Before the end on the 19th Century Britain’s main foreign policy was its vast empire, which revolved around the security of India. Until approximately 1895 Britain had been the strongest country in the world, it had a successful economy and a very strong navy. As the other countries developed rapidly Britain enjoyed a time of “Splendid” Isolation, which refers to a period in British Diplomacy when the British Government preferred isolation to an alliance or close diplomatic ties which inevitably meant they would have to intervene in situations which didn’t concern them.
In the last two decades of the 19th Century Britains comfortable situation came to an end. There was a balance of power in Europe as the triple Alliance and Franco-Russian alliance kept each other in check. All these powers, except Austria-Hungary, wished for gains and glories outside Europe and inevitably they broke into Britains Sphere of influence. Lansdowne the new foreign minister realised Britains policies must change.
Britains foreign Imperial aims did not change, as India was still Britains Colonial priority, but now her policies were under threat from France and Russia, and Britain would have to look for other ways to secure the brightest jewel in their crown. Other complications arose by the expansion of Germany and the fact Britain was over stretched with a relative economic decline to handle. In 1900 Britain encountered two changes to personnel.
The resignation of lord Salisbury as Foreign Secretary gave Britain a different approach towards foreign policies. Lord Lansdowne was the replacement, while Salisbury was firmly opposed to making any agreement that would tie Britain to another power and, therefore, would be dragged into a conflict by a third party, Lansdowne took a different direction. Once Lansdowne had taken over, a diplomatic revolution took place. This argument was based on the Alliance and Entente s he formulated.
He knew there were dangers from Russia and France to Britain’s colonies but he also focused on the common threat from Germany. Even though the agreements did not specify that threat Lansdowne felt that it would act as a check as Germany had two powers on good terms either side of them. The other personnel change was the monarch. Queen Victoria had died in the first month of 1900 and next in line was Edward VII and he was very different from his old fashioned mother.
He was of the new generation, which like to party and women, which appealed greatly to the French who formally did not share many interests with the strict principles of Victorian England. The Kings good relations would have helped to settle terms and long-winded arguments between the two countries. The Boer War had seemed to show the dangers of Isolation. Many people disagreed with the methods used, in particular Germany. Although the troubles in China gave a real demonstration of danger it was added because it happened to coincide with the Boer war.
Germany, Russia and Britain all wanted pieces of China and instead of an international agreement, like what happened over Africa, there was a scramble for a Celestial Empire where Britain faced formidable rivals. Britain began to search for serious allies, this is point were Britain came out of Isolation. She turned to Germany but although terms were drafted their position in Europe was far more important. Britain discovered a reliable ally, Japan, who were eager to resist Russia.
They made a formal alliance in January 1902 and renewed it in 1905 with added terms. This alliance benefited Britain as it preserved its traditional foreign policy aims of trade and Spheres of Influence, but also introduces new military and security aspects to her policy to contain Russia and guaranteed military assistance in the defence of India in an event of war between Russia and Britain. Salisbury made it clear that he would not participate in signing agreements that would have got Britain involved in military actions.
Even when Lansdowne took over both the Entente Cordiale and Anglo-Russian Entente did not specify military implications in the paper work. But there was certainly a security aspect in both ententes. The Entente Cordiale was signed in 1904 and effectively states that Britain’s main concern was her access to India. India and access to the Mediterranean had always been one of Britain’s main priorities because trade was extremely important, that is why Britain’s relationship with France was delicate as they were both interested in occupying Egypt.
It was agreed Britain would retain Egypt, while France would be able to establish their ideas in Morocco. Britain and France felt they should settle a long dispute, as they may need to co-operate soon because of the threat from Germany. Britain and Russia have never been close because of arguments over Constantinople and naval rivalry After Britain had secured their path way to India via Egypt they didn’t have a problem with Russian action in the Turkish area. The Anglo – Russian Entente was signed in 1907.
This agreement was based on Imperial success and would help security in Europe. Half of Britains army was based on the Indian borders, so with Anglo-Russian co-operation, those troops could be deployed into Europe. In Conclusion, the statement “Britain’s foreign policy changed between 1900-1907” is essentially true but only to a certain extent. Britain’s foreign policy grew. They still employed the same Imperial foreign policies but due to complications to retain their colonies they needed assistance from others.
With the threat of Germany, as well, Britain needed to be secure. Under Kaiser Wilhelm II the German navy expanded rapidly and this made Britain anxious about the security of her island. Britain has a very small army and if their navy was matched there could be serious consequences. The thought of invasion encouraged the government to take measure to neutralise the threat by forming closer ties with other powers but Lansdowne figured he could protect Britains Empire at the same time.