Why didn't Britain stay neutral?

Discussions on all aspects of the First World War not covered in the other sections. Hosted by Terry Duncan.
glenn239
Member
Posts: 4564
Joined: 29 Apr 2005 01:20
Location: Ontario, Canada

Re: Why didn't Britain stay neutral?

Postby glenn239 » 12 Jun 2018 21:52

MarkN wrote: It was NOT British policy in 1870 to sign treaties with France and Prussia. Those Treaties were the tools by which the British government hoped to be able to keep two contradictory policies from clashing. Those two policies were to, firstly, uphold and remain honourable to existing Treaties to which Britain was already signed up to; and secondly, to avoid getting caught up in other states' conflicts. The underlying strategy to avoid foreign entanglements was to not sign Britain up to any further treaties and/or diplomatic committments - "splendid isolation". In respect of Belgium, perceived obligations to the 1839 Treaty were in direct contradiction to the objective set out in the second policy.


IIR, the specific case which drove the two treaties in 1870 were that if war were to break out on Belgian soil the warring parties might use each others' presence there as an excuse not to withdraw themselves, and sort of work into a defacto partion of Belgium between them via collusion.

Thus, when this dilemma surfaced in 1870, the British government came up with the twin Treaties as their way, their tools, to deter both Prussia and France from breaking their 1839 Treaty committments. If they could deter both from entering Belgium, they could maintain adherence to both their first policy objective AND the second.


The idea being that the neutrality of Belgium was more important to Britain in 1870 than favoring either France or Prussia, whereas in 1914 the opposite was the case - the friendship with France was paramount by that time.

Wind the clock forward to 1914 and recognise that the different faces around the Cabinet table had different underlying views to their predecessors. Whereas in 1870 the Cabinet collectively was able to agree to remain committed to the 1839 Treaty - setting precedence of the first policy over the second - the majority of the 1914 Cabinet was overtly willing to abrogate this responsibility in favour of remaining 'no war' compliant.


No, in 1914 the 1870 policy was not even considered as an option because the neutrality of Belgium was not the primary British interest.

In effect, the majority of the Cabinet had dropped the first policy (to honour the 1839 Treaty) completely and were wholly behind the second policy of not getting caught up in other states' conflicts. Whilst there were some obvious exceptions to this strategy, within the continental Europe context, the strategy for the second policy remained unchanged - don't get into any alliances and don't make any firm committments to foreigns states of any kind.


Had Grey advocated neutrality on the basis of Germany's respect for Belgium I think a significant slice of the cabinet would have adapted that viewpoint.

The Cabinet's collective mood only changed when it became clear that the Tories would support a motion in the House for war against Germany alongside France. At that point, late afternoon on 2nd August, they finally reverted to the 1870 position of reinstating precedence of the first policy over the second - mainly for selfish reasons of fear of losing their cushy Cabinet seats. By then, it was far too late to try and use the twin Treaties tool as Germany had already indicated its intent to ignore their obligations.


So the British became enthusiastic about the 1839 Treaty at the precise moment it became clear that Germany and not France would commit the violation....

Britain declared war on Germany after Germany ignored Britain's ultimatum to remove itself from Belgium. Britain declared war because it perceived its policy of remaining true to the 1839 Treaty was its primary national interest. Britain did not declare war for the Triple Entente's sake, nor did it declare war for France's sake.


Britain declared war on Germany in the end because Germany was at war with France.

There is no historical evidence to suggest that Britain would have ever declared war on Germany for Russia's sake which effectively neuters the for the Triple Entente theory. Indeed, the historical evidence demonstrates a willingness to throw Russia under the Teutonic bus.


I am at a loss how it can be imagined France would be neutral in a German-Russian war in 1914, which would be the pre-requisite for the - rather unlikely - scenario of Britain at war with Germany for Russia with France neutral. As this was the case, the British would never have been in a position where their formal call to support of a continental ally would be Russian and not French. Still, since Russia and France were both required to defeat Germany, the support of both of the partners was mandatory - if one is of the mind that the point of wars is to win them.


Return to “First World War”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: CommonCrawl [Bot]