The Expansion of Europe Part 7

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At the opening of the twentieth century the long process whereby the whole globe has been brought under the influence of European civilisation was practically completed; and there had emerged a group of gigantic empires, which in size far surpa.s.sed the ancient Empire of Rome; each resting upon, and drawing its strength from, a unified nation-state. In the hands of these empires the political destinies of the world seemed to rest, and the lesser nation-states appeared to be altogether overshadowed by them. Among the vast questions which fate was putting to humanity, there were none more momentous than these: On what principles, and in what spirit, were these nation-empires going to use the power which they had won over their vast and varied mult.i.tudes of subjects? What were to be their relations with one another? Were they to be relations of conflict, each striving to weaken or destroy its rivals in the hope of attaining a final world-supremacy? Or were they to be relations of co-operation in the development of civilisation, extending to the whole world those tentative but far from unsuccessful efforts after international co-operation which the European states had long been endeavouring to work out among themselves?[9] At first it seemed as if the second alternative might be adopted, for these were the days of the Hague Conferences; but the development of events during the first fourteen years of the century showed with increasing clearness that one of the new world-states was resolute to make a bid for world-supremacy, and the gradual maturing of this challenge, culminating in the Great War, const.i.tutes the supreme interest of these years.

[9] See the Essay on Internationalism (Nationalism and Internationalism, p. 124 ff.).

The oldest, and (by the rough tests of area, population, and natural resources) by far the greatest of these new composite world-states, was the British Empire, which included 12,000,000 square miles, or one-quarter of the land-surface of the globe. It rested upon the wealth, vigour, and skill of a population of 45,000,000 in the homeland, to which might be added, but only by their own consent, the resources of five young daughter-nations, whose population only amounted to about 15,000,000. Thus it stood upon a rather narrow foundation. And while it was the greatest, it was also beyond comparison the most loosely organised of all these empires. It was rather a partners.h.i.+p of a mult.i.tude of states in every grade of civilisation than an organised and consolidated dominion. Five of its chief members were completely self-governing, and shared in the common burdens only by their own free will. All the remaining members were organised as distinct units, though subject to the general control of the home government. The resources of each unit were employed exclusively for the development of its own welfare. They paid no tribute; they were not required to provide any soldiers beyond the minimum needed for their own defence and the maintenance of internal order. This empire, in short, was not in any degree organised for military purposes. It possessed no great land-army, and was, therefore, incapable of threatening the existence of any of its rivals. It depended for its defence firstly upon its own admirable strategic distribution, since it was open to attack at singularly few points otherwise than from the sea; it depended mainly, for that reason, upon naval power, and secure command of the sea-roads by which its members were linked was absolutely vital to its existence. Only by sea-power (which is always weak in the offensive) could it threaten its neighbours or rivals; and its sea-power, during four centuries, had always, in war, been employed to resist the threatened domination of any single power, and had never, in time of peace, been employed to restrict the freedom of movement of any of the world's peoples. On the contrary, the Freedom of the Seas had been established by its victories, and dated from the date of its ascendancy. The life-blood of this empire was trade; its supreme interest was manifestly peace. The conception of the meaning of empire which had been developed by its history was not a conception of dominion for dominion's sake, or of the exploitation of subjects for the advantage of a master. On the contrary, it had come to mean (especially during the nineteenth century) a trust; a trust to be administered in the interests of the subjects primarily, and secondarily in the interests of the whole civilised world. That this is not the a.s.sertion of a theory or an ideal, but of a fact and a practice, is sufficiently demonstrated by two unquestionable facts: the first that the units which formed this empire were not only free from all tribute in money or men, but were not even required to make any contribution towards the upkeep of the fleet, upon which the safety of all depended; the second that every port and every market in this vast empire, so far as they were under the control of the central government, were thrown open as freely to the citizens of all other states as to its own. Finally, in this empire there had never been any attempt to impose a uniformity of method or even of laws upon the infinitely various societies which it included: it not merely permitted, it cultivated and admired, varieties of type, and to the maximum practicable degree believed in self-government.

Because these were the principles upon which it was administered, the real strength of this empire was far greater than it appeared. But beyond question it was ill-prepared and ill-organised for war; desiring peace beyond all things, and having given internal peace to one-quarter of the earth's population, it was apt to be over-sanguine about the maintenance of peace. And if a great clash of empires should come, this was likely to tell against it.

The second oldest--perhaps it ought to be described as the oldest--of the world-empires, and the second largest in area, was the Russian Empire, which covered 8,500,000 square miles of territory. Its strength was that its vast domains formed a single continuous block, and that its population was far more h.o.m.ogeneous than that of its rivals, three out of four of its subjects being either of the Russian or of kindred Slavonic stock. Its weaknesses were that it was almost land-locked, nearly the whole of its immense coastline being either inaccessible, or ice-bound during half of the year; and that it had not adopted modern methods of government, being subject to a despotism, working through an inefficient, tyrannical, and corrupt bureaucracy. In the event of a European war it was further bound to suffer from the facts that its means of communication and its capacity for the movement of great armies were ill-developed; and that it was far behind all its rivals in the control of industrial machinery and applied science, upon which modern warfare depends, and without which the greatest wealth of man-power is ineffective. At the opening of the twentieth century Russia was still pursuing the policy of Eastward expansion at the expense of China, which the other Western powers had been compelled to abandon by the formation of the Anglo-j.a.panese alliance. Able to bring pressure upon China from the landward side, she was not deterred by the naval predominance which this alliance enjoyed, and she still hoped to control Manchuria, and to dominate the policy of China. But these aims brought her in conflict with j.a.pan, who had been preparing for the conflict ever since 1895. The outcome of the war (1904), which ended in a disastrous Russian defeat, had the most profound influence upon the politics of the world. It led to an internal revolution in Russia. It showed that the feet of the colossus were of clay, and that her bureaucratic government was grossly corrupt and incompetent. It forbade Russia to take an effective part in the critical events of the following years, and notably disabled her from checking the progress of German and Austrian ascendancy in the Balkans. Above all it increased the self-confidence of Germany, and inspired her rulers with the dangerous conviction that the opposing forces with which they would have to deal in the expected contest for the mastery of Europe could be more easily overthrown than they had antic.i.p.ated. To the Russian defeat must be mainly attributed the bl.u.s.tering insolence of German policy during the next ten years, and the boldness of the final challenge in 1914.

The third of the great empires was that of France, with 5,000,000 square miles of territory, mostly acquired in very recent years, but having roots in the past. It rested upon a home population of only 39,000,000, but these belonged to the most enlightened, the most inventive, and the most chivalrous stock in Christendom. As France had, a hundred years before, raised the standard of human rights among the European peoples, so she was now bringing law and justice and peace to the backward peoples of Africa and the East; and was finding in the pride of this achievement some consolation for the brutality with which she had been hurled from the leaders.h.i.+p of Europe.

The fourth of the great empires was America, with some 3,000,000 square miles of territory, and a vague claim of suzerainty over the vast area of Central and South America. Her difficult task of welding into a nation of people of the most heterogeneous races had been made yet more difficult by the enormous flood of immigrants, mainly from the northern, eastern, and south-eastern parts of Europe, which had poured into her cities during the last generation: they proved to be in many ways more difficult to digest than their predecessors, and they tended, in a dangerous way, to live apart and to organise themselves as separate communities. The presence of these organised groups made it sometimes hard for America to maintain a quite clear and distinctive att.i.tude in the discussions of the powers, most of which had, as it were, definite bodies of advocates among her citizens; and it was perhaps in part for this reason that she had tended to fall back again to that att.i.tude of aloofness towards the affairs of the non-American world from which she seemed to have begun to depart in the later years of the last century. Although she had herself taken a hand in the imperialist activities of the 'nineties, the general att.i.tude of her citizens towards the imperial controversies of Europe was one of contempt or undiscriminating condemnation. Her old tradition of isolation from the affairs of Europe was still very strong--still the dominating factor in her policy. She had not yet grasped (indeed, who, in any country, had?) the political consequences of the new era of world-economy into which we have pa.s.sed. And therefore she could not see that the t.i.tanic conflict of Empires which was looming ahead was of an altogether different character from the old conflicts of the European states, that it was fundamentally a conflict of principles, a fight for existence between the ideal of self-government and the ideal of dominion, and that it must therefore involve, for good or ill, the fortunes of the whole globe. She watched the events which led up to the great agony with impartial and deliberate interest. Even when the war began she clung with obstinate faith to the belief that her tradition of aloofness might still be maintained. It is not surprising, when we consider how deep-rooted this tradition was, that it took two and a half years of carnage and horror to convert her from it. But it was inevitable that in the end her still more deeply rooted tradition of liberty should draw her into the conflict, and lead her at last to play her proper part in the attempt to shape a new world-order.

We cannot stop to a.n.a.lyse the minor world-states, Italy and j.a.pan; both of which might have stood aside from the conflict, but that both realised its immense significance for themselves and for the world.

Last among the world-states, both in the date of its foundation and in the extent of its domains, was the empire of Germany, which covered considerably less than 1,500,000 square miles, but rested upon a home population of nearly 70,000,000, more docile, more industrious, and more highly organised than any other human society. The empire of Germany had been more easily and more rapidly acquired than any of the others, yet since its foundation it had known many troubles, because the hard and domineering spirit in which it was ruled did not know how to win the affections of its subjects. A parvenu among the great states--having only attained the dignity of nationhood in the mid-nineteenth century--Germany has shown none of that 'genius for equality' which is the secret of good manners and of friends.h.i.+p among nations as among individuals. Her conversation, at home and abroad, had the vulgar self-a.s.sertiveness of the parvenu, and turned always and wholly upon her own greatness. And her conduct has been the echo of her conversation. She has persuaded herself that she has a monopoly of power, of wisdom, and of knowledge, and deserves to rule the earth. Of the magnitude and far-reaching nature of her imperialist ambitions, we have said something in a previous chapter. She had as yet failed to realise any of these vaulting schemes, but she had not for that reason abandoned any of them, and she kept her clever and insidious preparations on foot in every region of the world upon which her acquisitive eyes had rested. But the exasperation of her steady failure to achieve the place in the world which she had marked out as her due had driven her rulers more and more definitely to contemplate, and prepared her people to uphold, a direct challenge to all her rivals.

The object of this challenge was to win for Germany her due share in the non-European world, her 'place in the sun.' Her view of what that share must be was such that it could not be attained without the overthrow of all her European rivals, and this would bring with it the lords.h.i.+p of the world. It must be all or nothing. Though not quite realising this alternative, the mind of Germany was not afraid of it.

She was in the mood to make a bold attempt, if need be, to grasp even the sceptre of world-supremacy. The world could not believe that any sane people could entertain such megalomaniac visions; not even the events of the decade 1904-14 were enough to bring conviction; it needed the tragedy and desolation of the war to prove at once their reality and their folly. For they were folly even if they could be momentarily realised. They sprang from the traditions of Prussia, which seemed to demonstrate that all things were possible to him who dared all, and scrupled nothing, and calculated his chances and his means with precision. By force and fraud the greatness of Prussia had been built; by force and fraud Prussia-Germany had become the leading state of Europe, feared by all her rivals and safe from all attack. Force and fraud appeared to be the determining factors in human affairs; even the philosophers of Germany devoted their powers to justifying and glorifying them. By force and fraud, aided by science, Germany should become the leader of the world, and perhaps its mistress. Never has the doctrine of power been proclaimed with more unflinching directness as the sole and sufficient motive for state action. There was practically no pretence that Germany desired to improve the condition of the lands she wished to possess, or that they were misgoverned, or that the existing German territories were threatened: what pretence there was, was invented after war began. The sole and sufficient reason put forward by the advocates of the policy which Germany was pursuing was that she wanted more power and larger dominions; and what she wanted she proposed to take.

On the surface it seemed mere madness for the least and latest of the great empires to challenge all the rest, just as it had once seemed madness for Frederick the Great, with his little state, to stand up against all but one of the great European powers. But Germany had calculated her chances, and knew that there were many things in her favour. She knew that in the last resort the strength of the world-states rested upon their European foundations, and here the inequality was much less. In a European struggle she could draw great advantage from her central geographical position, which she had improved to the highest extent by the construction of a great system of strategic railways. She could trust to her superbly organised military system, more perfect than that of any other state, just because no other state has ever regarded war as the final aim and the highest form of state action. She commanded unequalled resources in all the mechanical apparatus of war; she had spared no pains to build up her armament works, which had, indeed, supplied a great part of the world; she had developed all the scientific industries in such a way that their factories could be rapidly and easily turned to war purposes; and having given all her thoughts to the coming struggle as no other nation had done, she knew, better than any other, how largely it would turn upon these things. She counted securely upon winning an immense advantage from the fact that she would herself fix the date of war, and enter upon it with a sudden spring, fully prepared, against rivals who, clinging to the hope of peace, would be unready for the onset. She hoped to sow jealousies among her rivals; she trusted to catch them at a time when they were engrossed in their domestic concerns, and in this respect fate seemed to play into her hands, since at the moment which she had predetermined, Britain, France, and Russia were all distracted by domestic controversies. She trusted also to her reading of the minds and temper of her opponents; and here she went wildly astray, as must always be the fate of the nation or the man who is blinded by self-complacency and by contempt for others.

But, above all, she put her trust in a vast political combination which she had laboriously prepared during the years preceding the great conflict: the combination which we have learned to call Mittel-Europa.

None of us realised to how great an extent this plan had been put in operation before the war began. Briefly it depended on the possibility of obtaining an intimate union with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a control over the Turkish Empire, and a sufficient influence or control among the little Balkan states to ensure through communication. If the scheme could be carried out in full, it would involve the creation of a practically continuous empire stretching from the North Sea to the Persian Gulf, and embracing a total population of over 150,000,000.

This would be a dominion worth acquiring for its own sake, since it would put Germany on a level with her rivals. But it would have the further advantage that it would hold a central position in relation to the other world-powers, corresponding to Germany's central position in relation to the other nation-states of Europe. Russia could be struck at along the whole length of her western and south-western frontier; the British Empire could be threatened in Egypt, the centre of its ocean lines of communication, and also from the Persian Gulf in the direction of India; the French Empire could be struck at the heart, in its European centre; and all without seriously laying open the attacking powers to the invasion of sea-power.

It was a bold and masterful scheme, and it was steadily pursued during the years before the war. Austro-Hungary was easily influenced. The ascendancy of her ruling races--nay, the very existence of her composite anti-national empire--was threatened by the nationalist movements among her subject-peoples, who, cruelly oppressed at home, were more and more beginning to turn towards their free brothers over the border, in Serbia and Rumania; and behind these loomed Russia, the traditional protector of the Slav peoples and of the Orthodox faith.

Austro-Hungary, therefore, leant upon the support of Germany, and her dominant races would be very willing to join in a war which should remove the Russian menace and give them a chance of subjugating the Serbs. This latter aim suited the programme of Germany as well as it suited that of Austria, since the railways to Constantinople and Salonika ran through Serbia. Serbia, therefore, was doomed; she stood right in the path of the Juggernaut car.

The acquisition of influence in Turkey was also comparatively easy.

Constantinople is a city where lavish corruption can work wonders.

Moreover Turkey was, in the last years of the nineteenth century, in bad odour with Europe; and Germany was able to earn in 1897 the lasting grat.i.tude of the infamous Sultan Abdul Hamid by standing between him and the other European powers, who were trying to interfere with his indulgence in the pastime of ma.s.sacring the Armenians. Turkey had had many protectors among the European powers. She had never before had one so complaisant about the murder of Christians. From that date Germany was all-powerful in Turkey. The Turkish army was reorganised under her direction, and practically pa.s.sed under her control. Most of the Turkish railways were acquired and managed by German companies. And presently the great scheme of the Bagdad railway began to be carried through. The Young Turk revolution in 1908 and the fall of Abdul Hamid gave, indeed, a shock to the German ascendancy; but only for a moment.

The Young Turks were as amenable to corruption as their predecessors; and under the guidance of Enver Bey Turkey relapsed into German suzerainty. Thus the most important parts of the great scheme were in a fair way of success by 1910. One of the merits of this scheme was that as the Sultan of Turkey was the head of the Mahomedan religion, the German protectorate over Turkey gave a useful mode of appealing to the religious sentiments of Mahomedans everywhere. Twice over, in 1898 and in 1904, the Kaiser had declared that he was the protector of all Mahomedans throughout the world. Most of the Mahomedans were subjects either of Britain, France, or Russia--the three rival empires that were to be overthrown. As General Bernhardi put it, Germany in her struggle for Weltmacht must supplement her material weapons with spiritual weapons.

To obtain a similar ascendancy over the Balkan states was more difficult; for the Turk was the secular enemy of all of them, and Austria was the foe of two of the four, and to bring these little states into partners.h.i.+p with their natural enemies seemed an all but impossible task. Yet a good deal could be, and was, done. In two of the four chief Balkan states German princes occupied the thrones, a Hohenzollern in Rumania, a Coburger in Bulgaria; in a third, the heir-apparent to the Greek throne was honoured with the hand of the Kaiser's own sister. Western peoples had imagined that the day had gone by when the policy of states could be deflected by such facts; especially as the Balkan states all had democratic parliamentary const.i.tutions. But the Germans knew better than the West. They knew that kings could still play a great part in countries where the bulk of the electorate were illiterate, and where most of the cla.s.s of professional politicians were always open to bribes. Their calculations were justified. King Carol of Rumania actually signed a treaty of alliance with Germany without consulting his ministers or parliament.

King Ferdinand of Bulgaria was able to draw his subjects into an alliance with the Turks, who had ma.s.sacred their fathers in 1876, against the Russians, who had saved them from destruction. King Constantine of Greece was able to humiliate and disgrace the country over which he ruled, in order to serve the purposes of his brother-in-law. These sovereigns may have been the unconscious implements of a policy which they did not understand. But they earned their wages.

There were, indeed, two moments when the great scheme came near being wrecked. One was when Italy, the sleeping partner of the Triple Alliance, who was not made a sharer in these grandiose and vile projects, attacked and conquered the Turkish province of Tripoli in 1911, and strained to breaking-point the loyalty of the Turks to Germany. The other was when, under the guidance of the two great statesmen of the Balkans, Venizelos of Greece and Pas.h.i.+tch of Serbia, the Balkan League was formed, and the power of Turkey in Europe broken.

If the League had held together, the great German project would have been ruined, or at any rate gravely imperilled. But Germany and Austria contrived to throw an apple of discord among the Balkan allies at the Conference of London in 1912, and then stimulated Bulgaria to attack Serbia and Greece. The League was broken up irreparably; its members had been brought into a sound condition of mutual hatred; and Bulgaria, isolated among distrustful neighbours, was ready to become the tool of Germany in order that by her aid she might achieve (fond hope!) the hegemony of the Balkans. This brilliant stroke was effected in 1913--the year before the Great War. All that remained was to ruin Serbia. For that purpose Austria had long been straining at the leash.

She had been on the point of making an attack in 1909, in 1912, in 1913. In 1914 the leash was slipped. If the rival empires chose to look on while Serbia was destroyed, well and good: in that case the Berlin-Bagdad project could be systematically developed and consolidated, and the attack on the rival empires could come later. If not, still it was well; for all was ready for the great challenge.

We have dwelt at some length upon this gigantic project, because it has formed during all these years the heart and centre of the German designs, and even to-day it is the dearest of German hopes. Not until she is utterly defeated will she abandon it; because its abandonment must involve the abandonment of every hope of a renewed attempt at world-supremacy, after an interval for reorganisation and recovery. Not until the German control over Austria and Turkey, more complete to-day, after two and a half years of war, than it has ever been before, has been destroyed by the splitting up of Austria among the nationalities to which her territory belongs, and by the final overthrow of the Turkish Empire, will the German dream of world-dominion be shattered.

But while this fundamentally important project was being worked out, other events, almost equally momentous in their bearing upon the coming conflict, were taking place elsewhere. It was the obvious policy of Germany to keep her rivals on bad terms with one another. The tradition of Bismarck bade her isolate each victim before it was destroyed. But the insolence and the megalomania of modern Germany made this difficult. German writers were busily and openly explaining the fate marked out for all the other powers. France was to be so crushed that she would 'never again be able to stand in our path.' The bloated and unconsolidated empire of Britain was to be shattered. The Russian barbarians were to be thrust back into Asia. And what the pamphleteers and journalists wrote was expressed with almost equal clearness in the tone of German diplomacy. In face of all this, the clumsy attempts of the German government to isolate their rivals met with small success, even though these rivals had many grounds of controversy among themselves. France knew what she had to fear; and the interpolation of a few clumsy bids for her favour amid the torrent of insults against her which filled the German press, were of no avail; especially as she had to look on at the unceasing petty persecution practised in the lost provinces of Alsace-Lorraine. Russia had been alienated by the first evidences of German designs in the Balkans, and driven into a close alliance with France. Britain, hitherto obstinately friendly to Germany, began to be perturbed by the growing German programmes of naval construction from 1900 onwards, by the absolute refusal of Germany to consider any proposal for mutual disarmament or r.e.t.a.r.dation of construction, and above all by the repeated a.s.sertions of the head of the German state that Germany aspired to naval supremacy, that her future was on the sea, that the trident must be in her hands. Should the trident fall into any but British hands, the existence of the British Empire, and the very livelihood of the British homeland, would rest at the mercy of him who wielded it. So, quite inevitably, the three threatened empires drew together and reconciled their differences in the Franco-British agreement of 1904 and the Rus...o...b..itish agreement of 1907.

These agreements dealt wholly with extra-European questions, and therefore deserve some a.n.a.lysis. In the Franco-British agreement the main feature was that while France withdrew her opposition to the British position in Egypt, Britain on her side recognised the paramount political interest of France in Morocco. It was the agreement about Morocco which counted for most; because it was the beginning of a controversy which lasted for seven years, which was twice used by Germany as a means for testing, and endeavouring to break, the friends.h.i.+p of her rivals, and which twice brought Europe to the verge of war.

Morocco is a part of that single region of mountainous North Africa of which France already controlled the remainder, Tunis and Algeria.

Peoples of the same type inhabited the whole region, but while in Tunis and Algeria they were being brought under the influence of law and order, in Morocco they remained in anarchy. Only a conventional line divided Morocco from Algeria, and the anarchy among the tribesmen on one side of the line inevitably had an unhappy effect upon the people on the other side of the line. More than once France had been compelled, for the sake of Algeria, to intervene in Morocco. It is impossible to exaggerate the anarchy which existed in the interior of this rich and wasted country. It was, indeed, the most lawless region remaining in the world: when Mr. Bernard Shaw wished to find a scene for a play in which the hero should be a brigand chief leading a band of rascals and outlaws from all countries, Morocco presented the only possible scene remaining in the world. And this anarchy was the more unfortunate, not only because the country was naturally rich and ought to have been prosperous, but also because it lay in close proximity to great civilised states, and on one of the main routes of commerce at the entrance to the Mediterranean. In its ports a considerable traffic was carried on by European traders, but this traffic was, owing to the anarchic condition of the country, nothing like as great as it ought to have been. In 1905, 39 per cent. of it was controlled by French traders, 32 per cent. by British traders, 12 per cent. by German traders, and 5 per cent. by Spanish traders. Manifestly this was a region where law and order ought to be established, in the interests of civilisation. The powers most directly concerned were in the first place France, with her neighbouring territory and her preponderant trade; in the second place Britain, whose strategic interests as well as her trading interests were involved; in the third place Spain, which directly faced the Morocco coast; while Germany had only trading interests involved, and so long as these were safeguarded, had no ground of complaint. If any single power was to intervene, manifestly the first claim was upon France.

In 1900 France had directed the attention of Europe to the disorderly condition of Morocco, and had proposed to intervene to restore order, on the understanding that she should not annex the country, or interfere with the trading rights of other nations. Some states agreed; Germany made no reply, but made no objection. But owing to the opposition of Britain, who was then on bad terms with France and feared to see an unfriendly power controlling the entrance to the Mediterranean, no action was taken; and in the next years the chaos in Morocco grew worse. By the agreement of 1904 Britain withdrew her objection to French intervention, and recognised the prior political rights of France in Morocco, on the condition that the existing government of Morocco should be maintained, that none of its territory should be annexed, and that 'the open door' should be preserved for the trade of all nations. But, of course, it was possible, and even probable, that the existing Moroccan government could not be made efficient. In that case, what should happen? The possibility had to be contemplated by reasonable statesmen, and provided against. But to do so in a public treaty would have been to condemn beforehand the existing system. Therefore a hypothetical arrangement was made for this possible future event in a secret treaty, to which Spain was made a party; whereby it was provided that if the arrangement should break down, and France should have to establish a definite protectorate, the vital part of the north coast should pa.s.s under the control of Spain.

To the public part of these arrangements, which alone were of immediate importance, no objection was made by any of the other powers, and the German Chancellor told the Reichstag that German interests were not affected. France accordingly drew up a scheme of reforms in the government of Morocco, which the Sultan was invited to accept. But before he had accepted them the German Kaiser suddenly came to Tangier in his yacht, had an interview with the Sultan in which he urged him to reject the French demands, and made a public speech in which he declared himself the protector of the Mahomedans, a.s.serted that no European power had special rights in Morocco, and announced his determination to support the 'independence and integrity' of Morocco--which in existing circ.u.mstances meant the maintenance of anarchy. What was the reason for this sudden and insolent intervention--made without any previous communication with France? The main reason was that France's ally, Russia, had just been severely defeated by j.a.pan, and would not be able to take part in a European war. Therefore, it appeared, France might be bullied; Britain might not be willing to risk war on such an issue; the Entente of 1904 might be destroyed; the extension of French influence might be prevented; and the preservation of a state of anarchy in Morocco would leave open the chance of a seizure of that country by Germany at a later date, thus enabling her to dominate the entrance to the Mediterranean, and to threaten Algeria. But this pretty scheme did not succeed. The Entente held firm. Britain gave steady support to France, as indeed she was bound in honour to do; and in the end a conference of the powers was held at Algeciras (Spain). At this conference the predominating right of France to political influence in Morocco was formally recognised; and it was agreed that the government of the Sultan should be maintained, and that all countries should have equal trading rights in Morocco. This was, of course, the very basis of the Franco-British agreement. On every point at which she tried to score a success over France, Germany was defeated by the votes of the other powers, even her own ally, Italy, deserting her.

But the German intervention had had its effect. The Sultan had refused the French scheme of reform. The elements of disorder in Morocco were encouraged to believe that they had the protection of Germany, and the activity of German agents strengthened this belief. The anarchy grew steadily worse. In 1907 Sir Harry Maclean was captured by a brigand chief, and the British government had to pay 20,000 pounds ransom for his release. In the same year a number of European workmen engaged on harbour works at Casablanca were murdered by tribesmen; and the French had to send a force which had a year's fighting before it reduced the district to order. In 1911 the Sultan was besieged in his capital (where there were a number of European residents) by insurgent tribesmen, and had to invite the French to send an army to his relief.

This was seized upon by Germany as a pretext. Morocco was no longer 'independent.' The agreement of Algecras was dead. Therefore she resumed her right to put forward what claims she pleased in Morocco.

Suddenly her gunboat, the Panther, appeared off Agadir. It was meant as an a.s.sertion that Germany had as much right to intervene in Morocco as France. And it was accompanied by a demand that if France wanted to be left free in Morocco, she must buy the approval of Germany. The settlement of Morocco was to be a question solely between France and Germany. The Entente of 1904, the agreement of 1906, the Moroccan interests of Britain (much more important than those of Germany), and the interests of the other powers of the Algeciras Conference, were to count for nothing. Germany's voice must be the determining factor. But Germany announced that she was willing to be bought off by large concessions of French territory elsewhere--provided that Britain was not allowed to have anything to say: provided, that is, that the agreement of 1904 was sc.r.a.pped. This was a not too subtle way of trying to drive a wedge between two friendly powers. It did not succeed.

Britain insisted upon being consulted. There was for a time a real danger of war. In the end peace was maintained by the cession by France of considerable areas in the Congo as the price of German abstention from intervening in a sphere where she had no right to intervene. But Morocco was left under a definite French protectorate.

We have dwelt upon the Morocco question at some length, partly because it attracted a vast amount of interest during the years of preparation for the war; partly because it affords an extraordinarily good ill.u.s.tration of the difficulty of maintaining peaceable relations with Germany, and of the spirit in which Germany approached the delicate questions of inter-imperial relations.h.i.+ps--a spirit far removed indeed from that friendly willingness for compromise and co-operation by which alone the peace of the world could be maintained; and partly because it ill.u.s.trates the crudity and brutality of the methods by which Germany endeavoured to separate her intended victims. It is improbable that she ever meant to go to war on the Moroccan question. She meant to go to war on whatever pretext might present itself when all her preparations were ready; but in the meanwhile she would avoid war on all questions but one: and that one was the great Berlin-Bagdad project, the keystone of her soaring arch of Empire. She would fight to prevent the ruin of that scheme. Otherwise she would preserve the peace, she would even make concessions to preserve the peace, until the right moment had come. In that sense Germany was a peace-loving power: in that sense alone.

On the agreement between Russia and Britain in 1907 it is unnecessary to dwell with such fulness. The agreement turned mainly upon the removal of causes of friction in the Middle East--in Persia and the Persian Gulf, and in Tibet. These were in themselves interesting and th.o.r.n.y questions, especially the question of Persia, where the two powers established distinct spheres of interest and a sort of joint protectorate. But they need not detain us, because they had no direct bearing upon the events leading up to the war, except in so far as, by removing friction between two rivals of long standing, they made it possible for them to co-operate for their common defence against a menace that became more and more apparent.

From 1907 onwards Germany found herself confronted by united defensive action on the part of the three empires whose downfall she intended to compa.s.s. It was not (except as regarded France and Russia) a formal alliance which bound these powers. There was no fixed agreement between them as to military co-operation. France and Britain had indeed, in 1906 and in 1911, consulted as to the military steps they should take if they were drawn into war, as seemed likely in those years, but neither was in any way bound to help the other under all circ.u.mstances.

France and Britain had also agreed that the French fleet should be concentrated in the Mediterranean, the main British fleet in the North Sea. This arrangement (which was universally known, and, indeed, could not be concealed) put Britain under a moral obligation to defend France against naval attack, but only if France were the object of aggression.

It was, therefore, actually a safeguard of peace, since it ensured that neither France nor, consequently, her ally, Russia, would begin a war without being sure of the concurrence of Britain, the most pacific of powers. As the diplomatic records show, at the opening of the Great War they were not sure of this concurrence, even for naval purposes, until August 1, when the die was already cast. The Triple Entente, therefore, was not an alliance; it was only an agreement for common diplomatic action in the hope of averting a terrible menace.

Until 1911 Germany, or some elements in Germany, seem to have hoped that she could get her own way by bullying and rattling her sabre, and that by these means she could frighten her rivals, make them mutually distrustful, and so break up their combination and deal with them in detail. Those who held this view were the peace-party (so-called), and they included the Kaiser and his Chancellor. They would probably not themselves have accepted this description of their policy, but in practice this is what it meant. But there was always a formidable and influential party in Germany which had no patience with these hesitations, and was eager to draw the sabre. It included the men of the General Staff, backed by the numerous Pan-German societies and newspapers. The issue of the Morocco question in 1911, which showed that the policy of bullying had failed, played into the hands of the men of violence; and from this moment began the last strenuous burst of military preparation which preceded the war. In 1911 was pa.s.sed the first of a series of Army Acts for the increase of the already immense German army, and still more for the provision of vast equipment and the scientific apparatus of destruction; two further Acts for the same purpose followed in 1912 and in 1913. In 1911 also was published General Bernhardi's famous book, which defined and described the course of future action, and the aim which Germany was henceforth to pursue with all her strength: Weltmacht oder Niedergang, world-power or downfall.

The events in the Balkans in 1912 and 1913 completed the conversion of those who still clung to the policy of peaceful bullying. The formation and triumph of the Balkan League in 1912 formed a grave set-back for the Berlin-Bagdad project, which would be ruined if these little states became strong enough, or united enough, to be independent. The break-up of the Balkan League and the second Balkan War of 1913 improved the situation from the German point of view. But they left Serbia unsatisfactorily strong, and Serbia distrusted Austria, and controlled the communications with Constantinople. Serbia must be destroyed; otherwise the Berlin-Bagdad project, and with it the world-power of which it was to be the main pillar, would be always insecure. Austria was for attacking Serbia at once in 1913. Germany held her back: the widening of the Kiel Ca.n.a.l was not completed, and the fruits of the latest Army Acts were not yet fully reaped. But all was ready in 1914; and the Great Challenge was launched. It would have been launched at or about that time even if an unpopular Austrian archduke, significantly unguarded by the Austrian police, had NOT been most opportunely murdered by an Austrian subject on Austrian territory. The murder was only a pretext. The real cause of the war was the resolution of Germany to strike for world-supremacy, and her belief that the time was favourable for the great adventure.

Meanwhile, what had the threatened empires been doing during the years of strenuous German preparation which began in 1911? Their governments could not but be aware of the enormous activity which was taking place in that country--which was unthreatened on any side--though they probably did not know how thorough and how elaborate it was. What steps did they take to guard against the danger? Russia was busy constructing strategic railways, to make the movement of troops easier; she was erecting new munition factories. But neither could be quickly got ready. France imposed upon the whole of her manhood the obligation of serving for three instead of for two years in the army. Britain reorganised her small professional army, created the Territorial Force, and began the training of a large officer cla.s.s in all the universities and public schools. But she did not attempt to create a national army.

If she had done so, this would have been a signal for the precipitation of the war. Besides, Britain obstinately clung to the belief that so monstrous a crime as Germany seemed to be contemplating could never be committed by a civilised nation; and she trusted mainly to her fleet for her own security.

But Britain unquestionably laboured with all her might to conjure away the nightmare. From 1906 onwards she had made, in vain, repeated attempts to persuade Germany to accept a mutual disarmament or r.e.t.a.r.dation of naval construction. In 1912 she resolved upon a more definite step. The German newspapers were full of talk about the British policy of 'encircling' Germany in order to attack and destroy her, which they attributed mainly to Sir Edward Grey. It was a manifest absurdity, since the Franco-Russian alliance was formed in 1894, at a time when Britain was on bad terms with both France and Russia, and the agreements later made with these two countries were wholly devoted to removing old causes of dispute between them. But the German people obviously believed it. Perhaps the German government also believed it?

Britain resolved to remove this apprehension. Accordingly in 1912 Lord Haldane was sent to Germany with a formal and definite statement, authorised by the Cabinet, to the effect that Britain had made no alliance or understanding which was aimed against Germany, and had no intention of doing so. That being so, since Germany need have no fear of an attack from Britain, why should not the two powers agree to reduce their naval expenditure? The German reply was that to stop the naval programme was impossible, but that construction might be DELAYED, on one condition--that both powers should sign a formal agreement drawn up by Germany. Each power was to pledge itself to absolute neutrality in any European war in which the other was engaged. Each power was to undertake to make no new alliances. But this agreement was not to affect existing alliances or the duties arising under them. This proposal was an obvious trap, and the German ministers who proposed it must have had the poorest opinion of the intelligence of English statesmen if they thought it was likely to be accepted. For observe that it left Germany, in conjunction with Austria, free to attack France and Russia. It left the formidable Triple Alliance unimpaired.

But it tied the hands of Britain, who had no existing European alliances, enforced neutrality upon her in such a war, and compelled her to look on idly and wait her turn. In the present war, Germany could have pleaded that she was bound to take part by the terms of her alliance with Austria, who began it; but Britain would have been compelled to stand aloof. A very convenient arrangement for Germany, but not an arrangement that promised well for the peace of the world!

Even this rebuff did not dishearten Britain. Feeling that Germany might have some reasonable ground of complaint in the fact that her share of the extra-European world was so much less than that of France or of Britain herself, Britain attempted to come to an agreement on this head, such as would show that she had no desire to prevent the imperial expansion of Germany. A treaty was proposed and discussed, and was ready to be submitted to the proper authorities for confirmation in June 1914. It has never been made public, because the war cancelled it before it came into effect, and we do not know its terms. But we do know that the German colonial enthusiast, Paul Rohrbach, who has seen the draft treaty, has said that the concessions made by Britain were astonis.h.i.+ngly extensive, and met every reasonable German demand. This sounds as if the proposals of the treaty, whatever they were, had been recklessly generous. But this much is clear, that the government which had this treaty in its possession when it forced on the war was not to be easily satisfied. It did not want merely external possessions. It wanted supremacy; it wanted world-dominion.

One last attempt the British government made in the frenzied days of negotiation which preceded the war. Sir Edward Grey had begged the German government to make ANY proposal which would make for peace, and promised his support beforehand; he had received no reply. He had undertaken that if Germany made any reasonable proposal, and France or Russia objected, he would have nothing further to do with France or Russia. Still there was no reply. Imagining that Germany might still be haunted by what Bismarck called 'the nightmare of coalition,' and might be rus.h.i.+ng into war now because she feared a war in the future under more unfavourable conditions, he had pledged himself, if Germany would only say the word which would secure the peace, to use every effort to bring about a general understanding among the great powers which would banish all fears of an anti-German combination. It was of no use. The reply was the suggestion that Britain should bind herself to neutrality in this war on the following conditions: (a) that Germany should be given a free hand to violate the neutrality of Belgium (which Britain was bound by treaty to defend), on the understanding that Belgium should be reinstated after she had served her purpose, if she had offered no resistance; Belgium, be it noted, being bound in honour to offer resistance by the very treaty which Germany proposed to violate; and (b) that after France had been humiliated and beaten to the earth for the crime of possessing territories which Germany coveted, she should be restored to independence, and Germany should be content to annex her 5,000,000 square miles of colonies. In return for this undertaking Britain was to be--allowed to hold aloof from the war, and await her turn.

There is no getting over these facts. The aim of Germany had come to be nothing less than world-supremacy. The destiny of the whole globe was to be put to the test. Surely this was the very insanity of megalomania.



The gigantic conflict into which the ambitions of Germany have plunged the world is the most tremendous event in human history, not merely because of the vast forces engaged, and the appalling volume of suffering which has resulted from it, but still more because of the magnitude of the principles for which it is being fought. It is a war to secure the right of communities which are linked together by the national spirit to determine their own destinies; it is a war to maintain the principles of humanity, the sanct.i.ty of formal undertakings between states, and the possibility of the co-operation of free peoples in the creation of a new and better world-order; it is a war between two principles of government, the principle of military autocracy and the principle of self-government. With all these aspects of the mighty struggle we are not here immediately concerned, though they have an intimate bearing upon our main theme: some of them have been a.n.a.lysed elsewhere.[10] But what does concern us most directly, and what makes this war the culmination of the long story which we have endeavoured to survey, is that this is a war in which, as in no earlier war, the whole fate and future of the now unified world is at stake.

For just because the world is now, as never before, an indissoluble economic and political unity, the challenge of Germany, whatever view we may take of the immediate aims of the German state, inevitably raises the whole question of the principles upon which this unified world, unified by the victory of European civilisation, is to be in future directed. And the whole world knows, if vaguely, that these vast issues are at stake, and that this is no merely European conflict. That is why we see arrayed upon the fields of battle not only French, British, Russian, Italian, Serbian, Belgian, Rumanian, Greek and Portuguese soldiers, but Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Indians, Algerians, Senegalese, Cambodians; and now, alongside of all these, the citizens of the American Republic. That is why Brazil and other states are hovering on the edge of the fray; why j.a.panese s.h.i.+ps are helping to patrol the Mediterranean, why Arab armies are driving the Turk from the holy places of Mahomedanism, why African tribesmen are enrolled in new levies to clear the enemy out of his footholds in that continent. Almost the whole world is arrayed against the outlaw-power and her va.s.sals. And the ultimate reason for this is that the whole world is concerned to see this terrible debate rightly determined.

[10] In Nationalism and Internationalism and in National Self-Government.

The Expansion of Europe Part 7

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