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1814-1914? The Congress of Vienna in 1814 was a landmark event for the shaping of both political Europe and British Foreign Policy. It was called to solve the problems caused by the defeat of Napoleon and to officially redress the balance of power between countries. With this change, Castlereagh also established the new seven principles of British Foreign Policy that would be followed in the next hundred years. These all had the aim of ensuring power and profit for Britain. An integral policy was maintaining naval supremacy, as it had been throughout Britain’s history. With the acquisition of an empire, and obviously being an insular nation, our power by sea was vitally important. Similarly trade routes around the world had to be protected, as the economy relied on trade outside of the country. This linked to the policy of maintaining peace in Europe, as this was necessary for effective trading. The potential for French expansion was also a major issue after Napoleon’s defeat, and preventing this became a priority for Castlereagh, and for following foreign ministers such as Palmerston. The related policies of solving the ‘Eastern Question’ and stopping Russian expansion arose due to the wane of the Ottoman Empire, and Russia’s increasing interest in the Straits and the Mediterranean. Again, this threatened our trade routes in the Mediterranean and overland to India. All of these contributed to the final principle of preservation of the ‘balance of power’ in Europe. When considering the ‘consistency’ of Britain’s foreign policy it is important to remember two things: the fundamental reasoning behind the principles’ creation, and the effects of the personal approaches of foreign ministers in the implementing of these principles. The principles were developed against the backdrop of upheaval in Europe and a war-weariness following the twelve years of the Napoleonic Wars. Therefore it is entirely natural to expect some change in foreign policy when circumstances change. Over the span of the hundred years there were foreign ministers with different styles, motives and pressures. The most relevant of these were Castlereagh, Canning, Wellington, Palmerston and Salisbury. Other variables include public opinion, which had an impact on the actions of certain foreign ministers, and .... After the official end of the Napoleonic Wars with the treaty in June 1815 France’s boundaries were returned to their position of 1792. The second invasion and brief success by Napoleon led to the second Treaty of Paris and the restoration of the Bourbon family to the French throne. France became one of the main threats to the peace and equilibrium in Europe, and so was a main focus for the foreign ministers of Britain at the time. Fear of the return of the expansionist policies seen in Napoleon’s rule meant that somehow preventing this was the specific aim of Britain. The first example of this is Castlereagh’s support of combining the Netherlands and the Austrian Netherlands in 1814. This would effectively create a buffer state next to France that would prevent northeasterly expansion towards the German Confederation. An interesting eventual deviation away from this policy is shown after the Congress of Verona in 1822, where the ‘Spanish Question’ was raised by diplomats: how to prevent French intervention into the revolts in Spain. Wellington, prime minister at the time, expressed to his representatives that no compromise was to be reached in Britain’s standpoint – France had to be stopped from intervening in order prevent her gaining any power. It was an open breach of the decisions of the
Quintuple Alliance, of which France was a recent member. With the backing of the other three powers France did intervene which led to the Battle of Trocadero, and we worked with France. Although this would be against our policy of stopping French expansion, co-operation was needed to keep the balance of power and protect the Spanish monarchy. The resistance by Wellington does show, however, that this flexibility was necessary and not liked or accepted by Britain. An event that changed the way Britain reacted to any action by France was the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 to 1871. This essentially signalled the rise of German military power and imperialism and ended with the defeat of France. Beaten and weak, France then had to pay massive and crippling indemnities to Germany. This change in power had a knock-on effect on foreign policy for Britain – France became considerably less of a focus, especially with the ascent of Germany. Another event that shows our position on France later in this time period is the Tangier Crisis in 1905-6. Here we can see that France is given more control and is treated with less suspicion than in previous times, as they gain protectorate control over Morocco following an agreement with Britain. When Germany, who had been left out of the agreements between the imperial powers, called for a unilateral conference to call France to account Britain gave support to the French position. With strong backing from Britain France retained political and economic power in Morocco after the Algeciras Conference in 1906. Therefore we can see that by this time colonial expansion from France was accepted by Britain, to the effect of hindering imperial expansion by Germany. Following the theme of inhibiting expansion, Russia’s attempt at gaining ground in the Ottoman Empire was always a concern for British foreign ministers. The creation of the German Confederation in 1815 was backed by Britain as a way of introducing a buffer state between Europe and Russia. However the policy to stop Russia was marked with inconsistency. An example of this is the Treaty of San Stefano, signed in early March 1878. They gained Armenian and Georgian territories, plus effective control of the new ‘Greater Bulgaria’, with which the Great Powers were unhappy. This extension of Russian power led to Serbia and Greece fearing that the establishment of Greater Bulgaria would harm their interests in the Ottoman heritage. This prompted the powers – especially Austria and Britain - to obtain a revision of the Treaty, which happened through the Congress of Berlin in 1978. Disraeli was an important individual at the conference and ensured British success with various precongress meetings. Russia agreed to withdraw her support for Bulgaria, which was then divided into three regions separately ruled by Turkey or independently. Serbia, Montenegro and Romania became independent states, and Austria occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina. Russia’s power gained in the Treaty of San Stefano was successfully diminished by the Congress, primarily due to Disraeli, which gives us an example of British Foreign Policy being more than adhered to: action was taken to reverse decisions that deviated from the main principles. One cannot consider the principle of stopping Russian expansion without looking at the area in which most of the expansion was attempted – the Ottoman Empire. The Berlin Conference was also a turning point for the way Britain approached the problem of the decaying Turkish power. As well as the Conference effectively renouncing Russia’s victory over the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War,
Salisbury also negotiated for Cyprus to become a British naval base. Once Cyprus was under British rule Constantinople became considerably less important for trade routes and Britain’s naval supremacy, leading to less interest in Turkey’s affairs and eventually less support given. The Ottoman Empire reached the real point of dissolution in 1908, with the Young Turks’ Revolution in July. Up to here Britain and the rest of the European powers had been maintaining a policy of protecting the monarchies of countries during revolts and riots (for example, Ferdinand in Spain) and Britain’s lack of support for Sultan Abdulhamid shows a change in priority for Britain. In hindsight this was a flaw, as the Sultan then turned to Germany for military support. Arguably German control of the Baghdad railway was also a cause of tension within Europe that ultimately contributed to the unrest that led to the First World War. ……………………….. The consistency of Britain in following her principles of foreign policy becomes less apparent as we reach the end of the 1800s. Before the Crimean War in 1854 policy is consistent, but merely the fact that the War was declared in conjunction with France shows that there is a change towards a flexible use of it. Britain may not have consistently followed the principles of foreign policy established up to 1914, but it is obvious that, unsurprisingly, they followed what was to the most benefit for the country. It is important to remember that the seven principles were utilised because they were the most profitable for Britain at the time of the Congress of Vienna.
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