After 1871 Bismarck sought to isolate France diplomatically by building a series of alliances from which it was excluded. He sought to keep on good terms with both Austria and Russia, and, what was more difficult, to keep both these powers on good terms with each other. Since both wanted to dominate the Balkans, Bismarck’s task was formidable.
Bismarck laid the cornerstone of his diplomatic system by a defensive alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1879, an alliance that held until 1918, and by the League of the Three Emperors (1872-1878, 1881-1889), which bound Germany, Russia, and Austria together. The three powers agreed to act in common when dealing with Turkey and to maintain friendly neutrality should any one of them be at war with a power other than Turkey. Next, Bismarck secured an alliance among Germany, Austria- Hungary, and Italy directed chiefly against France—the Triple Alliance of 1882, often renewed, which still existed on paper in 1914.
On this series of tightropes Bismarck maintained a precarious balance through the 1880s. Uppermost in his mind was the danger that the Russians, fearful of Austrian designs upon the Balkans, would desert him and ally themselves with France, always anxious to escape from the isolation that Bismarck had designed for it. In 1887 Russia did refuse to renew the League of the Three Emperors, but Bismarck was able to repair the breach by a secret Russo-German agreement known as the Reinsurance Treaty.
The two promised each other neutrality in case either was involved in a war against a third power; but this neutrality was not to hold if Germany made an “aggressive” war against France, or if Russia made an “aggressive” war against Austria. Since Russian nationalist agitation continued against both Austria and Germany, Bismarck in 1888 made public the terms of the Austro-German alliance and allowed the main terms of the Triple Alliance to be known informally as a warning to Russia.
Then in 1890 William II dismissed Bismarck. The emperor’s advisers persuaded him not to renew the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia, as it was incompatible with the Dual Alliance (the 1879 alliance with Austria- Hungary) and shortly afterward what Bismarck had worked so hard to prevent came about. After lengthy secret negotiations, Russia and France in 1894 made public an alliance that ended French isolation. It was a defensive agreement by which each was to come to the other’s aid in the event that Germany or Austria made “aggressive” war against either ally.
Great Britain still remained technically uninvolved by a formal treaty with a European ally. The next development was to align Great Britain against the Triple Alliance by informal agreement. Britain sought first to come to an understanding with Germany; when rebuffed, the British then concluded a formal alliance with Japan (1902) and informal “understandings” (ententes) with France (1904) and Russia (1907).
What chiefly drove Britain to these actions was the financially burdensome naval race with Germany and the rapid alienation of British public opinion. Fear of Russia rather than fear of Germany inspired Britain’s alliance with Japan; in the Entente Cordiale France gave England a free hand in Egypt and England gave France a free hand in Morocco. More important, the base was laid for further collaboration, particularly in advance planning for military and naval cooperation in case of war.
The final stage in aligning the two camps came in 1907 when Russia came to an understanding with Great Britain. Both countries made concessions in regions where they had been imperialist rivals—Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet—and the British at last made some concessions to Russia’s desire to open up the Bosporus and Dardanelles to its warships. The agreement was informal and left Britain less than fully committed to any binding Continental alliance system; nevertheless, it rounded out the Triple Entente against the Triple Alliance.
As the Entente took shape, a succession of military and diplomatic crises inflamed public opinion and further circumscribed the room to maneuver. First came a deliberately theatrical gesture by the kaiser, when in 1905 he made a ceremonial visit to Tangier in Morocco as a signal that the Germans would not recognize the Anglo-French assignment of Morocco to France. The British then indicated clearly to the French that they would not support them. Moreover, the British and the French now began informal military and naval conferences, which the French, at least, believed committed Britain to armed support if the Germans attacked.
At an international conference on the question of the independence and territorial integrity of Morocco, held at Algeciras in Spain (1906), Germany was outvoted, although it had called for the conference; France pursued plans for a protectorate in Morocco, dividing the country with Spain. The Algeciras conference also marked the beginnings of participation by the United States in the European system, though very tentatively.
In 1904 a person thought to be a naturalized American citizen had been seized by a Moroccan chief, and Theodore Roosevelt had sent a truculent cable. Two years earlier, at the urging of Jewish citizens in the United States, the State Department had protested against Romanian persecution of Jews. Given this protest over a domestic Romanian matter, the State Department could not readily refrain from action where an American citizen was thought to be concerned. Roosevelt sent two representatives to Algeciras, who helped conciliate differences between the two camps.
A decisive turn came in 1908, when Austria formally proclaimed its annexation of the Turkish provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina, already occupied for thirty years. Austria’s actions infuriated the Serbs, who hoped to annex Bosnia. It also infuriated the Russians, who did not know that their foreign minister had informally agreed with his Austrian counterpart to permit the annexation in exchange for Austria’s services in opening the Straits to the Russian fleet. But Russia gained nothing, for Britain would not permit the Straits to be opened.
What directly prompted the Austrian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina was the successful rising against the Ottoman sultan in the summer of 1908 by the Young Turks. A Pan-Turanian movement was instigated largely by Turks from central Asia (and named for their nomadic Turanian ancestors), whose independent principalities had been conquered by Russia during the reign of Alexander II and who were now undergoing forced Russification; they sought to group the Turkish peoples of central Asia with the Ottoman Turks and Magyars of Hungary. Austria was determined that Serbia and Croatia would remain under its rule.
A second Moroccan crisis in 1911 heightened tensions in western Europe. The kaiser sent a German gunboat, the Panther, to the Moroccan port of Agadir as a protest against French occupation of the old city of Fez. In ensuing negotiations, well publicized in the press, the Germans agreed to give the French a free hand in Morocco, but only at a price the French considered black- mail: Part of the French Congo was ceded to Germany. French opposition to this bargain was so intense that the government fell, and thereafter no French ministry dared make concessions to the Germans.
Events followed with bewildering and interlocking impact. In 1911 Italy seized upon the Agadir crisis to demand Tripoli from Turkey. In the yearlong Turco-Italian war that followed, Italian nationalists, led by the writer Gabriele d’Annunzio (1863-1938), at last saw the chance for substantial imperial gains. Italy annexed Tripoli, bombarded the Syrian coast, and occupied Rhodes and the other Dodecanese islands. By the Treaty of Lausanne in October 1912, Italy confirmed its new possessions.
In the meantime, the war over Tripoli (Libya) had proved a prelude to the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, as the Balkan states struck at a preoccupied Turkey. In the first of these wars, Montenegro declared war on Turkey, as did Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece ten days later.
The war went against the Turks, but Russia warned the advancing Bulgarians not to occupy Constantinople or the Russian fleet would be used against them. The Serbs reached the Adriatic by overrunning Albania; intent on preventing Serbian access to the sea, the Austrians declared for an independent Albania. Russia supported Serbia, and in November 1912 Austria and Russia began to mobilize.
The Russians, belatedly realizing that they were not prepared for war, abandoned the Serbs, who, with Bulgaria, came to terms with Turkey. By a treaty of May 30, Turkey ceded substantial territory in Europe, abandoned its claims to Crete (which was annexed to Greece), and left the status of Albania and the Aegean islands to the powers.
One month later the second Balkan War erupted when the Bulgarian military commander attacked Serbia and Greece without informing his government. Both nations counterattacked, Romania and Turkey entered the war on their side, and in six weeks, by the Treaty of Bucharest, Bulgaria was stripped of much that it had gained. In a separate treaty with Turkey, Bulgaria was forced to give back Adrianople. During the negotiations Serbia invaded Albania and only withdrew in the face of an Austrian ultimatum.
During this time, the Anglo-German naval race had continued unabated. In February 1912 Lord Haldane (1856-1928), British secretary for war, went to Berlin to suggest that Britain would support German expansion in Africa in exchange for a freeze on the size of the German fleet. Germany refused.
Britain now faced a major dilemma. In 1897 its fleet had been the greatest in the world; with the introduction of its massive and expensive Dreadnought in 1905, a new standard in armor and armament had been attained. But the Germans had matched it, and escalation on both sides had continued. In 1911 Winston Churchill (1874-1965), who was committed to a fully modernized navy, became Britain’s first lord of the admiralty.
In 1912 a new naval law made it clear that Germany intended to match the British. The British concluded that they could halt rising naval expenditures only through a naval agreement with France by which France would control the Mediterranean and Britain would focus on the North Sea, the Straits, and the Near East.