The treaty of vienna and the british strategic dogma control of all strategic passages around the world enhanced naval superiority, firm control over sea routes and colonial



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Geo-economy & Geopolitics Series Author: John Karkazis Issue G1, January 2001


THE BRITISH GEO-STRATEGIC DOGMA DURING 19th AND EARLY 20th CENTURY

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CONTENTS

THE TREATY OF VIENNA AND THE BRITISH STRATEGIC DOGMA

-CONTROL OF ALL STRATEGIC PASSAGES AROUND THE WORLD

-ENHANCED NAVAL SUPERIORITY, FIRM CONTROL OVER SEA ROUTES AND COLONIAL

POSSESSIONS

- BALANCE OF POWER IN EUROPE

THE INTERNATIONAL SECURITY SYSTEM OF THE POST-NAPOLEONIC ERA: THE CONGRESS SYSTEM

The Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle

The Congress of Verona

The Congress of Troppau

THE INITIATIVES OF BRITISH DIPLOMACY

THE BALANCE OF POWERS IN EUROPE AND THE ANGLO-GERMAN GEO-POLITICAL COMPETITION: 1900-1914


THE TREATY OF VIENNA AND THE BRITISH STRATEGIC DOGMA
After the final defeat of Napoleon in Waterloo a new (second) congress was held in Vienna in 1815 which imposed more severe terms on France: an indemnity of 700.000 francs and army occupation. The Treaty of Vienna established a Holly Alliance order of the Christian nations of Europe (with the exception of Britain) and settled military, political and colonial issues in such a way so as to be considered as the most far reaching agreement in Europe after the Peace of Westphalia. On the other hand the Treaty of Vienna failed to solve the problems arising from the national aspirations of Germans and the republican (anti-monarchic) and reformist aspirations of European middle classes.
Britain succeeded to set out, through the Treaty of Vienna, a very favorable security and economic environment, in Europe and world-wide, which maximized the economies-of-scale produced by the Industrial Revolution in its birthplace and which highly enhanced its strategic dogma:


  1. CONTROL OF ALL STRATEGIC PASSAGES AROUND THE WORLD:

1a. Gibraltar passage, controlling the sea routes between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It was ceded to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht.

1b. Singapore passage, controlling the sea routes between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Oceang. It became a British colony in 1824.

1c. Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) passage, controlling the sea routes between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean. It became a British colony in 1806.

1d. English Channel passage, the most important passage for Britain which was put under its indirect control by creating a barrier state, Belgium, on the other side of the passage, which separated the two old colonial competitors of Britain, France and the Netherlands. The creation of this barrier state dramatically reduced France’s geo-economic and geo-strategic power by taking out of its control the strategic port of Antwerp, the port in which Napoleon was planning to build his great armada to conquer Britain. Note that today Belgium accommodates some of the most important geo-economic gravity centers of Europe.[1]

1e. Edge of Iberia Peninsula passage (Portugal) which dominated the sea-routes between Britain, North Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. Britain secured this passage by the oldest in Europe alliance treaty, the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373, which is still in force. Note that securing this passage was of vital importance for the protection of the Gibraltar passage and the strategic sea route axis Gibraltar – English Channel.

1f. Falkland Islands passage which dominated the sea-routes between the south Atlantic and the south Pacific Ocean. The British first settled in there in 1765. Their colonial presence in Falkland Islands, during the period 1765-1833, was often militarily disputed by Spanish Argentina and France but since 1833 the British have been firmly established there. The construction of Panama Canal by the Americans in the beginning of 20th century weakened the significance of this passage.




  1. ENHANCED NAVAL SUPERIORITY, FIRM CONTROL OVER SEA ROUTES AND COLONIAL POSSESSIONS

A military dogma according to which the naval forces of Britain should exceed the combined naval forces of the second and third ranking naval power. During the Napoleonic Wars the second and third biggest naval powers were France and Spain whereas in the beginning of World War I were Germany and France. This dogma protected Britain against all combinations involving two naval powers leaving out the highly in-probable case of three naval powers confronting Britain which could be rather easily delt by the extremely skilful British diplomacy at least as power balancing is concerned. Also, the issues of the freedom of the seas and of its colonial possessions around the world were forming a “red line” for British diplomacy during 19th century which barred out any such discussions (going beyond this red line) in the Vienna congress and the three tail-congresses.


  1. BALANCE OF POWER IN EUROPE

The Treaty of Vienna and the British diplomatic efforts established in Europe an intricate power balancing system. The power of France was checked in the administrative level by the re-establishment of Bourbons and in the geo-political level to the east by the highly enhanced power of Prussia, to the south by the highly enhanced powers of the Italian Peninsula and to the west by re-establishing in Spain Bourbon’s dynasty which was friendly to Britain. The power of the fearfully emerging Tsars was checked by the powerful Prussia, the consolidated and expanded power of Austria-Hungary and by the relatively very small portion of Poland offered to them. Finally the power of Austria was checked to the west by the considerable power that France was permitted to enjoy, to the north by Prussia and also by the skilful exploitation of its internal problems arising from its multi-ethnic composition and the repressive and counter-reforming policies of its ultra conservative monarchical regime. In the case in which Austria was dangerously interfering with British interests and the British strategic dogma then these internal problems could be rather easily exploited by Britain to weaken it. Britain, after the Treaty of Vienna, was left alone as the only power of Europe enjoying a constitutional monarchy, strong parliamentary institutions and the ability to undertake reforms without resorting to revolutionary violence and practices. The above facts placed Britain in the for-front of Europe as the champion of constitutional parliamentary monarchy offering it valuable ideological weapons to be transformed by Britain diplomacy into geo-political weapons with the help also of two new players in British politics: the British Press which was becoming rapidly very influential in Europe and also the propaganda apparatus which became, during Napoleonic Wars, an advanced (and in some cases lethal) diplomatic weapon. Note that, in the forthcoming years the British security dogma was extended geographically to the East to protect the arising British interest in the Ottoman Empire.

THE INTERNATIONAL SECURITY SYSTEM OF THE POST-NAPOLEONIC ERA: THE CONGRESS SYSTEM
At the Congress of Vienna the great powers of Europe agreed to hold meetings in order to settle arising issues and to further enforce treaty clauses. Central theme of these tail-congresses was the introduction and enforcement of an international regulation mechanism for European affairs resembling somehow the League of Nations which was established a century later. Three such congresses were held in the period 1818-1822 known collectively as the Congress System.

The Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle
The first tail-congress was held in 1818 at Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen). The main issue of the congress was the withdrawal of the allied occupation army from France which was contributing to an unpopular profile for the King of France. The British considered Bourbon dynasty as a safety valve of great importance for checking both the revolutionary and reforming grassroots movements in France and at the same time the possibility of aggressive grand plans at the upper levels of the government and the society. As a consequence they agreed on the withdrawal of the allied army from France. Tsar Alexander raised also the issue of establishing an international military force to protect monarchic regimes against revolutionary actions. The argument of the Tsar was going further down to the establishment of constitutional rights for the people of Europe in the sense that the security offered to the monarchs by this international force would make it easier for them to introduce constitutional reforms. The British refused the idea of safeguarding central and eastern European powers against a serious inherent weakness which could be exploited (if the situation arose) to their benefit. Two more issues were also discussed: the slave trade and the problems caused to the Mediterranean trade by the Barbary pirates. Besides the wishful thinking discussions no concrete actions were decided on these issues. With reference to the second issue, there was a proposal by the Tsar to establish an international naval force in the Mediterranean to act against the pirates but the British rejected them since they did not want to weaken the freedom of action and the flexibility of their naval forces diplomacy putting part of them under international control.

The Congress of Troppau
The second tail-congress was held in Troppau (modern Opava) in Austrian Silesia, in 1820. This congress was called by Metternich in order to deal with the issue of uprisings in southern Europe which were caused by endemic problems of corruption, administrative inefficiency and autocratism characterizing the repressive regimes of Spain, Naples and the Ottoman Empire. Note at this point that Metternich was paying a particular attention to southern Europe for two reasons: he considered the Italian power complex after the Vienna Congress as belonging to the Austrian sphere of influence and also that the Ottoman Empire, in its European domains, was inhabited by predominantly slavic populations the uprising of which (in the context of the growing pan-slavic movement) could be easily extended to the Slavic populations of his empire (Czechs, Slovaks etc). Britain and France, although led by conservative governments (Britain by Torries), objected the idea of establishing an international anti-revolutionary force in Europe and as a consequence sent only observers to the congress. During this congress Metternich, with his diplomatic skills, succeeded to change the pro-reforming attitude of Tsar Alexander to an anti-revolutionary one. Austria, Prussia and Russia authorized Metternich to dispatch an Austrian army to Naples to suppress the revolution there. Austria’s campaign was successful but a plethora of revolutionaries fled the Holly Alliance terror imposed in Italy and moved to Spain making the revolutionary movement in the Iberia Peninsula more intense.

The Congress of Verona
The third tail-congress was held in 1822 in Verona. When this congress was taking place, revolutionary uprisings were gaining momentum in Spain, in Greece and in Latin America. Regarding the issue of Spain, the congress authorized France to send an army to suppress revolution there. Note that Spain was considered by the Holly Alliance as belonging to the sphere of influence of France. France dispatched an expeditionary force of 200.000 men which easily succeeded to re-impose Bourbon’s authority there and savagely suppress revolutionaries. Tsar Alexander proposed also to the Congress the dispatch of an international naval force to South America to deal with revolutionary movements there but his proposals were rejected because they were interfering with the British strategic dogma at two points: firstly the British opposed placing their naval forces under international control and secondly the strategic interests they possessed in this area. Note that during the first two decades of the 19th century the colonial system of Spain in Latin America was extremely weakened and in great disarray and at the same time the British economic influence in the area (Britain almost monopolized the trade during Napoleonic Wars) was rapidly increasing. Thus the British rejected the proposal and by non-offensive (neutral) tactics allowed for a quicker collapse of Spanish rule in Latin America. Regarding the third issue, the Greek revolution, Tsars’ policy in the past was to exploit religious and cultural ties with Greeks and Armenians to their benefits by the undercover (or non-official) support of the grand plans of Greeks (”Megali Idea”), some times (Catherine the Great) even flirting with the idea of a Greek Empire subordinate to them. On the other hand, during the last two tail-congresses (1820-1822) an understanding had been developed between Metternich and Alexander as to the significance of checking revolutionary activities in southern Europe and in particular in the Ottoman Empire. This understanding prevented Alexander from openly supporting Greek revolution in the Balkans. On the other hand, the need for anti-revolutionary actions in southern Balkans was not imminent since the Ottoman army was able for some time to handle this issue without assistance.

THE INITIATIVES OF BRITISH DIPLOMACY
British diplomacy, functioning in the context of the most advanced and stable socio-political system of Europe, was confronted with a highly unstable order in continental Europe which was inflicted by a multitude of complex and conflicting national, political, social and economic problems, narrow-sighted and incompetent leaders and backward constitutional and socio-economic institutions. In confronting the European socio-political chaos, British diplomacy exhibited a powerful geo-strategic vision and implemented clear, firmly oriented and well-studied policies which methodically, persistently and innovatively exploited to the British advantage the inherent weaknesses of the unstable (continental) European order and the equally unstable and short-sighted political (and not only) minds (of some) of its monarchs. Consequently, as early as in 1914 (and even earlier) the outcome of World War I could be expected with a high probability to be in favor of Britain, leaving only two fuzzy factors (strategic question marks) to influence the possibility of a negative for it outcome: (a) the geo-political and tactical exploitation of the hastily built naval power of Germany by the unstable and short-sighted political minds of Kaiser and general Lundendorff and (b) the interference of the American anti-colonial policies with the British interests in Europe and the Middle East. The first and most crucial strategic question mark reached a favorable for Britain answer with the naval battle of Jutland, in the summer of 1916, giving it the opportunity and enough time to tackle the second question mark (the theory of provocation of an American isolationism by staging or exploiting the horrific events of the battle of Somme to create a repulsive mood in the American public just before the Autumn 1916 presidential elections, see next section).
Sixty more years later, with the end of World War I, Europe experienced the complete collapse of the old order and the temporary triumph of nationalism which produced a plethora of national states, as a rule competing to each other, and at the same time repressing existing ethnic or religious minorities within their borders. This repression in some cases (Germany, Ottoman Empire and Russia) reached a climax when unprecedented ethnic cleansing policies and tactics were applied (the holocausts of Jews in Europe and of Christians in Asia Minor). The new order emerging in Europe and the Middle East after World War I was quite unstable and unable to offer to its citizens the sense of a sustainable security, a fact that led to World War II.
The British diplomatic initiatives undertaken during 1900-1914 were carefully studied. In 1902 Britain established a military alliance with Japan in order to secure its interests in the Pacific, especially in China, and possibly to counter-balance the geo-strategic ambitions of USA in this area.
By 1904 the Britain reached a strategic understanding (entente cordiale) with France by recognizing their colonial interests in northwestern Africa with the French, on the other hand, recognizing the British occupation of the strategic outpost of Egypt and the Suez Canal. Britain carefully avoided to upgrade this understanding to a military alliance with France which would force the British to offer military support to France in the case of a war. Three years later the British settled their differences with the Russians in the context of the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 which was heavily focused on Persia by establishing two spheres of influence there, a Russian one in the north of it and a British one in the south and eastern part of it (Beluchistan). This clause of the Anglo-Russian Convention secured two strategic interests of Britain: (a) its vital economic interests in Persia, that is the exploitation of the vast oil resources there in order to modernize and expand its naval forces and (b) its vital interests on the geo-strategic sea route connecting Egypt with India and the Far East.
During this period the British, being quite fearful of possible American reactions to their imperialistic policies, were engaged in secret discussions and secret agreements regarding European, Middle East and colonial affairs. By the end of the first decade of 20th century the British should have acquired an advanced and clear understanding of the anti-colonial and ‘open-sea’ attitudes of the American presidential circles and especially of Wilson who was elected president in 1912 and again in 1916.

THE BALANCE OF POWERS IN EUROPE AND THE ANGLO-GERMAN GEO-POLITICAL COMPETITION: 1900-1914
Britain’s diplomatic behavior towards Europe in the second half of 19th century was characterized as a ‘glorious isolation’. According to a proposed alternative consideration, Britain, during this period, was taking a wisely calculated distance from diplomatic European affairs waiting for the dust of the socio-political storm, which tormented continental Europe for more than fifty years, to come down before deciding for its next movements in the diplomatic chessboard. Britain’s strategic options had been already established and were guiding the careful steps of British diplomacy:



  1. UNOBSTRUCTED RULING OF THE SEAS

to further enhance and expand its colonial system (by introducing among other arguments the theory of ‘governing and governed nations’) and to strictly abstain from international discussions and agreements that might lead to the restriction of its hegemony over the seas and its colonial system.

  1. THE GOLDEN RULE OF MULTIPLE NAVAL ENGAGEMENT

to retain a naval superiority against even the worst case scenario by keeping a ready for war naval force at least equal to the combined naval forces of the second and third strongest naval power


  1. THE PROTECTION OF THE BELGIAN BARRIER

to consider the violation of Belgium’s integrity as a cause of war

  1. THE PROTECTION OF THE INTEGRITY OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE

  2. THE PROTECTION OF THE EGYPT-INDIA STRATEGIC SEA-ROUTE

in particular to protect Suez Canal and its vital and fast expanding economic interests in the Persian Gulf.
On the other hand, Britain would gain very little (or even lose) by being involved in European affairs, becoming part of the problem during a period in which the general geo-political trends were working to its favor:


  1. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire the national, social and political divisions were firmly rooted in a governing system which was inefficient and incapable of being adjusted to the new socio-economic realities with the internal order being in an advanced state of disarray. Furthermore, during the Austro-Prussian War the Empire proved to be militarily backward and incompetent. As a consequence this empire would have little chances to survive the socks of a long global war.

  2. The Russian Empire was tantalized by intensifying radical ideological movements and it was inflicted by continuous violence and insurrections organized by ideologically highly focused and persuasive radical circles with the authority of the regime (mainly of Tsar and his inner circle) continuously and seriously questioned. On the other hand Russia was humiliated during the Russo-Japanese War with its main naval forces being destroyed in the Pacific Ocean in 1905. The socks of a global and prolonged war would only accelerate and magnify internal problems by exposing more convincingly to its citizens the incompetence of its governing system and its backward military power. Furthermore, the incompetent and the ultra conservative aristocracy of Russia was imposing a suffocating order in the armed forces of the country which could not keep high the moral of the soldiers and exploit their fighting capabilities in the case they were faced with the extreme pressures of war with a morally and technically superior enemy.

  3. In the German Empire, although the general socio-economic trends were very dynamic (by 1913 it had become the most powerful economic power of Europe) and its armed forces (especially its naval ones) were in a phase of fast modernization and expansion, it was the negative aspects of the personality of its ruler and absolute decision maker (Wilhelm II) that would put in test and possibly counter-balance the positive trends of the country.


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