World War I Alliance Systems: The Franco-Russian Entente (1891)


Figure 1.--The first public sign of the Franco-Russian Entente was begn with an exchange of fleet visits. The French fleet visited Kronstadt, an important Russia Baltic Sea naval base near Petrograd /St. Petersburg (July 1891). (It would later play a notable role in the Russian Revolution when during St Petersburg riots, the sailors joined the revolution and executed their officers. The Russian Fleet returned the honors, visting Tulon (October 1893). This is a souvenir card given to clients of Bon Marché, an important Paris departmnt store. Cards like this were very poular at the time for scrap booking. The French flag is seen with the Russian naval flag (the blue cross flag).

Chancellor Bismarck as a core of his diplomacy maintained an alliance with both Austria-Hungary and Russia. As long as the three emperors were united, a European War was virtually impossible. The three empires dominated Europe, controlling almost all of Eastern and Cenbtral Europe. No other power or combination of powers could challenge their combined military forces on th continet. In particulat as long as Russia was allied with Grmany, France had no power which it could ally to challene German continental dominance. Kaiser Wilhelm became emperor when his grandfather and father died in the same yea--the year of the three emperors (1888). Wilhelm was a young man with an expansive view of his capabilities. (This was a in part because of the flatery of his grandfather and Bismarck who attempted to influence him against his liberal parents.) Thus when he became Kaiser he did not easily accept the advise of Bismarck who he tended to see as a plodding relic of the past without his own 'keen' insights. He proceeded to both dismiss Bismarck and allowed the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia to lapse--a step of collosal incompetence. The French immediately seized on the opportunity to negotiate an alliance with the Russians, establishing a more equal European power ballance. The Franco-Russian Entente was signed (1891) and became a formal alliance (1894). This created two major alliance systems. It meant that Germann military planning would have to djust to powerful threats on two fronts. Germany had the single most powerful army on the continet, but in the comng world wars would be stimed by the need to fight two front campaigns. The existence of two powerful alliances created the possibility of a major European war for the first time since the Napolonic Wars (1800-15). It was an unlikely allince tieing the liberal French Republic to the absolutist Tsarist Empire.

Dual Alliance (1879)

The German Empire was founded following the Franco-Prussian War (1871). German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck saw this as essentially securing Germany's goals in Europe. He had not even wanted to annex Alsace-Loraine. Bismarck wanted Germany to become a peacemaker and conservative preserver of the European status quo. He had two principal problems. First was Alsace-Loraine which had bought the permanent eminity and France and desire to change the status quo. Second was the Balkans where Russian and Austria differed over the future as the Ottoman Empire deteriorated. The process of Ottoman decline was hastened by the Russo-Turkish War. The Russiands decisively defeated the Ottomans. The Treaty of San Stefano ending the War greatly expanded Russian influence in the Balkans where Pan-Slavism was an important factor. Austria-Hungary which had desisgns of its own in the Balkans was disturbed by the Russian gains. Bismarck organized the Congress of Berlin in which the Great Powers could amicably settle some of the Balkan issues. The Treaty of Berlin that resulted from the conference reversed many of Russia's gains in the Treaty of San Stefano. It also provided the Austrians with compensation for lost territory. Bismarck's attempts to play the role of an 'honest broker' at the Congress, but Russo-German relations were impaired by forcing Russia to surrender some of its gains on the battlefield. The Three Emperors' League was discontinued. This left Germany and Austria-Hungary to sign an alliance against Russia. But instead Bismarck's genious as a statesmen came through. Germany did sign at alliance with Austria-Hungary which became known as the Dual Alliance (1879). The Alliance was a defensive military alliance which was activated only if one of the two counties was attacked. Thus Bismarck was free to negotiate with Russia under the premise that the Dual Alliance was not aimed at Russia.

Bismarkian System

Chancellor Bismarck as a core of his diplomacy maintained an alliance with both Austria-Hungary and Russia. He saw Germany's security was best obtained through peace and stability in Europe. [Mulligan] As long as the three emperors were united, a European War was virtually impossible. The three empires dominated Europe, controlling almost all of Eastern and Cenbtral Europe. No other power or combination of powers could challenge their combined military forces on th continet. In particulat as long as Russia was allied with Grmany, France had no power which it could ally to challene German continental dominance. `Chancellor Bismarck resigned (1890). Kaiser Wilhelm forced him out of office. Had he not dine so, Bismarck would hve had to resign soon becaise of his age. More important was the Kaiser's refusal to accept Bismarck's council. Bismarck fr several years had been a kind of manager of the European diplomatic system. The new Kaisr and his ministers were determined to ursue a more cnfrintaional foreign policy.

Military Expansion (1886-93)

One of the major differences between Europe and America during the late-19th century was military expenditures. he United States after the Civil War (1861-65) rapidly demobilized and maintained a very small all-volunteer military. The Europeans on the other hand sent vast sums on themilitary and had conscription laws to maintain large, expensive standing armies. This was a factor in America's rapid industrial expansion. It also was a factor in the mnassive Euopean emigration to the United States and other countries klike Canada and Argentina. Grmany decided to massively increse military spending. Thrmans doubled military approprations (1886-93). Ths began with Bimarck;s Army Bill (1887). Capriv's military expenditure (1893) were the largest in Grman history up to that point. Caprivi was convnced that another war was inevitable and that onlymilitary strength and a string-alliance system could guarantee security.

Kaiser Wilhelm Allows the Reinsurance Treaty to Lapse (1890)

Bismarck in an amazing feat of diplomatic skill managed to negtiate the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia (1887). This was designed to prevent the differences between Austria and Russia from upsetting the carefully crafted Bismarkian System (1887). Only months later came the Year of the Thee Emperors. The youthful prince Wilhelm became kaiser as Willhelm II when his grandfather and father died in the same year (1888). Wilhelm was a young man with an expansive view of his capabilities. (This was a in part because of the flattery of his grandfather and Bismarck who attempted to influence him against his liberal parents.) What Bismarck and the old Emperor did not anticipate was whe Wilhelm became emperor, he wouldnot easily accept the advise of Bismarck eiser. Wilhelm tended to see Bismarck as a plodding relic of the past, lacking his own 'keen' insights into Europan affairs. Wilhelm proceeded to both force Bismarck from power and allowed the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia to lapse. This can only bee seen as step of collosal incompetence. The Kaiser and his new generation of advisers saw militry power and military alliances as the greatest guarantee of security. Thus they saw an alliace with Austria-Hungary as the central relationship Germnany needed to cultvate. The Reinsurance was due for renewal Russian Foreign Minister Nikolay Girs favored renewl. The Kaiser's new Chancellor, Leo von Caprivi opposed renewal. And there was opposition in the Foreign ministry. Friedrich von Holstein opposed renewing thetreaty. The argument was that the Bisnarkian system was too complicated, even duplisitous. [Mulligan] This was a time when the Great Game in Central asia was at its height. Holstein reportedly thought that a relationship with Britain could be develpd. This was before Tirpitz convinced the Kaiser to buld a high seas fleet which along with the Kaiser's belicose behavior thoroghly alientated the British. Likethe Russians, the Kaiser;'s policy turned a country with which Germany had no real issues into an adversary for no real reason.

German-Russian Relations

Given the subsequent history of the 20th century, Germany and Russia had surprisingly few issues which would mark them as implacable fes in two world wars. Both were monarches, although there were democratic institution in Germany. Most imortantly, there were no territorial issues. There were even family ties between the two royal houses. And Germny (Prussia) had refrained from the Anglo-French militry campaign in the Crimean Peninsula (1854-56). Austria-Hungary did join the war with Russia and the Russians and Austrians did have antagnitic interests in the Balkans. Tsarist Russia pursued pan-Slavism as Soviet Russia pursued Communism. Thus while Germany and Russia had few issues comlicating relations, the Kaiser by making the Dual Alliance the center of German foreign policy essentially bought into the conflict between Austra and Russia. [Mulligan, p.34.] It is no accident that just sch a conflict betwen the Russian supported Serbs and the German-supported Austrains led to World War I.

French Foreign Policy

French officials, able to read a map apparently unlike Kaiser Wilhelm, realized that to restrain Germany, a relatinship wuth the Russians was necessary. As a result, France negotiatd trade arrangements with Russia even before the Reinsurance Treaty lapsed (1880s). There was no unamityin either country. Perhaps the most serious problem was the radically different politcal and social system. Tsarist Rssia was an absolutist monarchy. Even the moderate 1905 refms had not yet taken place. France was a liberal democracy with elections and a free press. Officials in both countries argud thatthey might be draggd into a war. And thetwo countries differed over the Ottoman Empire. ndbecause Germany stood between the two which made combined military operations imposible. The shock of defat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) clearly showed that France needed an ally. And thus French officials were willing to put aside the problems. Even before the Reisurance Treaty was allowed to lapse, French loans to Russia beginning in 1887 were beginning to build ties.

Preliminary Franco Russian Contacts

The first known Franco-Russian contacts occurrd at Narva where the Russians were holding military manuvers (August 1890). Foreign military attaches ad guests were invited to obsrve the manurvers (August 1890). French General Raoul de Mouton de Boisdeffre while at Narva rised the issue of military cooperation and with N.N. Obruchev, Chief of the Russian General Staff. The two officers had a personal professional relationship. They would play a critical role in develooing the Entente. Once the Germans deckied to renew the Reinsurance Treaty, Russian was left without an ally. This led to Russian officials at the highest level changing their mind, including Foreign Miniter Gier who had wanted to renew the Reinsurance Treaty became an advocate of an Entente with France. The French Republicnas also saw the logic of an nrente. Foreign Minister Alexandre Ribot and Premier Charles de Freycinet clarly saw the political logic.

Tripple Alliance Renewed (May 1891)

The Kaiser and his ministers while declining to renew the Reinsurance Treaty did renew the Tripple Alliance (May 1891). At the heart of the Tripple Alliance was te Dual Alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungry/ The third partner was Italy. This mean that while Germany hd allies, both French and Russia did not. Rumors begn crculating in St. Petersbug and Pris that Britain was about to join the Tripple Alliance. This was at the time that the Great Game between Britain and Russi was still in pogress and Franc an Britain had bot yet reached axraprmmet. This of course increased the logic and advanced the timetable for timely action.

Entente Signed (August 1891)

The French immediately seized on the opportunity to negotiate an alliance with the Russians, establishing a more equal, and thus more dangerous, European power ballance. The Franco-Russian Entente came into forc whn the Fench and Russian Governments exchanged leters agreing to consulktations in event of intrnational crises (August 1891). This was a weak statment comared to te Dual/Triple Alliace, but it it was the first step in fundamntally changing the European military ballance.

Formal Military Alliace (1892-94)

A stong military treaty beteen France and Germany was a more diffcult step. The French who were primarily concered with Germany were the strongest advocate. Tsarsist oficials more hesitant because they had no important ssues with Germany. Their oncerns were with Austria-Hungary and Britain. Gradually the Russians came t the same concluion as the French. Russia's experiebce with the Criman War(1854-56) and Frances's exprience with the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) spoke to the dangers of conucting foreign polic without allies. An agreement was reached on a military convention (August 1892). The Russian Fleet called at Toulon (October 1983). This was a very public statement of a military alliance which came into force (January 1894). The Entente became a formal alliance, posing a real miltary challenge to Germany for the frst time since the Napoleonic Wars. The final piece in the World War I puzzle woul be Britain which the Kaiser would amazingly drive into French-Russian orbit with the construcion of a highseas fleet and bombastic behavior. The Franco-Russian Entente should not be seen as an offnsive military action. Nether Frenh or Russian leaders wanted a war with Germany. The Entente was seen as a step needed to ensure European peace and restoring a balance of power. [Mulligan, p. 35.]

Consequences

The Franco-Russian ntente created two major alliance systems. It meant that Germann military planning would have to adjust to powerful threats on two fronts. Germany had the single most powerful army on the continet, but in the coming world wars would be stimed by the need to fight two front campaigns. The existence of two powerful alliances created the possibility of a major European war for the first time since the Napolonic Wars (1800-15). It was an unlikely allince tieing the liberal French Republic to the absolutist Tsarist Empire. A competent German leader could have prevented such an unlikely event as the Franco-Russian raprochment, but Kaiser Wilhelm was less interested in tability than using Germany's substantial military might to gain greater influence and prestige.

Sources

Mulligan, William. The Origins of the First World War (Cambridge University Press: 2010), 256p.







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Created: 6:12 AM 4/8/2014
Last updated: 6:12 AM 4/8/2014