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Third Republic 1871-1914 - External Affairs

"Happy is that country," says the old maxim, "which has no history" - whose course is so quiet, so uneventful, that it has nothing startling to record. For more than forty years France enjoyed great tranquillity so far as its relations with other nations were concerned. But the loss of Alsace and Lorraine rankled in the hearts of the French people. They longed to retaliate, and year after year they spoke of "the revenge" they hoped to take.

Meanwhile the Germanic Empire, guided by Bismarck, the ever-vigilant " Iron Chancellor," negotiated a mutually protective compact with Austria and Italy, known as the Triple Alliance of 1882. Later the German army was reorganized and brought to the highest possible efficiency. To meet that formidable coalition, which threatened to isolate her, France sought and gained the friendship of Russia in 1894. The "Entente Cordiale" [Cordial Understanding] of these two Powers expanded, when England joined it in 1907, into the "Triple Entente" [Triple Understanding].

The Franco-German War marked a turning-point in the history of the exterior policy of France as distinct as does the fall of the ancient monarchy or the end of the Napoleonic epoch. With the disappearance of the Second Empire, by its own fault, on the field of Sedan in September 1870, followed in the early months of 1871 by the proclamation of the German empire at Versailles and the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine under the treaty of peace of Franfort, France descended from its primacy among the nations of continental Europe, which it had gradually acquired in the balf-century subsequent to Waterloo.

It was the design of Bismarck that united Germany, which had been finally established under his direction by the war of 1870, should take the place hitherto occupied by France in Europe. The situation of France in 1871 in no wise resembled that after the French defeat of 1815, when the First Empire, issue of the Revolution, had been upset by a coalition of the European monarchies which brought back and supported on his restored throne the legitimate heir to the French crown.

In 1871 the Republic was founded in isolation. France was without allies, and outside its frontiers the form of its executive government was a matter of interest only to its German conquerors. Bismarck desired that France should remain isolated in Europe and divided at home. He thought that the Republican form of government would best serve these ends. The revolutionary tradition of France would, under a Republic, keep aloof the monarchies of Europe, whereas, in the words of the German ambassador at Paris, a "monarchy would strengthen France and place her in a better position to make alliances and would threaten our allianes." At the same time Bismarck counted on governmental instability under a Republic to bring about domestic disorganization wbicb would so disintegrate the French nation as to render it unformidable as a foe and ineffective as an ally.

The Franco-German War thus produced a situation unprecedented in the mutual relations of two great European powers. From that situation resulted all the exterior policy of France, for a whole generation, oolonial as well as foreign. In 1875 Germany saw France in possession of a constitution which gave promise of durability if not of permanence. German opinion had already been perturbed by the facility and speed with which France had paid off the colossal war indemnity exacted by the conqueror, thus giving proof of the inexhaustible resources of the country and of its powers of recuperation.

Many Republicans considered that the monarchists, whom they had turned out, favored the support of Russia not only as a defence against Germany, which was not likely to be effective so long as a friendly uncle and nephew were reigning at Berlin and at St Petersburg respectively, but also as a possible means of facilitating a monarchical restoration in France.

The treaty of Berlin, which took the place of the treaty of San Stefano, was the ruin of Russian hopes. It was attributed to the support given by Bismarck to the anti-Russian policy of England and Austria at the congress, the German chancellor having previously discouraged the project of an alliance between Russia and Germany. The consequence was that the tsar withdrew from the Dreikaiserbund, and Germany, finding the support of Austria inadequate for its purposes, sought an understanding with Italy. Hence arose the Triple Alliance of 1882, which was the work of Bismarck, who thus became eventually the author of the Franco- Russian alliance, which was rather a sedative for the nervous temperament of the French than a remedy necessary for their protection.

In 1875 the Interests of England in Egypt, which had hitherto been considered inferior to those of France, gained a superiority owing to the purchase by the British government of the shares of the khédive Ismail in the Suez Canal. Whatever rivalry there may have been between England and France, they had to present a united front to the pretensions of Ismail, whose prodigalities made him impatient of the control which they exercised over his finances.

In September 1881 France categorically invited the British government to join France in a military intervention to oppose any interference which the Porte might attempt, and the two powers each sent a warship to Alexandria. This did not prevent a massacre of Europeans there on the 11th of June, 1882, the khédive being now in the hands of the military party under Arabi. On the 11th of July the English fleet bombarded Alexandria, the French ships in anticipation of that action having departed the previous day.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:58:40 ZULU