Friday, April 8, 2011

April 8, 1904 – Entente-Cordiale Talks End without Agreement

England and France had long stood as rivals and outright enemies for many centuries. Massive campaigns had been fought between the two in the Hundred Years' War, Seven Years' War, Napoleon's Wars, just to list a few. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, England had grown to dominance and merged with Scotland and Ireland into Great Britain, only to have its American colonies lost by French intervention. Britain struck back by ending Napoleon's empire, and then, over the course of the nineteenth century, the two political juggernauts came to something of a truce. First used in 1844, Entente-Cordiale ("cordial understanding") became the term for the common interest and mutual advantages between France and Britain. The two had even worked as allies in the Crimean War to halt the expansion of the Russian Empire, but old colonial rivals kept them apart.

Even by 1900, the happy agreements toward peace between the two were still informal. Britain had long enjoyed its policy of Splendid Isolation, focusing on its empire and leaving alone the matters of the Continent. However, with the taxing and often humbling Boer Wars and the growth of German power both in Europe and in Africa, Britain looked back toward Europe to reevaluate its position. Talks were held about Britain potentially becoming a member of Germany's Triple Alliance, but Edward VII nixed the idea in preference to isolation. The position of neutrality became more and more difficult to maintain as Britain's new ally Japan and France's longtime ally Russia turned toward war in 1904. Diplomats led by British Foreign Secretary Lord Lansdowne and French foreign minister Théophile Delcassé scrambled in an attempt to sort out the colonial matters that still plagued France and England to draw up a fashionable alliance. For a time, an agreement looked promising, but arguments over Newfoundland fishing rights broke down talks. Finally, two months after Russia and Japan had gone to war, the talks ended with simple neutrality as the best the France and Britain could muster.

While the old empires watched, young empires came fully onto the scene. Japan won the war effectively against Russia, whose people erupted in revolt. US President Theodore Roosevelt ended the war with the Treaty of Portsmouth through back channel diplomacy that won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906. Britain returned to its policies of isolation and protecting her vast empire. France, meanwhile, made brisk attempts to aid Russia and to coax Italy away from Germany's Triple Alliance, which it did by supporting the Italo-Turkish War in 1911.

The web of international treaties and alliances broke with the single shot that killed the Archduke Ferdinand. Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia, Russia invaded Austria-Hungary, Germany invaded Russia, and France declared war on Germany. With Britain and its neutral ally Belgium diplomatically out of the war without antagonism, German command saw fit to alter the Schlieffen Plan and assault the French forces more directly rather than invade through innocent Belgium. Initially, the French stood in a mighty defense against the German onslaught, but the German wehrmacht enabled the resources to roll the trench warfare backward toward Paris. With the collapse of Russia and Italy quickly changing sides, the war ended in 1917 with the Treaty of Berlin inside a suddenly powerful Germany. Britain and the United States felt grateful for being spared the massive bloodshed of the war and in fact prospering as Europe hurried to rebuild.

Renewed nationalism in the decaying Austro-Hungarian Empire spurred its collapse in 1931 as the Great Depression ground on. Socialism, which had been long nurtured in France and triumphant in Russia, took the losing countries of the war by storm. A grand socialist alliance grew powerful as the nearly fascist monarchies of Germany and Japan struggled. In 1942, the World War broke out as Stalin invaded Poland and much of Eastern Europe in an attempt to "liberate and unify the workers of the world." His expansionism continued into the Middle East while France fought to take German colonies in Africa, and Italy fell to civil war. Britain was finally drawn into the war it had always feared when the French Mediterranean fleet struck Egypt and blockaded the Suez Canal while other troops occupied disputed territories in West Africa. Socialist riots broke out in India, and the widespread war caused Britain simply to evacuate one of its greatest jewels. The United States, too, lost its neutrality as Russia pressed through Japanese forces in China and made a surprise attack on Midway Island.

Bitter warfare continued to 1952 when Russia finally capitulated under the onslaught of American atomic bombs and it became known that Josef Stalin had died due to heart failure.


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In reality, the Entente-Cordiale was a great diplomatic success. Conflicts between the empires were solved with recognition of influence in Morocco, Madagascar, Siam, New Hebrides, and West Africa, free use of the Suez Canal guaranteed, and British supremacy in Newfoundland. France and Britain became allies, and Germany followed the Schlieffen Plan, which brought Britain into World War I in defense of Belgium, as it would have soon in aid of France.

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