Evaluate the successes and failures of German foreign policy between 1871 and 1914



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Tamer Khedr

Evaluate the successes and failures of German foreign policy between 1871 and 1914.

Germany had a similar foreign policy between the years 1871 and 1914. Starting with the days of Kaiser Wilhelm I and his Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and all the way to Kaiser Wilhelm II and Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, Germany carried some similarities in foreign policy. Between the years of 1871 and 1914, Germany appeared to have three main objectives that directed her foreign policy. Firstly, Germany sought to maintain an alliance between her and two other countries. Secondly, Germany sought to keep France diplomatically isolated from the rest of Europe. Thirdly, Germany sought to increase her importance in world affairs This essay will now evaluate the successes and failures of German foreign policy between 1871 and 1914.

Firstly, a major goal of German foreign policy was creating and maintaining an alliance between Germany and two other countries. The Germans sought to achieve this goal through the following chain of alliances: the 'Dreikaiserbund' in 1873 and 1881 with Austria and Russia, the Dual alliance in 1879 with Austria, the Reinsurance Treaty in 1887 with Russia, the Triple Alliance in 1882 between with Austria and Italy and finally an Anglo-German alliance. The Germans were only successful in maintaining the Dual Alliance all the way until 1914. However, the Germans failed to maintain all of the other alliances until the Great War. First of all, the Dreikaiserbund collapsed in 1878 following the Russo-Turkish war and the Congress of Berlin. Then even though the alliance was renewed in 1881, Austria and Russia constantly disagreed over matters in the Balkans and so the alliance collapsed again in 1887. Secondly, the secret Reinsurance Treaty with Russia collapsed in 1890 as the Wilhelm II and Caprivi neglected renewing it. Thirdly, the attempts made by Wilhelm II to sign an alliance with Britain failed as well as the Germans were unwilling to compromise and so Britain was driven away from the alliance by Germany's aggressive policies. Lastly, even the Triple Alliance failed in 1914, when Italy withdrew from the alliance after they refused to take part in an offensive war. Therefore, by the Great War, Germany remained with a single ally, Austria.

Another major goal in German foreign policy between 1871 and 1914 was keeping France diplomatically isolated. Germany sought to deprive France from any potential allies, and so the Germans started conducting a series of alliance to isolate France. Under the Chancellorship of Bismarck, Germany allied with Austria, Russia, and Italy in order to keep France isolated. In addition, Kaiser Wilhelm sought to isolate France by depriving her from her allies during the Moroccan Crisis of 1905. The series of alliances conducted under Bismarck's reign were successful in isolating France. Until 1892; France had no allies, whereas Germany was in the Triple Alliance with Austria and Italy. However, Germany failed to carry on this goal of their foreign policy after Bismarck as France allied with Russia in 1892 following Germany's failure to renew the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia. Furthermore, France was able to sign the Entente Cordiale with Britain in 1904. However, even though Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II attempted to break France's alliance with Britain in the Moroccan Crisis of 1905 by supporting Morocco's independence, Germany still failed and instead she strengthened the power of the Entente Cordiale. Therefore, by 1905 France had a strong alliance with Britain which was expanded in 1907 into the Triple Entente to include Russia.

Also, Germany's foreign policy was aimed at making Germany an important power in world affairs. Germany constantly tried to interfere in world affairs in order to build her self an image as a powerful nation. Wilhelm II's policy of weltmacht, world power, entitled Germany to a strong navy and a colonial empire. Evidence of weltmacht is found in the naval and colonial expansions, the September Program and the Moroccan Crisis of 1911. Firstly, the Moroccan Crisis of 1911 was unsuccessful as Wilhelm II was given a small part of the French Congo, unlike what he had hoped. In addition, he strengthened French-Britain relations. Secondly, Germany's September Program of 1914 showed how Britain wanted to dominate world affairs through the common costume union called the mitteleuropa which was to be led by Germany and Austria. However, this plan also failed as Germany lost the war and could not execute it. On the other hand, Germany succeeded in expanding her empire. The Germans acquired land that was 5 times the size of the Reich in just a couple of years. However, this policy was not effective as most of the colonies Bismarck and Wilhelm II gained were mostly deserts that were worthless. So the colonies proved to be costly as the money spent on them was way less than the profits they generated. Meanwhile, the naval expansion was successful as Germany was able to build the second strongest navy in the world despite Britain's constant attempts to stop her, especially in 1912 during the Haldane mission and the Naval Holiday. However, the naval expansion created tension between Germany and Britain that caused Britain to become closer to her allies and hence the Anglo-French Naval agreements of 1912 were conducted. Also, Germany was never able to equate to the size and power of the British army and started funneling the money spent on the navy to the army.

In conclusion, between 1871 and 1914, Germany failed to fulfill most of her foreign policy objectives. While it is true that Germany managed to fulfill her foreign policies during the time of Bismarck as he was able to isolate France through his alliance system that guaranteed Germany an alliance with Austria and Italy, successors of Bismarck failed to carry on his success. After 1890, France was able to create an alliance network herself and her longtime isolation, while Germany lost her alliances with Russia and Italy. In the meantime, Germany managed to fulfill her weltmacht policy as she was able to create a powerful navy and a colonial empire; however that barely helped Germany as most of her colonies were worthless.



Word Count: 999


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