(Toward WORLD WAR, 1901-08 – continued)
Beginning in February 1904, Russia was at war with Japan, and tensions mounted between Russia and Britain after a Russian fleet heading to the Far East mistook some British fishing vessels for Japanese warships. The fleet killed many British fishermen at Dogger Bank, a fishing area sixty miles east of the northeastern coast of England – a seemingly absurd incident.
It appeared that Britain might join its ally Japan in war against Russia. The German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, wished to take advantage of the war between Japan and Russia to drive as wide of a wedge as possible between Britain and Russia. The Kaiser hoped to convince his first cousin the Russia's tsar, Nicholas II, Nicky as he called him, to sign a mutual defensive treaty with Germany.
Germany's apparent support for Russia while Russia was in crisis with Britain excited and inflamed British opinion against Germany. British newspapers vehemently denounced Germany. With Germany still adding to its navy, suspicion arose in Britain that Germany was aiming toward becoming master of world affairs. Sir John Fischer, Britain's First Sea Lord, proposed sinking Germany's navy. Britain's King Edward VII (the Kaiser's uncle) rejected the idea. Meanwhile, alarm in Britain had created alarm in Germany. In a defensive move, Germany brought its navy into home waters, which, in turn, scared Britain into believing that Germany might be preparing for war. Another incident might have added to the misunderstanding and sparked a war between Great Britain and Germany, making mutual suspicion and fear the cause of Europe's first great war of the century. But nothing happened, and as quickly as the war scare arose, it subsided.
But developments involving empire kept European diplomats some distance from serenity. The French and Spanish signed a treaty in October 1904 that appeared to guarantee Morocco independence – a treaty with secret clauses that anticipated these two powers dividing Morocco between them. European powers had a long-standing agreement to confer with each other in dividing up lands – as they had done at the Berlin Congress in 1878. An agreement signed in Madrid in 1880 had given Germany the right to be consulted on any change in the status of Morocco. Germans were interested in trade with Morocco, and they were interested in Morocco's iron ore. The Germans preferred an "open door" policy for Morocco (similar to that which the Western powers and Japan had in China). And by ignoring Germany while making an agreement with Spain concerning Morocco, France aroused consternation in Germany.
Kaiser Wilhelm was indifferent toward France extending its power in Morocco. He was hoping that France would see its ties with Britain as useless and move toward conciliation with Germany. He was willing to let France have Morocco. He claimed to his diplomats that if Germany opposed France it would only revive hatred for Germany among the French. But Germany's chauvinistic press, its middle class and leading militarists disagreed with Wilhelm. They wanted Germany to stand up for its rightful place in the world. Wilhelm's minister for foreign affairs, Friedrich von Holstein, argued that friendly gestures would convince the French that Germany was afraid. He and others believed that for the sake of peace Germany had to appear strong and be feared. He argued that the road to conciliation between Germany and France lay with Germany forcing France to have greater respect for German power by forcing France to bend to German demands concerning Morocco.
It was an opportune time for a move by Germany against France because France's ally, Russia, was at war with Japan. But for the remainder of 1904, Kaiser Wilhelm refused to sanction any action against France concerning Morocco. Wilhelm's chancellor, von Bülow, and Holstein were, however, able to convince the Kaiser to go along with their policy of trying to scare France into splitting with Britain. On March 31, 1905, Kaiser Wilhelm arrived in Tangier and proclaimed Germany's support for an independent Morocco. This was to become another diplomatic failure for Germany.
A new government had taken power in France, and France's new democratic leaders disliked their nation's alliance with autocratic Russia. Also, they were uninterested in imperial expansion, and the French were blaming their foreign minister, Delcassé, for annoying Germany with his agreement with Spain concerning Morocco. Delcassé resigned. France was backing down, and Germany's threatening posture had nothing to do with it. Germany's saber rattling had merely created more distrust.
France's new leaders had been inclined to favor a rapprochement with Germany. And while Theodore Roosevelt was negotiating an end to the war between Russia and Japan, German diplomats asked him to negotiate also a settlement between their nation and France regarding Morocco. Roosevelt persuaded the French to attend a peace conference in Algeciras, Spain. The conference concluded in April 1906. An agreement signed there reaffirmed the independence of Morocco and guaranteed the freedom of nations such as Germany and the United States to trade there. But not all was well.
When the war between Japan and Russia ended, Wilhelm's hoped-for alliance with Russia vanished, and Russia moved close again to its old ally, France. France forwarded a huge loan to Russia to put Russia back on its feet economically and militarily – to the disgust of Russian liberals and leftists who foresaw that this would strengthen Tsar Nicholas and autocracy. Russia still looked upon Germany as a possible adversary because of Germany's alliance with Austria-Hungary. And now, Great Britain and France sought to strengthen their positions by discussing military and naval issues. Germany's behavior during the Moroccan crisis had increased distrust for Germany among the British. Relations between the military staffs of Britain and France, on the other hand, grew more intimate. The British refused to make a public promise to support France if France were attacked by Germany, but secretly Britain agreed to a moral obligation to help France should such an attack occur – a crucial point.
Many Germans responded to what they saw of the closer tie between France and Britain not by blaming themselves for bad diplomacy but by finding fault with France and Britain. Germany's chancellor, von Bülow, complained of threats to isolate, disable and encircle Germany. He stated that an understanding between the European powers without maintaining good relations with Germany was creating a danger to peace in Europe.
The Germans soon had more to complain about. In 1907, Britain and Russia settled their differences. With the decline of Russia's military capability that came with its defeat by the Japanese, the British viewed Russia as less a threat to its imperial interests. The British wanted the same kind of agreement with Russia that it had with France, an agreement that would stabilize Britain's gains. The Russians agreed that Britain should have controlling influence in Afghanistan and Tibet, and the two powers ended their rivalry in Iran by dividing that land into two zones of influence.
The rapprochement between Britain and Russia pleased the French because it increased their security vis-à-vis Germany, and it left the Germans feeling more isolated and outraged.
Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.