Imperial Concerns Guide British Foreign Policy

When answering this question it is important to note that the significance and value of this essay is great. This essay will help us to understand the climate and reasons to how the First World War broke out and also how politics, which were carried out at the beginning of the twentieth century, laid the foundations to the way in which foreign policy is carried out today. By outlining a few key terms needed for this essay, the task of answering this question will be less complicated.

This question regards the issue of foreign policy; this is a set of policies employed by a country pertaining to international affairs. The issue of 'imperial concerns' which this essay will address, relates to the concerns a country has, corresponding to it empire or sovereign. By answering this essay question imperial concerns of the great powers in the world must be analysed, international conflict due to imperial motivation will be looked at the position of Britain and Germany in world affairs and their relationship, Anglo-German antagonism and their economic rivalry must also be studied to successfully answer this question.

Between 1890- 1907 three key figures were at the forefront of international foreign policy pertaining to imperial concerns. The first of these was Lord Salisbury who dominated British politics and foreign policy during this period, as Michael Lynch stated, "…foreign policy in late Victorian Britain was dominated by the conservative leader Lord Salisbury. He made foreign affairs his speciality"; Salisbury also took a pragmatic approach concerning the empire again as Michael Lynch states along with Gladstone he "shared the view that Britain was a declining force in the world and that therefore it would be unwise for it to attempt an expansionist foreign policy."

He also "tended to share Joseph Chamberlain's economic understanding of imperialism. For both men, the value of the empire was that it offered a way for Britain to avoid unnecessary commitments; it could ignore Europe on occasion by relying on its imperial resources." Fundamentally he saw the empire as both a strength and a weakness, a strength as it had the power to slow Britain's decline and a weakness as it may lead to damaging commitments for Britain.

His vital importance to British politics were outwardly displayed in his successes in government, in 1878 he attended the Berlin conference as Disraeli's foreign secretary and in 1885 became conservative leader till 1902; even during 1892- 1895 when Rosebury was foreign secretary and later prime minister, Salisbury was able to retain power in government because as A.J.P Taylor described "Rosebury was Salisbury's obedient pupil."

The Kaiser also had a profound influence on, the foreign affairs of Britain- Half British and Half German he "developed a strange love- hate relationship with Britain" and "was also confused about his identity"; this confusion and determination to be seen as a strong leader led him to adopt a personality of at times aggressive masculinity. Bismarck once remarked that he was "like a balloon, if you do not hold fast to the string, you never know where he will be off to."

The Kaiser although a possessed great political power was a complex character who's moods were likely to change rapidly, the combination of great power and a very unpredictable personality mad him a very hazardous character in world politics. In 1890 after the dismissal of Bismarck Caprivi the new German Chancellor, sought to disengage the Reich from a series of complicated agreements preferring in its place a new simplified system with a more defined purpose this became know as 'Caprivi's new course'. His decision not to renew the Reinsurance treaty with Russia had far reaching consequences, ultimately leading to the triple entente against the triple alliance in World War I.

This decision was due to his assumption that in the early 1890's, Germany's cordial relations with Britain would mean that "it was only a matter of time before the latter [Britain] became part of The Triple alliance"- Eric Wilmot. It was this arrogance to believe that Britain wanted an alliance would be just one of a long line of causes, which would lead Europe to 'stumble' into the first world, this alliance would not happen due to the beliefs of one key figure- Salisbury.

Within Europe there were three main powers, France, Germany and Britain, which had a key role in 'imperial' foreign affairs. After 1871, the French Republic had its own unofficial empire with France being headed by a president. The main areas of French colonization were French West Africa, French Equatorial Africa, and French Indo-China. In the 1870's French foreign policy reverted to the tradition of the liberal alliance with Britain "In the following decade, however, colonial rivalries soured Anglo- French relations, especially in Africa."- John Lowe and Robert Pearce.

The high point of this 2nd colonial empire was from 1890-1914 As John Lowe and Robert Pearce state in there book Rivalry and Accord "France herself became a great imperial power in this period with extensive colonial possessions in both Africa and Asia." In what is known to the French as the 'Beautiful Age'. Germany on the other had did not have an 'extensive' empire. It is important to note that 1815 Germany had not been a single country but a geographical expression, with the thirty-nine states of the German confederation established by the Vienna settlement of 1815.

In 1866 Prussia's economic ascendancy over Austria from the 1830's by means of the Zollverein, a customs union which Austria was excluded meant that many of the smaller 'Germanic states' were 'united'. The formation of a Germany, which holds a resemblance to the Germany known today, occurred in 1871 with Germany being dominated by Bismarck. The country had sever military links with politics the Kaiser was also 'supreme warlord'. Its empire is best described as small scattered empire and only possessed ten colonial territories by 1914 compared to the twenty- nine French colonial territories by 1914. Its colonies were focused mainly on South Africa. Germany a young, immature country was keen to possess an outward display of its power, in the form of an empire, which it regarded as a sign of power. In contrast to Germans empire Britain possessed a total of fifty-five colonies across all continents by 1914.

Although Britain's initial phase of imperial expansion around the 17th century, its second more measure growth occurred around 1870- 1914 and went hand in had with the expansion of British industry, trade and overseas investment. "It coincided with the resurgence of European imperial rivalry. The Rapid growth of the British Empire took place mainly in Africa and Asia." The climax of all this imperial excitement erupted in 1899- 1902 in the form of the Boer War. Leading to something of a loss of confidence in the idea of imperialism, "although in economic terms the Empire continued to grow in importance as British industrial goods faced increasing competition, especially from the USA and Germany."