Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Anniversary of the Entente Cordiale

Today is the anniversary, in 1904, of the signature in London of the series of agreements known as the Entente Cordiale ("cordial understanding") between the French Republic and Great Britain which formally ended the European rivalry between the two countries that largely defined 18th and 19th Century Europe.
Although neither the entente cordiale nor the later Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 were, on paper anyway, military alliances, they turned out to be so in fact. These agreements, particularly the entente cordiale, had immense geopolitical implications. The real target of all this treaty making and good feeling was, of course, Imperial Germany. As long as Bismarck remained German chancellor, the guiding principle of German foreign policy was to keep the new German Empire's number one enemy -- France -- diplomatically isolated. The Germans kept the French on ice by bending over backwards to keep on good terms with the Russian Empire (despite disputes in the Balkans) and by avoiding antagonism of Britain.
The new Kaiser, Wilhelm II, fired Bismarck in 1890. For a lot of reasons, it was time to fire Bismarck, but the Kaiser really blundered when he let the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia lapse -- and gave the French their diplomatic opening. In 1892, the French concluded an alliance with Russia (actually a military convention) -- hemming-in the Germans on two sides.
Still, the Germans and their Austro-Hungarian ally were more than a match for France and Imperial Russia. But Kaiser Wilhelm moved on from losing the Russians to alienating the British: he was entirely too chummy with Britain's enemies in the Second Boer War; and he backed Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz's mad scheme to build a really big German Navy. It was not so much that the German Emperor really sought a serious quarrel with Britain, he simply confused bumptious nationalism with foreign policy.
Quite naturally, the British got interested in better relations with Germany's enemy France and France's new Russian friend. The Entente Cordiale constituted the first fruits of better relations with France, and in 1907, Britain tidied-up its often acrimonious relations with Russia through the Anglo-Russian Convention of that year. None of this amounted to any kind of formal military alliance as far as the British were concerned, but staff-talks with the French and closer and closer cooperation between all three powers followed. . .
When Gavrilo Princip supplied the match on that terrible day in Sarajevo, all the old powers, tied into blocs by treaties, collectively riven by old and new hatreds -- exploded and went down together. Tirpitz's big fleet did the Germans no good: the British choked Germany's imports anyway. Russia's loyalty to its treaty with France did them no good: the Tsars and the Russian Empire went down too. France's Entente Cordiale and later alliance with Britain probably saved it in 1914 and 1917 -- at the cost of a whole generation of young men. Find their monument at Verdun.
As for the British, they got to see the Germans go down, at the cost of a million dead and the bankruptcy of their Empire. The signer of the Entente Cordiale for Britain, the Marquess of Lansdowne, destroyed himself politically in 1917 by publishing a letter correctly arguing that continuing the war would destroy civilization, and calling for a negotiated peace. The British and French alliance, at the end, was bailed-out by the United States, brought forward to take a world role the country neither wanted nor was suited for. The real winners of the First World War were the radicals and crazies: Nazis, other loons of various stripes, Communists.
But this day in 1904, all that was in the future. In London, Lord Lansdowne, and the French Ambassador, M. Paul Cambon, signed their papers, and no doubt adjourned for some good champagne. Just a month later, in Bohemia, Archduke Franz-Ferdinand's wife, Sophie, gave birth to their third child. Both mother and father had a date with murderers in Sarajevo. Meanwhile, all unknowing, millions of others (busy in the streets, fields and schools of Europe and America) while Lansdowne and Cambon did their business, had horrible dates of their own.


louielouie said...

i've been visiting The Kingdom for over a month now.
i've enjoyed reading EJM I essays regarding history, mostly european,
his commentary/views are mostly about subjects i know little, myself being more of a pounds per square inch and gallons per minute kind of guy.
i've never commented on these type essays for reasons previously given.
however, regarding this essay i do have the following comment to post.

are those people nuts?? there must be two classes of people in europe, whether britain considers itself a partime member or what, those who make alliances and those who waged war. or is it they waged war to make alliances, i forget.
attilla the hun attacked verdun???
i only read half the links from the essay. the other half i only read part of, and the other half i just didn't bother......wait, is that right??
i remember one of the links about wilhelm II from a previous european essay. the entanglements of treatys between different groups, not to mention countries, as in the austro-hungarian kingdom. can you say dysfunctional??
GOOD GRIEF!!! i never new the number of wars that the europeans fought. again, not just between countries but the unification of germany......was it worth it? bismark must have thought so. as in the last one left alive gets to make the rules.
where am i going with this?
who on earth would want to make an alliance with any of these nuts is beyond me.
i thought the idea of the EU was a new thing. all it seems to be is the ressurection of a generation of dumbaspes. that should have been in all caps. and now it seems to me, after reading EJM I essay, that NATO was constructed to protect european countries from themselves. what outside threat would want them. of course france is only NATO-lite.
why in the help would anyone give a bit of excrement about them criticizing the US is beyond me.
before i read this essay, i was for the most part not very inclined to pay any attention to europe, but after reading this essay, they can all burn in help for all i care.

please note; certain words are typos as i'm sure EJM I will insist this be a PG website, and i want to continue visiting the Kingom, if anyone will ever tell me where the new throneroom is located............

El Jefe Maximo said...

An old saw about NATO was that it existed to keep the Russians Out, the Americans In, and the Germans Down. There are cynics among us, of which I am assuredly one, who believe that the EU amounts, over the long run, to little more than a convenient way for the Germans to administer Europe.

Still, LL, you might be a bit hard on the Euros. I invite you to consider what American history might have been like post American independence had the consolidated federal US never taken off, and had the States remained stronger, more independent units. Even with a common culture and language, I suspect the States could found plenty to argue and to fight about...the results might not have been pretty.

Similarly, reflect on a North American continent where the Confederate States won its own war of independence. Harry Turtledove has written an interesting set of books on just this concept: I don't really like where he went with them -- but I think he's right that in such a world, the US and CS would have played alliance politics and musical chairs just like Europe.

As it was, possibly the most traditional European war we ever fought, as I alluded to in a recent post, was that with Mexico between 1846-48.

I don't think it can be said the Europeans were any more or less nutty than anybody else, including us. Nutbars and fanatics like Hitler, Stalin and Lenin excepted (these last were a product of the general shipwreck of civilization after WWI), I think that through most their history, (at least from 1650 or so on, the part I'm intereted in) the Euros and their political leadership usually responded rationally, although often mistakenly, to their political environment.

Yeah, they're often engaged in national and personal aggrandizement that outrages the hell out of modern scolds and academics who would never think twice about screwing a rival out of tenure -- but swiping border territories, making the losers of wars pay indemnities, and swapping alliances to team with the old enemy against the new one goes back to the Bible. It's still done today, although we dress it up and call it other things. You don't think we didn't impose our own form of Versailles Treaty on Iraq after Gulf War I ? Saddam's trying to break out of that system caused Gulf War II. You think our "ally" France from Gulf War I hadn't changed sides by Gulf War II ?

Anyway, sorry to rant, but I just finished my coffee. As for throne rooms, SWMBO made me redecorate. I opted for something very understated.

louielouie said...

I opted for something very understated.

sparse is more like it.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Oy. I hate it when that happens. Pictures of El Jefe's modest little residence and Throne Room are here:


(Can't get the embed feature to work -- just winds up as Blogger when you click on it).

hank_F_M said...


You remember the old Chinese curse about living in interesting times. European history is often very interesting. But more often it is much more dull, thus enjoyable and livable.

an old post of mine on the start of WWI. A different angle that does not take away from The Maximum Leaders more detailed and researched comments.

El Jefe

I have found the hard way that an embedded link at the or near the bottom of comment will not work. It seems you need about two lines text after it.