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Bismarcks alliance system was a tribute to his ingenuity but lacked both utility and

cohesion. Would you agree?

Otto von Bismarck, was a conservative Prussian statesman who dominated German and European affairs from the 1860s until 1890.
In the 1860s, he engineered a series of wars that unified the German states, this was achieved by two major wars against Austria
1866 and France 1870. With that accomplished by 1871, he skillfully used balance of power diplomacy to maintain Germany's
position in a Europe which, despite many disputes and war scares, remained at peace. In general, we can describe Bismarck as the
chief architect of the new German Empire and was one of the outstanding leaders of the 19th Century. Bismarcks greatest
achievement was to transform 39 different German states into one large empire controlled by Prussia.

-Kaiser Wilhelm I was crowned German Emperor in January 1871!

In this period of history, other countries were frustrated from Germanys past actions and now the new Kaiser had some threats to
tackle. The German empire was a big power centrally located in Europe and was now treated with suspicion.

Major Issues:

-FRANCE: Revenge for annexation of Alsace Lorraine

-Afraid of Nightmare of Coalitions- Afraid of coalition between France and Russia which would cause war on two fronts

What were Bismarcks Foreign Policy Aims:

1. To focus on internal consolidation

2. Stabilise Europe and prevent war
3. Ensure other powers do not form an alliance against Germany
4. Sustain Austria-Hungary and remain in good terms with Russia

What methods did Bismarck employ to achieve these aims?

-His major method for achieving this period of sustained peace was by forming alliances, which prevented war and ensured that
Germany was always secure in an alliance of three countries against two.

The alliance system

Aim of Bismarck was to neutralise any enemy that might weaken Germanys status and avoid any conflict between the great powers
of Europe and Germany.

As Bismarck feared a hostile alliance of Austria, France and Russia against Germany, his solution was to ally with two of the three.

! In 1873 he formed the League of the Three Emperors, an alliance of the Kaiser of Germany, the Tsar of Russia, and the
Emperor of Austria-Hungary. The aim of the 3 conservative emperors was: to maintain their privileges and powers
preserve the status quo and also against the forces of liberalism, democracy and socialism - prevent revolutionary

! In 1879 he formed a Dual Alliance acting as a military alliance promising each other aid in the case of a Russian attack,
but agreed to remain neutral if one was attacked by a power other than Russia.
Strength: Germany had a real alliance with Austria.
Weakness of the alliance: It put stress on Germanys relationship with Russia, which could drive Russia towards France.

! Bismarck still wanted to keep Russian friendship to prevent a Russian-French approach. Therefore, a more formal,
officially documented Second Three Emperors' League was signed in 1881. It lasted for three years; it was renewed
in 1884 but ended in 1887 because of conflicts of between Austria-Hungary and Russia in the Balkans.

! In 1882, Italy joined the Dual Alliance which created the Triple Alliance
Strength: keeping France isolated.
! As a result, Russians felt threatened, and Bismarck wanted to avoid the Nightmare Collation (Franco-Russian) at all
cost. It was here that Bismarcks system had reached its greatest complexity. Germany and Russia signed a secret
"Reinsurance" Treaty (1887) (Germany did not inform Austria-Hungary). Russia and Germany promised neutrality
towards each other if either of them became involved in war with a third power, except if Germany was attacked by
France or if Russia was attacked by Austria-Hungary. It reassured Russia that it was not in danger of a German-Austrian
war and reassured Germany that it was not in danger of a Franco-Russian alliance.

The strenghts and the weaknesses of the system

! Bismarcks strategy was ingenious

Bismarcks Realpolitik foreign policy was a substitution to the Metternicht System of the Congress of Vienna. It was based on
flexibility, calculations of power and national interest. He has found a solution on how to make Prussia secure by using Realpolitik
all alone. He, then created a new Balance of Power with Prussia having the power of decisions. According to Kissinger, Bismarck
considered Prussias cooperation as a sellers market. In his Realpolitik, there is no ideology just exploit all the possible options.

Bismarck had an ingenious strategy behind the alliances. He first, created a rapid revolution in the international status quo followed
by renew co-operation. As soon as he achieved the borders he considered vital to its security Bismarck conducted a prudent and
stabilizing foreign policy.He made a complex system of alliances that made peace mutually beneficial to all the great powers for
most of the time.

- Why did it work?

Germany has appeared with a position of seeming isolation but at the same time could manipulate commitments of the other powers
and sell its support to the highest price. Germany could do this because only great power who only focused on its own position in
He made a complex system of alliances that made peace mutually beneficial to all the great powers for most of the time.

- Good results while he was in power

Bismarck always tried to stay allied or at least in good terms with one of the Great Powers to avoid war on both German fronts and
avoid a Franco-Russian alliance. He generally, remained on good terms with Russia and England in order to isolate France, and he
has also succeeded in maintaining peace in Germany and across the continent.

! However lacked utility and cohesion on the long term

Indeed, over 15 years, he changed alliances about 5 times and those started to contradict one another. This shows an instability in his
politics and alliances with other countries. Even if he has preserved peace and showed a great ingenuity in his alliances,
unfortunately he couldn't fix the problems definitely between his allies, and specifically within the Balkans.

Some historians claim that his policy was unecessarily too complex and was based on a certain form of crisis management and not
really solving problems on a long term. In fact, according to A J P Taylor he kept a balance of tension alive in Europe. Furthermore,
his policy was based on the 18th century diplomacy. Bismarck was reposing on secret alliances. This was no longer possible with an
emerging public opinion.

He has created a system which could only been carried if there would be a great man like him in every generation. He did not create
a stable and durable system. This was too temporarilry. His capacities exceed his societys ability to absorb them.


The Balance of Power has reached its end in 1890, when Bismarck had to resign. The arrival of Wilhelm II at the German power
completely destroyed Bismarck's work and intensified the tensions between countries. Especially since he embarked on a colonial
policy, when almost all the territories were already taken. Bismarck left a nation without political education as Max Weber said.
There was no longer other great statesman who replaced him and this led to the suicide of European civilisation.

It would therefore be interesting to study the link between the end of Bismarck's era and the rise of rivalries leading up to the First
World War and asking ourselves if giving the power to one great man leads to a political system that is not durable?