 1908, was stunned: "Je ne m'explique pas ce télégramme." He insisted in reply that there was such an understanding, and a similar one between the two armies. On the 16th, the day of Wilson's minute to the C.I.G.S. and of Grey's assurances both to the Russian ambassador and to Cambon, the latter asked for this passage in his reply of 14 August to be destroyed.* Exactly a week later the proceedings of Asquith's packed meeting of the C.I.D. revealed to all present that the Admiralty, in the person of McKenna, had deliberately omitted to make arrangements to mobilize the fleet simultaneously with the mobilization of the army, or to provide for the delivery of the expeditionary force to the continent.*
The finding of something nasty in the woodshed was not the exclusive preserve of the ministerial opponents of the Liberal Imperialists in the second half of the year 1911. But that the core of Liberal Imperialist ministers either did not know that the highest possible degree of improvisation would have been entailed in giving any assistance to France in 1911, over five years after military conversations were authorized, or did not care, is in itself, of course, a comment on the Entente Cordiale.
Being in a small minority throughout, and being aware of this from the outset, how did the Liberal Imperialist group expect its policies to prevail? By what mechanisms did they hope and expect to implement them?
"Public opinion" was one element, and with regard to this element Grey gave a number of assurances to successive French governments. Some of these assurances were more qualified than others. The first, as registered by Cambon on 31 January 1906, was that public opinion would oblige the British government to support France. Grey took care, however, to repeat that this was "une opinion personnelle" and could not be taken as binding the government in which he was foreign secretary. Having seen Cambon's written account of their conversation, Grey expanded on this matter for the benefit of Campbell-Bannerman and Lord Ripon:
I said that I had used this expression to Count Metternich first, and not to [Cambon], because, supposing it appeared that I had over-estimated the strength of feeling of my countrymen, there could be no disappointment in Germany, but I could not express so decidedly my personal opinion to France because a personal opinion was not a thing upon which, in so serious a matter, a policy could be founded. In speaking to him, therefore, I must keep well within the mark. Much would depend as to the manner in which war broke out between Germany and France. I did not think people in England would be prepared to fight in order to put France in possession of Morocco . . . But if . . . it appeared that the war was forced upon France by Germany to break up the Anglo-French "entente," public opinion would undoubtedly be very strong on the side of France.*
When war was next in sight, in November 1908, Cambon told Pichon that Grey had already told him that France could not rely on the decision of the cabinet. But, he added Grey, "a toujours ajouté que l'opinion publique se prononcerait en notre faveur et déterminerait la direction du Gouvernement."*
In November 1911 Cambon collaborated with Sir Arthur Nicolson, Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office, in an effort to help Grey in the extremes of his struggle with the cabinet over cabinet supremacy. Between them they produced a document on 2 November which was geared to stressing the role of public opinion. In this note Cambon maintained that the language he had used in respect of the possible attitude of England in the event of a break between France and Germany was as follows:
I told M. Caillaux and all the Ministers very clearly that it would be exceedingly difficult for any British Government to take any action which was not supported by British public opinion: that in the event of Germany attacking France or wilfully breaking off the negotiations British public opinion would side with France and enable the British Government to support France. British public opinion was impetuous and did not reason very deeply, but it had an instinctive sympathy with the party attacked and an instinctive mistrust and dislike of an aggressive and bullying Power. All British history proved this. But if France were to place herself in the wrong, and were to attack Germany or wilfully break off the negotiations, British public opinion, in any case at the outset, would not be on the side of France, and the British Government would not, therefore, be able to assist France at the commencement, whatever they might do later. As British aid would be required immediately and at the outset, the result would be that France would not be able to count on British support.
Grey read the whole of this to the cabinet on 15 November, in his bid to defend the Liberal Imperialist position, and then asked for it to be kept for reference.*
Exactly a year later Cambon passed on to Poincaré the position being maintained by Grey at that time, which was that "si quelque événement grave survenait, l'opinion publique obligerait le Gouvernement britannique quel qu'il fût à marcher avec la France."* In April 1914 Grey personally told his then opposite number, Doumergue, according to the latter's record: "En ce qui concerne la France aucun Gouvernement anglais, je vous en donne l'assurance, ne lui refuserait son aide militaire et navale si elle était injustement menacée et attaqué. Le Gouvernement qui hésiterait ne pourrait pas résister à la pression de l'opinion publique anglais."*
From the Liberal Imperialist point of view, public opinion presented two problems. The first problem was that of ascertaining it. The second problem arrived when, once ascertained, public opinion turned out to have a point of view other than the Liberal Imperialist one. In fact, only on one occasion did Sir Edward Grey even contemplate attempting to ascertain what public opinion was. This was on 10 January 1906, when Cambon first asked him whether France could rely on British armed support if attacked by Germany. Recognizing that to answer in the affirmative was "a great step to take without Parliament," Grey said to his Private Secretary, Mallet, "that if Parliament were sitting, you could find out opinion by consulting M.P.s in the Lobbies." Mallet who preferred the fait accompli approach of first making an alliance, then telling Parliament, and then if Parliament objected resigning as a government, going to the country, and being returned, scotched his chief's idea immediately.* This was the nearest Grey ever came to the position later spelled out by Loreburn, which was that in order to avoid the danger of ministers shaping the national policy upon their own conjecture of what the public may think, they should ascertain it in a constitutional way from the representatives of the public, at the very least. Loreburn's suggestion of 1912 of a referendum on the subject would have been anathema to the Liberal Imperialists.*
Although on 8 January 1906, in a letter to Haldane, Grey envisaged that "a situation might arise presently in which popular feeling might compel the Government to go to the help of France," he did not, at that time, have the confidence that Mallet professed to have in the public. His true feelings crept into a postscript to a private letter to Bertie on 15 January: "I detest the idea of another war now and so does the whole of this country and so will the new House of Commons."*
At the beginning of 1906, then, Grey was convinced that public opinion did not coincide with the wishes of the Liberal Imperialists. A year later Prime Minister Campbell-Bannerman told Clemenceau "that he did not think that English public opinion would allow of British troops being employed on the Continent of Europe." Grey toned this down in an effort to assuage French grief, but even in the revised version the Prime Minister "dwelt upon the reluctance of the British people to undertake obligations, which would commit them to a continental war."*
Campbell-Bannerman's warning, which was directed both at the French and the Liberal Imperialists, reinforced Grey's initial reservations. It made him even less inclined to establish what public opinion was, and even more inclined to exploit other mechanisms available to the Liberal Imperialists which might help to achieve what was, from their own point of view, the desired effect. During the crisis of November 1908 Esher gathered that what Grey proposed to do was "to circularise Europe, and to say that so soon after the Hague Conference, war upon so trivial a pretext was a crime against humanity; that we proposed Arbitration to both Powers, and whichever refused should be considered to have outraged the moral sense of the civilised world, to be the enemy of the human race, and should be treated accordingly."* On this occasion Esher disclosed to the French military attaché the role that Grey would play in relation to public opinion:
[Sir E. Grey] a, à l'heure actuelle, une autorité considérable, non seulement dans le Gouvernement mais encore dans le Parlement et dans le pays tout entier. L'avis qu'il émettra aura une influence décisive: ce sera sans doute celui qui sera adopté par le Gouvernement et ratifié par l'opinion publique.
Cambon somewhat improved on this in his own report, saying that Grey "qui jouera dans ces circonstances un rle décisif sait bien ce qu'il dit quand il parle de la poussée de l'opinion. Il parlera assez haut pour être entendu dans les trois royaumes, et il compte sur l'appui du sentiment public."* In other words, by taking in public a particular line, and by speaking loudly enough (a combination of volume and high moral tone) Grey intended to create public opinion in his own image. The opinion thus created would force the government, "bon gré mal gré," to march with the French.
Giving a lead to the public was a device which the Liberal Imperialists tried to reserve to themselves; hence their resentment of pronouncements on foreign affairs by any of their colleagues.* The device was employed in the form of the Mansion House speech in July 1911, when the speaking role was allocated to Lloyd George. When Grey spoke, in the House of Commons on 27 November 1911, the clerk of the house noted how determined the foreign secretary was to have the first word. The way found to enable him to do so was to adopt the procedure followed in discussing the reports of the Committee on Public Accounts.* The same clerk of the House of Commons noted how, on 3 August 1914, Grey delivered "the speech of an advocate"; two days earlier, Grey's private secretary had been reminded by the editor of the Morning Post of Grey's "enormous power" in this respect: "We have always expected to get a lead from Sir Edward."*
Giving a lead in this way was inseparable from the use of another device the manipulation of the Press. Grey had always been aware that a section of the press needed little prompting. On 31 January 1906 he let slip to Cambon a remark on "the strong feeling of the Press . . . on the side of France." Whether he was aware of what Cambon was then planning, together with Repington, the military correspondent of The Times, is not clear.* But the sort of line that would have emanated from that quarter in 1906 may be gathered from Repington's version of his encounter with certain radicals in March: "I explained to Ivor Guest and the like how indispensable it was to support France in order to preserve the liberties of Europe and the immortal principles of the French Revolution. This puts the extreme Radicals in a fearful quandary . . ."*
Following the Agadir crisis, the French chargé d'affaires recalled how, in July 1911, the Liberal party chief whip, the Master of Elibank, "indiquait aux journalistes que les paroles du Chancellier de l'Exchiquier avaient été approuvées par ses collègues du Cabinet." In addition to this fiction, on the receiving end of which was the Daily News and other papers, Elibank had seen, at 12 Downing Street on 30 July, Sir Henry Dalziel, the M.P. and owner of Reynold's Newspaper, and told him that a large number of Radical M.P.s had "volunteered the view that the speeches of the prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer had correctly represented Radical opinion in the country." Elibank, so C.P. Ilbert gathered in August, was "one of those who take a serious view about Morocco." A statement by Elibank appeared in The Times on 31 July. Grey minuted that Elibank had done the right thing: "There are people in this country . . . who have persistently held the view that there are two separate wings of opinion in the Cabinet and the Chief Whip's object was to express satisfaction at this idea being dispelled . . ."* In November 1911 The Nation reminded its readership of the unusual prominence given to Lloyd George's speech by The Times of 22 July, and of a Times exclusive on 20 July which had described certain German demands upon the French relating solely to the Congo as such that, even if a French government were weak enough to consider them, no British government should tolerate them for a moment.* The Daily Chronicle, edited by Robert Donald, a close journalistic friend of Lloyd George's, printed on 22 July only that part of the Mansion House speech devised by the Liberal Imperialists. On the eve of the speech, moreover, Lloyd George had attempted to nobble C.P. Scott, the editor of the Manchester Guardian, by urgently requesting as a personal matter that he write nothing about "the German business" without seeing him. The following day, the speech having been delivered, Lloyd George breakfasted with Scott and tried to win him over, claiming that the cabinet was "practically unanimous." Shortly afterwards Asquith, Churchill, and Elibank saw Scott together. The latter noted that Elibank was particularly emphatic that the government was Radical rather than Liberal Imperialist.* Scott was not deceived by these protestations. They strengthened his conviction that the truth was different. At the end of October Haldane attempted to mislead J.A. Spender, the editor of the Westminster Gazette, about the reasons for the dismissal of McKenna, claiming it was done by Asquith because "the state of the higher command in the Navy was and is archaic and a peril to the public interest" "new blood" was therefore "essential." On 3 November Grey also attempted to win Scott over to his side, in an effort to gain a more sympathetic Liberal press in advance of his second passage at arms with his supposedly unanimous and supportive colleagues on 15 November.*
In the Agadir crisis neither the creation of public opinion nor the manipulation of the press was successful. Lloyd George did not win over the Manchester Guardian in July, nor did Grey win it over in November. Elibank's inventions were to no avail. Cambon was quite wrong when he stated, a year later, that "l'an dernier, au moment de l'incident d'Agadir, toute l'Angleterre se souleva contre l'Allemagne . . ."* Le tout l'Angleterre did nothing of the sort. As Morley told Almeric Fitzroy on 6 November, in suitably coded language, "the Cabinet, in reviewing the Morocco crisis, recorded the opinion that an exaggerated sense of the urgency of the occasion had been entertained . . ." This was a judgement shared by Fitzroy and Ilbert and expressed in Loreburn's letter to Grey of 26 August.*
C.P. Ilbert noted of Grey's speech in the House of Commons on 27 November 1911 that "it drew far more cheers from the Tories than from the Liberals." The same applied to Grey's speech of 3 August 1914: "It lasted for about an hour and a half and was loudly applauded by the Opposition but received by the Liberals with grim silence."* The Tory opposition constituted a support mechanism in itself for the Liberal Imperialists. For instance, in November 1908, at the time of the second war-in-sight crisis, Asquith, who was clearly in a state of extreme perturbation, asked Balfour to come and see him. Balfour recorded what transpired in an extremely important and only recently discovered letter to Lansdowne, dated 6 November 1908. Asquith began by saying that the only explanation of German policy that fitted all the known facts was that they wanted war. Balfour observed that the excuse devised by the Germans on this occasion was so incredibly frivolous that the civilized world would be shocked beyond expression, and that it was difficult to see what Germany expected to gain by a war in which she would lose a great deal morally and was by no means certain to gain anything materially. Asquith offered, by way of explanation, the suggestion that the internal condition of Germany was so unsatisfactory that the Germans might be driven to the wildest adventures in order to divert national sentiment into a new channel. Balfour then said that, as he understood the matter, Britain would be involved under treaty obligations if Germany violated Belgian territory. Asquith agreed, and confirmed that the Franco-German frontier was now so strong that the temptation to Germany to invade Belgium might prove irresistible. What struck Balfour was the intensely pessimistic tone in which Asquith described the position. At the end of the interview Balfour told Asquith that he could count upon the opposition in the event of national difficulty.* This was the assurance that Asquith had been seeking to obtain.
In the next crisis, in 1911, C.P. Ilbert noticed how the Official Secrets Bill was run through all its stages (except the first reading) and passed in one day, "an unnecessary and improper proceeding," in his view. His explanation was that "the War Office was obsessed with a German panic and had squared the opposition front bench, which is only too ready to be squared in a case of this kind."* On 15 September 1911 Lloyd George wrote to Churchill from Balmoral: "I had a long talk with Balfour . . . If there is war he will support us."* Balfour was at Balmoral from 11 to 14 September; Lloyd George had taken Grey's place there on 13 September. On 23 November Grey's private secretary met Bonar Law, Balfour's successor as Leader of the Conservative party, and Grey may well have done so on the following day. Certainly on the 25th Grey sent Bonar Law an outline of what he intended to say on the 27th. And on the 28th, in the House of Lords, Lansdowne tried to help Grey by stating that "in a case of this kind, an undertaking to give diplomatic support may tend to bring about an obligation to give support of another kind."* The French ambassador was greatly interested in the remarks of the conservative leadership on this occasion; he was to help to mobilize them himself at the end of July 1914. Cambon's efforts then supplied the platform that Grey needed. For, as Grey told the historical adviser to the Foreign Office in 1922, "On about Wednesday before the outbreak of war [29 July] he had asked the Leader of the Conservatives what their view was and was told that the rank and file of the party were very doubtful about coming to the help of France apart from Belgium. It was not until Sunday [2 August] that he got a statement from the leaders of the party . . ." From Grey's memoirs it emerges that he was seeing Bonar Law daily throughout the last week of July 1914.*
Here it is not without interest that, at the time of the crisis of the outbreak of the first Balkan war in the autumn of 1912, the director of military operations sought out Bonar Law and had "a long talk" with him. As General Wilson recorded: "We discussed the present state of Europe which I told him of in detail telling him of the despatches received, of our action in the event of war, of the frontier positions and state and numbers of troops, of our Navy and so forth. On all these points he is with us." Wilson went on to see Balfour on 4 December 1912, again to discuss the military situation of the country, a meeting which he considered "something of a triumph."* Four days later he was asked by General Sir John French "to draft a letter for the Chief [the C.I.G.S.] to send to the newspapers when the crisis comes to say that the E[xpeditionary] F[orce] must be sent to Belgium, this being sound strategy and honourable action." This he did on 8 December, saying that "our greatest danger was in Belgium and therefore all the EF must go to France at once." On 9 December General French told him that the C.I.G.S. "agreed to the draft letter . . . which he is to publish in the event of war breaking out."*
Asquith's agreement in November 1908 with Balfour's assumption that Britain would be involved under treaty obligations if Germany attacked France through Belgium has already been mentioned. Reliance upon an interpretation of the 1839 Treaty of London in order to provide a locus standi for intervention in a Franco-German war was another mechanism which the Liberal Imperialists hoped to exploit. With this in mind, a War Office paper entitled The Violation of the Neutrality of Belgium during a Franco-German War, written in September 1905, was ordered to be reprinted for the C.I.D. in November 1908.* This is also why, at the same time, Grey asked one of his officials, Sir E.A. Crowe, to produce answers to two questions, namely "How far would England's liability under the Treaty guaranteeing the neutrality of Belgium be affected if (1) Belgium acquiesced in a violation of her neutrality; (2) if the other guaranteeing Powers or some of them acquiesced?"* Immediately before asking Crowe to do this, Grey had received from the Permanent Under Secretary, Sir Charles Hardinge, a memorandum containing the following sentence:
In the event of Germany provoking hostilities with France, the question of armed intervention by Great Britain is one which would have to be decided by the Cabinet; but the decision would be more easily arrived at if German aggression had entailed a violation of the neutrality of Belgium which Great Britain has guaranteed to maintain.*
The memorandum produced by Crowe on 15 November 1908 took the line that there was no escaping intervention: "Great Britain is liable for the maintenance of Belgian neutrality whenever either Belgium or any of the guaranteeing Powers are in need of, and demand, assistance in opposing its violation."* This memorandum in its turn was reprinted by the Foreign Office in September 1911, during the Agadir crisis, when it is clear that both Lloyd George and Churchill were convinced that a German attack on France would entail a violation of Belgian neutrality; it was also amongst the material prepared by the Liberal Imperialists to be placed before the Cabinet in July 1914.*
Buckingham Palace had subscribed to the Liberal Imperialist plans outlined to it in September and October 1905, and played an active part in securing the Foreign Office for Grey and the War Office for Haldane.* King Edward VII, when shown by Tweedmouth Grey's letter to him of 16 January 1906 which stated that "it is quite right that our naval and military authorities should discuss the question in this way with the French and be prepared to give an answer when they are asked . . ." wanted Grey to know that he approved of that letter, and added that the news reaching him was "quite in accord" with Grey's judgement.* At the end of the month the king appeared to go even further. On 25 January, several days before the arrival at Windsor of Campbell-Bannerman to discuss these matters, Paul Cambon reported from there that the king was encouraging the French to take up with Grey talks that would lead to an agreement to deal with the case of a German aggression.* In November 1908 the king's intermediary Esher told the French military attaché: "L'influence du Roi s'exercera d'ailleurs très certainement" in the sense of intervention.*
Although members of the French embassy always assumed the support of the king,* whether the support even of Edward VII could be relied on by the Liberal Imperialists remains problematic. As Esher well knew by November 1908, the kind of intervention contemplated by King Edward was naval rather than military. At the very beginning of 1909 Esher himself offered to the king something in the nature of a compromise between the preferences of the War Office, which were shared by the Liberal Imperialists, and those of the Admiralty, which were not. In a memorandum for Edward VII, he wrote: "There is however an aspect of this question which cannot be neglected. However valuable our military assistance might be to France, it is conceivable that the British Government of the day might shrink from affording it, owing to the disinclination of the people or the military necessities of the Empire."* Shortly afterwards, in the cabin of the royal yacht, Edward VII expressed views which Sir John Fisher, who was present, never tired of reminding Esher, who was also there, about: "how he stamped on the idea (that then enthused the War Office mind) of England once more engaged in a great Continental War!"*
On Edward VII Sir John Fisher and Lord Esher were all too likely to prevail, in the interests of the fighting of the kind of war that the Admiralty preferred. That George V also fell under the influence of Esher, to which he too was constantly exposed, is probable. Loreburn's speculation of September 1913 that the king might be regarded as something of a safeguard by the majority of the cabinet, that "If a proposal were made to engage in a Continental War and land a force of 150,000 men the Sovereign might be perfectly justified in demanding a dissolution before this was done," might have met with the response he desired.* Certainly on 26 July 1914 King George V assured Prince Henry of Prussia, who was visiting him in search of just such an assurance, that "England would maintain neutrality in case war should break out between the Continental Powers." George V's assurance produced a visit to him from Asquith, who demanded a retraction, thus revealing the line of conduct the Liberal Imperialists expected of the sovereign.*
If the mechanisms, of "public opinion," of the manipulation of the press, of "giving a lead," of the Conservative party leadership, of treaty obligations to Belgium, all failed, or did not combine effectively, the Liberal Imperialists still had two final resorts. One was to replace any ministers who resigned with members of the opposition front bench. On the list drawn up by Churchill, with Balfour's help, at the end of July 1914, were the names of Lord Lansdowne, the Duke of Devonshire, Sir Edward Carson, and Bonar Law.* The other was for the Liberal Imperialists to resign en bloc, thereby not only splitting the cabinet but raising the question of a complete change of government. On 2 August 1914, all else having failed even the locus standi argument had proved counterproductive when on 29 July the cabinet as a whole had, whilst admitting the obligation of 1839, insisted that their policy would not be governed by it* Grey began to play the resignation card. He coupled it with a massive misrepresentation of the content and consequences of the exchange of letters with Cambon in November 1912, a misrepresentation adumbrated by Lloyd George to a horrified C.P. Scott on 30 July.* Asquith made it clear that, if Grey resigned, so would he. There can be no doubt that, as Morley said, "if Germany had delayed her violation of Belgian neutrality by 48 hours the Cabinet would have broken up and there would have been a coalition government."*
On 20 February 1906, during the conference called to Algeciras to resolve the Franco-German differences over Morocco, Grey ended a memorandum in which he weighed the pros and cons of Liberal Imperialist policy with these words:
I think we ought in our minds to face the question now, whether we can keep out of war, if it breaks out between France and Germany. The more I review the situation the more it appears to me that we cannot, without losing our good name and our friends and wrecking our policy and position in the world.*
In November 1908, as we have seen, Grey, Haldane, and Asquith were all prepared to intervene on the side of France if it came to war between France and Germany during the Casablanca crisis. On 16 August 1911, during the Agadir crisis, Grey told the Russian ambassador: "In the event of war between Germany and France, England would have to participate. If this war should involve Russia, Austria would be dragged in too . . . consequently, it would no longer be a duel between France and Germany it would be a general war."*
Given the political lengths to which the Liberal Imperialists were prepared to go in all the crises, their lack of interest in and failure closely to monitor both Anglo-French planning and Admiralty-War Office co-ordination until October 1911 is, at first sight, all the more mysterious. Indeed, after lunching on 9 August 1911 with Haldane, who had forbidden the C-in-C designate of the British expeditionary force to attend the French army manoeuvres in 1910,* and with Grey, the director of military operations was quite staggered. He wrote:
I was profoundly dissatisfied with the grasp of the situation possessed by Grey and Haldane, Grey being much the most ignorant and careless of the two. He not only had no idea of what war means but he struck me as not wanting to know, although he admitted . . . that it was quite possible the present situation might at any moment develop into war . . . a man who knew nothing of policy and strategy going hand in hand . . .*
A year later, after a C.I.D. meeting in July 1912, General Wilson was still complaining that "the outstanding feature of the meeting was the way in which Grey entirely and obstinately ignored the military problem."* Nor was he impressed with what he knew of Haldane's latest mobilization plans. The defeat of the Turkish armies in October 1912 caused him to comment: "It must be a warning for fools like Haldane with the 6 months preparation after declaration of war."*
At this, the wheel had come full circle. For on 19 January 1906, when telling Grey that he had instructed the then D.M.O. to communicate with the French military attaché, Haldane had continued: "We shall be able to despatch two Army Corps, four cavalry brigades and six battalions of infantry we should be able to begin at once, and complete the landing of the entirety within the year most of it much earlier. The entirety would amount to about 105,000 men and 336 guns." He concluded, nonchalantly, "This is satisfactory." The amount, and the time-scale, do suggest a certain lack of seriousness and of immediacy. When Grey wrote to Bertie at the same time, "All this is sheer precaution," it cannot be said that his "All this" amounted to very much. As he more rightly said, "I am told that 80,000 men with good guns is all we can put into the field in Europe to meet first-class troops; that won't save France unless she can save herself."* Haldane's and Grey's ideas of what was "satisfactory," their interpretation of "precaution," suggest that both the spirit and the flesh were weak. The British could not save the French.
This was an attitude made the more easy of adoption by the Liberal Imperialists as a result of their appreciation that it was really for Russia, France's ally since the early 1890s, to do the job. On 12 February 1906 Grey noted that Germany seemed "a little Morocco sick"; he also noted that time, in the shape of Russia, was on the side of France: the recovery of Russia from the ravages of the revolution that followed the Russo-Japanese war would change the situation in Europe to the advantage of France, and it was the situation in Europe that would in the long run decide the positions of France and Germany in Morocco. Sir Charles Hardinge reduced the time-scale immediately. In a minute on Grey's memorandum of 20 February, the new permanent under secretary wrote: "If France takes action in Morocco to protect herself which Germany might resent it is not certain that Germany would declare war and attack France in Europe since such action would at once present a casus foederis' and bring Russia into line with France."* Towards the end of the Algeciras conference Grey himself wrote:
If France would only go quietly and trust us now she would in two or three years be in the strongest position she has been in for several generations. Russia will recover presently; we are on better terms with Russia now than for a long time past and shall probably get on better terms with her still; then the peace of Europe will be assured (certainly not at the expense of France) and we shall all be able to be civil to everybody, even to Germany, who will be civil to France and us.*
In effect, Grey had taken Hardinge's point even before it was made; nothing could be done to check Germany without Russia.
In the spring of 1908 Grey made it clear that it was the Russian army, not the British, which should be regarded as "the great counterpoise to Germany on land." Asquith took the same line in September 1908, having had to combat Clemenceau's wish that the British adopt conscription. He wrote to Grey that Clemenceau was ignorant, "if he imagines we are going to keep here a standing army of «- million men, ready to meet the Germans in Belgium if and when they are minded to adopt that route for the invasion of France. As you point out, he completely ignores the existence from a military point of view of his Russian ally."* During the Casablanca crisis, which coincided with an Austro-Russian dispute, the British ambassador in St. Petersburg, asked by the Russian foreign minister what England would do if Germany picked a quarrel with France, replied that it would be folly for Germany to force a quarrel "against France and Russia and possibly England." The "possibly" was significant. The Russian ambassador in London asked Grey what England would do if Germany took the part of Austria over the Balkan issue. Grey, who had already reminded him that France and Russia had an ally each, "namely, each other," countered by asking what Russia would have done had Morocco produced a Franco-German war. Benckendorff was more forthcoming than Grey. He replied to the reassuring effect that he knew the terms of the Franco-Russian alliance were "very wide." On the next day, Hardinge wrote that he "presumed that France would be able to count on the armed support of her ally Russia."*
So it went on. At lunch on 9 August 1911 with Haldane and General Wilson, Grey "advanced the theory that Russia was a governing factor." Wilson believed that he "shattered rather rudely" this theory, by telling Grey that the divisions Russia could produce in twenty-eight days would be outnumbered by those of Germany and Austria, and that Russia could not therefore relieve the pressure on the French.* Grey's conviction, however, survived Wilson's assault. Grey asked Benckendorff that very day what Russia would do if the Germans gave "a brusque and unfavourable turn to the situation." Benckendorff's reply was that "Owing to the terms of the Russian alliance with France, he thought it was pretty clear what Russia would do. As a matter of fact, in one of the first conversations between the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs [Neratoff] and the German ambassador in St. Petersburg the former had told the ambassador that Germany must remember that France and Russia were allies."* This information and assurance made Grey's lunch with Wilson digestible. On 16 August Grey again asked Benckendorff what the Russians would do "in case of complications." This time, as Benckendorff reported to Neratoff, "I told Sir Edward I had not the right to give an official answer; the Treaty Alliance between France and Russia existed in its full compass; war would certainly be a great misfortune for Russia; personally however, I had not the slightest doubt but that the terms of the Treaty would be strictly carried out." An official view, to the same effect, was delivered by Cambon on the same day. Cambon's information was that Isvolsky, the Russian ambassador in Paris, had been "instructed to say officially that if owing to a check on the negotiations between France and Germany there was a conflict, Russia would give not only diplomatic but military support against Germany." Grey made it quite clear to Cambon on this occasion that, as a British disembarkation at Agadir might lead to a German mobilization on the French frontier, no such move would be made in advance of deliberation between the governments of Russia, France, and Britain. From Paris, Bertie confirmed Cambon's information about Isvolsky's instructions on 18 August.*
Thus when Grey attended the Committee of Imperial Defence on 23 August 1911, when the director of military operations elaborated the line dismissive of Russia that he had taken in private on the 9th, Grey faced it with equanimity. At the meeting, Grey was quite as belligerent as Wilson. All his comments and questions were designed to lead the meeting to conclude that the B.E.F. must be sent to France immediately. Only his basic premises differed from those of the D.M.O. Whereas Wilson thought that Russia would not fight or make a crucial contribution, Grey was sure that she would.
Grey's conviction would not have been diminished by Buchanan's telegram of 24 August from St. Petersburg to the same effect as the information already received from Cambon and Bertie.* Nevertheless, to such an extent did Grey rely upon Russian assistance for France that he lost no opportunity to remind them of their alliance obligations. Hearing that Buchanan was due to see the Tsar at the end of August, Grey telegraphed that Nicholas II should be told "that we are very anxious to see the Franco-German negotiations succeed and think the possible consequences of their failure may be very serious." Buchanan reported that Russia would do her duty as France's ally if there was a rupture between France and Germany, that the French Ambassador in Russia was confident of this, and that the French and Russian Chiefs of Staff had been engaged in a consultation as to a plan of campaign in case of war. Grey therefore ignored the D.M.O.'s opinion, reiterated early in September, that the Russian army was not yet able to render much help to France, and maintained the pressure on Russia to fulfil the role assigned to her by the Liberal Imperialists. He was rewarded when Benckendorff told the king, in Lloyd George's presence, on 15 September, that if Germany attacked France "Russia would certainly throw herself into the conflict. Of that he had no doubt." A report from the military attaché in Russia, Colonel Knox, sent in October, was to support Grey's line rather than that of General Wilson.* Two years later, at the 16th meeting of a C.I.D. sub-committee on attack on the British Isles from overseas, Haldane declared that Russia was "the crux" in relation to the scenario of a war between the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente.*
It was security in the conviction that Russia would do the fighting necessary to save France that accounts for the impression Grey gave Wilson, of "not knowing and not wanting to know." Indeed, from the point of view of the Liberal Imperialists, the more "general" any war, the better. Allowing and encouraging France to believe that Britain would come to her rescue was, essentially, the foreign politics of gesture. Letting Russia do the great bulk of the fighting for France was almost the only point where the minds of the Liberal Imperialists and of their Radical opponents met. On one occasion Loreburn broke the radical ranks and briefly contemplated the equipping of Britain with a large enough army to make a viable contribution to a European-scale war. He did this only as a debating point, in an effort to inject some sense into what, so far as he was concerned, was a perfectly senseless situation. It gave him, temporarily, something in common with that advocate of conscription, General Wilson.*
Whilst counting on Russia in this way, and to this extent, the Liberal Imperialists deemed it necessary to make the gestures that they did make as regards France because they did not wish to be in the position they would occupy if they lost the French and Russian connections. They did not wish to be alone in the world. This consideration affected even Lord Ripon, one of the two ministers who were not Liberal Imperialists to be told about the staff talks. On 11 January 1906 he wrote: "If . . . we decline, as I think we ought to decline, to go further than diplomacy will reach, I cannot but fear a cry of perfide Albion' and a destruction of the present friendship between the two nations."* The Liberal Imperialists' fear was so much more acute that their determination was the opposite of Ripon's. Like his private secretary in January 1906, and like the ambassador in Paris, and for the same reasons as they gave, Grey was prepared to involve the country in war in order to preserve "our friends . . . and position in the world."*
The mood and outlook of the Liberal Imperialists was best caught by Esher in November 1908, when he told the French military attaché:
Si nous nous abstenons, il s'élèvera certainement en France un cri de haine et de réprobation contre la politique anglaise, qui sera accusée d'avoir été la cause directe ou indirecte d'une guerre ou elle aura abandonnée la France après l'y avoir entranée. La duplicité et l'égosme britannique seront à nouveau exploités. Il en résultera un tel ressentiment dans toute la nation française que, tt ou tard, elle prêtera voluntiers l'oreille aux propositions que l'Allemagne ne manquera pas de lui adresser pour former une coalition contre l'Angleterre. Ce serait pour nous le plus terrible danger que nous puissions courir.
To the Liberal Imperialists, war with Germany was far preferable to isolation. Far better that a conflict with Germany "se produise aujourd'hui en restant fidèles à notre politique que de chercher à en retarder l'échéance, de nous aliener ainsi la France et de nous préparer peut-être des représailles terribles."*
The fear that the French, unless offered some gesture of support, might enter the German orbit, was frequently voiced at the Foreign Office. In April 1909, for instance, Hardinge wrote that he had always felt about the French "that it would not be difficult for Germany to stampede them."* In fact, a large portion of the French body-politic, recognizing British military weakness and the political minority that their British partisans were in, and believing that French interests would be better served by an association with Germany, was always prepared voluntarily to enter the German orbit.* This fact of French life, however, only reinforced the Liberal Imperialist fear. On 30 March 1911, the very day on which Grey tried, with an eye to some future crisis, to lead the unwitting House of Commons beyond the text of the Anglo-French Agreement, he acknowledged elsewhere that the closeness of Anglo-French relations enabled Germany to put pressure on Britain through France, but reminded himself automatically that "unless we had the entente we should be isolated and might have everyone against us which would be a still greater weakness."* As Hardinge's successor Nicolson put it in July 1911, "France would never forgive us for having failed her, and the whole Triple Entente would be broken up. This would mean that we should have a triumphant Germany, and an unfriendly France and Russia . . . Our naval position in the Mediterranean and elsewhere would be quite altered, necessitating increased naval estimates, while the cessation of our intimate relations with Russia would render our position in Central Asia unstable and insecure . . ." In July 1914 both the Russians and the French blackmailed the British in precisely these terms, with devastating effect.*
The determination of the small nucleus of Liberal Imperialist ministers that the British Empire should not be exposed brought the country to the verge of war in 1906, in 1908, and in 1911, in what the vast majority of their colleagues could legitimately consider as "a purely French quarrel."* It brought the country to the verge of war again late in 1912, as the Secretary of State for War, Seely, sent for General Wilson on 8 November and asked him if France would go to war about the Balkans, receiving an answer in the affirmative, and as, twelve days later, in the company of Seely, Churchill, Repington and the editor of The Times, Dawson, Lloyd George "talked quite complacently about the rousing of English national spirit for a war about the Balkans."* It also conjured up a direct breach between England and Germany. When the German ambassador demanded an explanation of Lloyd
George's Mansion House speech, Grey refused to give one. Of this incident, the Russian ambassador in London wrote: ". . . there is no use concealing the fact one step further, and a war between England and Germany would have broken out as a result of the Franco-German dispute, although independent of it."* Such was what Daeschner of the French embassy in London described as "le mécanisme délicat" of the Liberal Imperialist entente. Such was the Liberal Imperialist view of what British interests were and of what their protection entailed.
University of Leeds