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Power Rivalry, to 1912

Europe's wealthy, its capitalists and financiers, were benefiting from peace. Peace was good for the trade from which they acquired wealth. But also among the big powers was the imperial tradition among aristocrats that glorified warfare. Some saw warfare as something that provided their fellow countrymen with the manly spirit necessary for national success. There were many who didn't know warfare well and looked upon it as exciting. Germans had Prussia's military victory over the French to inspire them, depicted for them in picture books.

German diplomats concerned with national security had looked forward to Britain joining Germany in an alliance. Germany was building up its navy, some Germans thinking a great navy was necessary for a great power. The British saw security in having a most powerful navy, and strategists among them feared Germany's growing navy. Back in 1902 German diplomats believed Britain's fear of this growth would help inspire partnership with Germany. They insisted that Britain join the alliance Germany had with Franz Joseph's Austria-Hungary. The Germans were tough bargainers and didn't back down, but tough bargaining didn't always produce good results. German confidence that he British would give in was not reward. The British surprised the Germans by refusing to tie themselves to an alliance that would commit it to war on the side of Austria-Hungary. The British began looking elsewhere for allies, and it was a turning point.

Britain settled its differences with the United States. It was in 1902 that Britain entered into its alliance with Japan. Then Britain had talks with their enemy during the Napoleonic Wars: France. Having finished carving up Africa and other parts of the world, the British and French wanted an agreement between them that would make their empires more secure. France recognized Britain's position in Egypt. Britain gave secret recognition to France's willingness to divide Morocco between itself and Spain, and Britain and France settled long-standing disagreements concerning territories in the Pacific and disagreements over Thailand.

Agreements between Britain and France were seen by Germany as a threat. The Germans also saw as a threat the agreement between France and Russia that dated back to 1892-93. France and Russia had promised that should Germany attack the other they would attack Germany. This tie between Russia and France was enhanced by a huge loan from French banks to Russia, money that Russia wanted for building railroads, industry and its military capability.

Tensions between France and German increased in 1904. Imperial France and Spain signed a treaty in October 1904 that appeared to guarantee independence for Morocco. Germans were interested in Morocco's iron ore. Germany preferred an "open door" policy for Morocco. An agreement signed in Madrid in 1880 among imperial powers had given Germany the right to be consulted on any change in Morocco's status. Having been ignored by the latest agreement, the Germans were upset. Germany's press, its middle class and leading militarists wanted Germany to stand up. Germany's minister for foreign affairs argued that friendly gestures would convince the French that Germany was afraid. He and other Germans believed that for the sake of peace Germany had to be feared.

If the German government wanted to stand up to the French this was an opportune time for it, or so it might have seemed, because France's ally, Russia, was having a war with Japan. But for the remainder of 1904, Germany's king, (Kaiser Wilhelm II) refused to sanction any action against France. He told his diplomats that a tough stand against France would only revive French hatred for Germany. Nevertheless, the Kaiser's ministers were able to convince the Kaiser to go along with their policy of trying to scare France into splitting with Britain, and on March 31, 1905, the Kaiser visited the Moroccan city of Tangier in Morocco. He proclaimed Germany's support for an independent Morocco. But rather than impress the French the way it was supposed to, it merely created more distrust for Germany.

The US President, Theodore Roosevelt, negotiated an end to the war between Russia and Japan, and he persuaded the French to attend a peace conference in 1906 in Algeciras, Spain, where an agreement was signed that reaffirmed the independence of Morocco and guaranteed the freedom of nations such as Germany and the United States to trade there. 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). And France began discussing military and naval issues with Britain. Germany's behavior regarding Morocco had increased distrust for Germany among the British, and secretly the British agreed to help France should it be attacked militarily by Germany.

Germany's chancellor, von Bülow, complained of threats to isolate, disable and encircle Germany, and the Germans soon had more to complain about. With Russia's defeat by the Japanese, the British viewed Russia as less a threat to its imperial interests. The British wanted an agreement with Russia similar to what they had with France, and the Russians welcomed it. The Russians agreed that the British should have controlling influence in Afghanistan and Tibet, and Britain and Russia ended their rivalry in Iran by dividing that land into two zones of influence. The French were pleased by Britain's rapprochement with Russia, and the Germans were left feeling more isolated, and outraged.

In 1911, another crisis came concerning Morocco. The Sultan of Morocco at his palace at Fez was surrounded by hostile rebels, and he asked the French to rescue him. The Germans feared that if French troops went to Fez they would stay, and they protested. France sent troops to Fez, and the Germans claimed that France's move violated the settlement they had agreed to back in 1906. Germany's hawkish press expressed exasperation with France and demanded that Germany's position in Morocco be maintained and respected. There were calls again to stand up "in a manly way." In Germany, mere words were seen as weakness, and the German government demonstrated its resolve by sending a warship, the SMS Panther, to the port of Agadir (on Morocco's Atlantic coast).

Germany's show of force was an embarrassment to France's prime minister, Joseph Caillaux, a wealthy financier who wanted peace and reconciliation with Germany. In November 1911, four months after the Panther arrived at Agadir, Germany and France negotiated a settlement. Germany agreed to France establishing a protectorate over Morocco, and Germany received a little strip of land from the French Congo, giving Germany's colony, Kamerun (Cameroon) access to the Congo River. But this agreement outraged Germany's hawks. In parliament (the Reichstag) they accused the German chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, and Germany's secretary of state, von Kiderlen-Wächter, of "unforgivable" timidity. Chief of the German General Staff, Helmuth von Moltke (the younger), saw his country as having crawled away from the negotiations with its tail between its legs. French politicians opposed to Caillaux's tax reforms used Germany's belligerence to win opposition to Caillaux's government. Anti-German torchlight parades erupted. On 11 January 1912, Caillaux's government fell.

Caillaux was replaced by Raymond Poincaré, who was riding the wave of an enhanced patriotic hostility and fear of Germany. France's government launched a new policy toward Germany. Prime Minister Poincaré announced that the French did not want war but neither did they fear it. He said that the first duty of a good citizen was to be "a courageous and disciplined soldier." He denounced "internationalists" and pacifists and spoke of the province that France had lost to Germany in the war of 1870-71 — Lorraine — (the place of his birth) as "a bulwark" for France.

The British were disturbed by the increase in hostility. A desire for a rapprochement with Germany that had been developing in Britain quickly evaporated. British strategists were frightened into believing that they should stand firmly by their alliances with France and Russia. Britain signed an agreement with France that allowed a more efficient use of both their navies: should the Germans go to war with France, Britain's navy was to defend the waters along the English Channel and along Atlantic coasts for both navies while France's navy was to act in behalf of both nations in the Mediterranean Sea.

The French began building up their military forces, and the Germans reacted. A new arms race was underway. A few dissident intellectuals in Europe had been trying to warn how different a war among the great industrial powers of Europe would be from wars of the previous century, but Germany's military leaders continued to believe that the next war could be as short and sweet as their month-and-a-half offensive to Paris back in 1870.


CONTINUE READING: Assassination and Miscalculation, to June 1914

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