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THE TRIPLE ENTENTE.

WHILE diplomacy tries to create an unprecedented system of defensive guarantees, the Continental situation, in the judgment of every competent observer of it, becomes more and not less precarious. The praises of peace are no longer formal, because war is no longer unthinkable. In all the Chanceries there is a new sense of quiet but profound apprehension, and it is felt, it is indeed known, that the tension of international relationships can hardly be increased without coming to flashpoint. For the Powers most interested in preventing a general overturn, and least in a position to attack, the question is whether any further attempt can be made to guard against the worst consequences of possible hostilities without provoking an actual breach of peace; or

whether immediate peace might be purchased by such a surrender to the most formidable and least satisfied of European Powers as would promote the success of subsequent aggression. This is no artificial hypothesis. It is the strict alternative of the European situation, and though there is no real doubt as to the decision which must be taken by firm and moderate statesmanship, there has not often been a diplomatic problem requiring more steady and dexterous treatment. We and the nations who would be our partners in certain emergencies are handling high explosives. The task is like that of removing a bomb from where it has been placed at the risk that the bomb may burst in your hands.

Apply this metaphor to the international situation. Nothing could be more mischievous than the idea spread by Prince Bülow's semi-official Press and countenanced in alarmist speeches -like the utterance at Doeberitz, which has been rather admitted than denied-by the Kaiser himself. It is suggested that the object of the new Triple Entente between London, Paris, and St. Petersburg is the isolation of Germany. That end has not been aimed at. That effect has not been produced. It is important to show how imaginary is the grievance already exploited in advance by those who maintain that Germany would be justified in declaring a world-war with the object of breaking the chains in which her enemies are endeavouring to bind her. The partners in the Triple Entente are pursuing quite other purposes. The aim of each and every one of them is to avert perils which would be mortal and to defend interests which will be vital to their whole national future. There never was

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diplomatic system more strictly defensive in temper and intention than the reconstruction of international relationships in Europe which has been carried out under King Edward's auspices during the last decade. It is true that no Power desires to exist on sufferance or can be content with peace without security. It is true that no country desires to be at the mercy of the most apparently benevolent of its neighbours. It is true that no nation wishes to leave itself liable to be destroyed, whether by Germany or any other Power. A sound foreign policy must seek, not the mere repetition of pacific assurances and demonstrations, but the maximum of real political security. This being said, it remains a fact, and not merely a formula of insular hypocrisy, that British foreign policy, while steadily and inflexibly pursuing in concert with our partners other objects essential in themselves and perhaps unwelcome and even inconvenient to Berlin, does not desire the isolation of Germany, but desires, on the contrary, that Germany should not be isolated. Any chauvinistic contention to the contrary, whether in this country or France, could only serve the enemies of both. But though the Wilhelmstrasse understands perfectly the real method and aims of the diplomatic reconstruction advanced another stage by King Edward's visit to the Tsar, it suits that institution very well to pretend, through the most eminent of the organs well known to stand under its influence, that Germany's future is compromised by an international conspiracy, and that if war should come the Prussian sword will be justly unsheathed to sever the toils.

Arguments of this sort convey a sort of hypnotic suggestion upon the masses of an alarmed country and tend to bring about their own application. The objects of the diplomatic reconstruction carried out during the last half-decade-of the “Edwardian" we may conveniently say, as opposed to the Bismarckian system -are strictly pacific. The unwavering intention has been to strengthen the guarantees against any attack upon the European status quo. It is certain that the meeting of the two Sovereigns in the Gulf of Finland never could have taken place had any aggressive move against German interests been contemplated by Sir Edward Grey. Nevertheless the perilous paradox of the situation and we have reached a point where it has become futile and mischievous to palter with this truth-is that the more the new guarantees for peace are increased and strengthened, the more threatening becomes the possibility of war. A cartoonist of genius might startle Europe and explain the situation with a force which words can never rival, by showing the German Emperor plunged in sombre reverie and testing the edge of the

sword with his thumb. The growing force of the doubt whether the next few years can be passed in peace is the characteristic and ominous feature of European politics in the aspect they have recently and almost insensibly assumed.

To account for this situation needs no detailed retrospect. The historical preliminaries have more than once been traced in these pages. They have not been specially discussed from the Russian point of view. The British attitude is well known. The politics of France are fairly understood. The recent evolution of Russian policy has been less easy to follow, because, as a matter of fact, fundamental interests in foreign policy have been by no means so easy to define in St. Petersburg as in London or in Paris. When the Reval meeting took place it was thirty years almost to a day since the opening of the Berlin Congress. Coincidence in this case is not only curious but profoundly significant. One phase of the Eastern Question was opened by the epoch-making debates in the Radziwill palace under Prince Bismarck's presidency, and in Lord Beaconsfield's presence. Since then, like a ponderous pendulum, Russian policy has swung heavily two ways, and has required a halfgeneration for each movement. But when we look back over three decades from the point of vantage at which the Reval meeting has placed us, we perceive that in the long run the course of world-politics has been more profoundly and continuously influenced by affairs in the Near East than most people at a period not far behind us were inclined to suspect.

In 1878 Bismarck, in the conviction of the Slay races, had played the part of the not too honest broker. For a moment the solid basis of the Iron Chancellor's diplomacy seemed about to break up. Germany became the object of the furious resentment of all patriotic Russians and apostles of pan-Slavism. The road to Constantinople, it was said, lay henceforth through Berlin. This is well known. Our present business is to show once more, though briefly, how the Berlin Congress and its consequences have influenced all subsequent combinations. The classic era of Bismarckian wars had closed. There had begun the classic era of the Iron Chancellor's preventive diplomacy. His aims were complex in method, but perfectly simple in motive. Upon the one hand, he wished to create the maximum security against the possible consequences, whether 'diplomatic or warlike, of an alliance between Russia and France-between the victims of the military débâcle of 1870 and the political débâcle of 1878. But then, having guarded against a danger which, though it might prove unavoidable, must involve desperate risks, the master of statecraft laboured to avert the danger altogether. He

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probably did not believe in, and did not desire, the permanent maintenance of peace, but with all the marvellous sagacity of his brain he wished Germany to accumulate force and to wait for a favourable opportunity. He played greatly for time. Immediately after the Berlin Congress there was created by successive steps the Triple Alliance. Its object was to bridle Russia and France as long as possible, and to provide a formidable resistance if, in spite of all efforts to restrain them, they should make an attack in concert. But Bismarck's main object being to avert altogether a breach with Russia which might in any case be fatal, he simultaneously maintained the secret understanding with that Power upon terms which preserved an unstable equilibrium in the Balkans between the policy of Vienna and the policy of St. Petersburg.

This extraordinary fashion of acting as judicious bottle-holder to both sides, with a slight prejudice in favour of the bigger man, was inspired, to begin with, by nothing less than the gigantic simplicity of sheer genius. To keep up the process without giving final offence either at St. Petersburg or Vienna was a task requiring inconceivable address, and would have worn out any other human brain. It cannot be too often repeated that Bismarckianism cannot be reduced to a recipe. The Iron Chancellor's greatness lay not at all in the merit of his abstract ideas, but in the unapproachable skill with which he applied those ideas and manipulated practical policy. In any case his success in the closing phase of his active career was as wonderful as it had been in the earlier. This country, indeed, refused to join the Triple Alliance; but the state of affairs in Central Asia and in Egypt was such that England necessarily appeared the most incessant and ubiquitous opponent both of Russia and of France. While this position lasted, Germany was absolutely immune, since no two Powers could combine against her, and none was strong enough to grapple with her alone. Upon the other hand, every Power was at an absolute disadvantage, and Germany could bring an increasing pressure to bear upon each of them, because in emergency she could threaten every one of her neighbours with a coalition. Her allies, Austria and Italy, were dependent upon her for their safety. Russia, though chafing fiercely from time to time, could not rebel decisively against the Bismarckian system, lest in grappling with Austria and Germany in front, she might have England upon her back. France could not quarrel with England without surrendering Alsace-Lorraine to Germany, and could not attack Germany without surrendering Egypt to England. The world has changed, and it is very difficult for us to revive in our minds

a vivid picture of international conditions in the 'eighties. The more strongly we realise the condition of the old world almost up to the moment of the Iron Chancellor's fall, the more we are compelled to admire the superhuman powers which kept in the Iron Chancellor's hands the key to all possible combinations, and prevented other countries, whether allied with the Fatherland or not, from forming any combination-which made Germany a block of granite in a mass of rubble, by comparison with the mob-lot of her neighbours, Continental and insular.

Even if the German Emperor had ever grasped, which is at least doubtful, the first principles upon which the Bismarckian system depended, he entirely lacked the unrivalled experience, the international authority, the gifts of intellect and temperament, which were required to work that system successfully. From the moment of his accession the counter-movement so long postponed by the Iron Chancellor commenced to work. Russia and France drew together, and in that process the foundations of the Iron Chancellor's diplomacy disappeared. If the Titan blasphemed it was because he alone fully understood what had happened. He felt himself to be the King Lear of politics, driven out of the fair heritage he had created, and seeing it exposed to destruction before his eyes. For a while, however, the cast-out prophet was mocked, and the world was deceived. The era of welt-politik was opened, and in the blaze of what appeared to be a new revelation the Iron Chancellor was discounted, and Europe was forgotten.

To superficial persons, and they formed the vast majority of mankind, Bismarck's pessimistic complaints seemed utterly unintelligible. The Kaiser had pointed to the Yellow Peril. Russia was fatally encouraged to regard herself as the destined champion of white civilisation. The three Powers whose territories stretched without a break from the English Channel to the Yellow Sea were leagued against Japan. Port Arthur was kept in countenance by Kiao Chau. France seemed to have become the ally of Russia only that she might be the more unavoidably constrained to walk behind the Kaiser's chariotwheels. The German Emperor was the protector of Constantinople, the projector of the Bagdad Railway, and the patron of the Mohammedan world. He was the organiser of a fleet destined to revolutionise the conditions of sea-power. Up to a certain moment rather more than seven years ago, it seemed to the great majority of politicians throughout the world that the German Emperor had created more magnificent guarantees of German domination than Bismarck had ever imagined in his dreams. The Triple Alliance had been preserved. The favour

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