Whether Britain’s involvement in the World War I was complete consequence of her ententes with Russia and France is debateable as there were various other factors influencing the war. Diverse historians believe that it was due to the ententes that Britain declared war. In 1904, the Entente Cordial was signed between Britain and France, and shortly in 1907, the Triple Entente signed Russia, France, and Britain together uniting them in case of war. Many historians have suggested that Britain entered into the ententes due to the rising apparent ‘power’ of Germany.
It seems to reveal that the British seemed to have forced themselves into an entente with France due to the economic and industrial pressure, which Germany had indirectly placed on her. This emphasises the fact that Britain seemed to take the Germanic threat seriously enough to push her into the ententes with France and Russia, so why then would she not fully back up her allies against her rivals, ultimately suggesting that the British where wholly prepared to attack her antagonists by signing the ententes in 1904 and 1907. K. M.
Wilson states ‘the entente, had been made because Britain was unable any longer to maintain unaided her position in the world against the competition which she faced’, thus illuminating the idea further. The idea of the British ‘Splendid Isolation’ springs to mind when suggesting that the British were anxious of the Franco-Russian alliance, signed in 1894. The alliance was seen to ineffectively, weaken the British world dominance. It therefore propelled her into negotiations with the Germany considering future coalitions, and eventually leading into an alliance with Japan in 1902.
The alliance of her two most likely opponents at the time meant a dangerous shift in the balance of power. French neutrality was essential before the British fleet could be sent through the Dardenelles to Constantinople. The threat of a war with France and Russia seems to be a likely reason in which Britain seemed eager to find an ally. At the price of holding the position of world dominance, she had to agree to support France and eventually Russia during the course of war, which ultimately leads her to declare war in 1914 on Germany, and Austria-Hungary.
It becomes evident in the Moroccan crisis, about the immense importance of the ententes with France to the British. The Germanic people used the crisis in 1905 to display a direct military challenge to the ententes, as it was a conceivable deliberate attempt by Germany to test and break the entente. However, Britain offered diplomatic support to France and put political pressure on Germany to reach an agreement with France over Morocco. The entente was tested again in April 1911. The Germanic people had dispatched the gunboat ‘Panther’ to seize a Moroccan port in response to France’s march into Morocco.
Lloyd George made a speech in strong support of the entente stating ‘peace at any price would be a humiliation intolerable for a great country like ours to endure’, highlighting further the fact that Britain were prepared to go to war with Germany over the issue. The handling of both crises by the British showed that she was prepared to stand by France so the entente seems to have been important as a reason for the declaration of war. However, contradicting the views, evidence has suggested that other factors were the cause of war in 1914, other than Britain’s alliance with France and Russia.
The entente itself can be viewed from a different perspective, that it was just a ‘friendly’ agreement rather than a promise to back up each other during the course of war. Britain was never obliged to fight on behalf of the two countries. Numerous historians have questioned why Britain hesitated when Germany declared war on France, on 3rd August 1914. In addition, if the entente was a consequence of Britain’s declaration of war why then did she have wait to until Belgium was invaded to declare war.
Thus showing the vulnerability of the entente and that Britain considered herself to be aloof from Russia and France. When it seemed that the Germanic power was threatening the British dominance, the fear and insecurity seemed to be highlighted in the British people, press, and media. P. Hayes (Modern British Foreign Policy-The twentieth century 1890-1939) states ‘Britain became involved because it was the consensus of opinion that her interests and the balance of power were threatened by Germany’.
The introduction of the British naval rule were set to safeguard the British from any threats as a world power, but as a clear defiance to this the Germans launched the Weltpolitik in 1897, threatening Britain. It is implied that Britain joined the ententes due to her self- interests; to defend her colonies against her rival- Germany, as the alliance system between France, Russia, and Britain surrounded Germany shifting the balance of power, blurring temporarily the prospects of war.
The increasing fear of Germany is illustrated in a memo by the German Ambassador in December 1904, ‘up till now England has maintained no fleet in home waters equal to the German one’. Again the British fear, and anxiety is depicted by Robert Wolfson and John Laver who state that ‘… Britain were considerably alarmed by Germany’s expansion in the late nineteenth century’… Thus revealing to like-minded historians that Britain’s entry into the war was not due solely to her ententes but also due to her jealousy, and fear of Germany.
It can be explained also that because of the dislike in the concept of a German naval base on the Atlantic coast was why the British intervened in the Agadir Crisis of Morocco in 1911, not because of the high value of the entente to Britain. If seen from this perspective it can be said that the declaration of war was due to the Germanic fear and insecurity. Diverse historians have also suggested that the reason why Britain entered the war was for it to act as a ‘smoke-screen’ disguising her internal problems and a possible civil war.
The Suffragettes movement, campaigning for votes for young women became increasingly violent from 1905 when war was declared according to the historian Donald Read ‘… the suffragettes quickly suspended their agitation. This saved them from continuing along an increasingly dangerous futile course’. Thus underlining the danger in which Britain was placed internally so war although potentially dangerous was used to divert an impending threat of civil war. ‘Defending the valiant little Belgium’ was what the British claimed to be doing when declaring war on Germany in 1914.
The hesitation of Britain whilst entering the war seemed to suggest, to many historians that the entente was not the primary motive of entering the war; it reveals that Belgium seemed of a more important reason of why she should enter the war in 1914. The invasion of Belgium by Germany was used to shift public support for the war against Germany and Austria-Hungary. In 1914, a demonstration was held in Trafalgar Square against war, which they perceived was for the sake of Russia and France. In addition, the debate divided political parties in the Parliament.
After discovering that Germany was threatening to invade Belgium, the public mood took a dramatic change. Thus underlining the importance of Belgium neutrality rather than the importance of the ententes again stressed in a speech by Lloyd George in 1915, ‘We are bound by honourable obligations to defend the independence, the liberty, the integrity of a small neighbour that has always lived peacefully’. Belgium was not only a country in which Britain had to protect its neutrality, it was also a way in which if Germany invaded could launch a naval attack on the British, therefore British interests were included here.
It can also be insinuated that Britain was afraid of implications of a French defeat, which could leave an incredibly powerful Germany suggesting a reason for why Britain declared war. Asquith reflects this when he writes to Ventia Stanley explaining to her that it would be against British interests for France to be destroyed as a power. This is implicated again when the historian B. Gilbert emphasises that ‘the implications for Britain of a defeated, bloodied, and pauperised France…. were too terrible to contemplate’. The conclusions in which various historians have concluded vary at different lengths.
Particular historians will claim that France and Russia was the main reason for why Britain declared war in 1914 but certain historians will state that various other factors influenced Britain’s decision for war. However, selected historians believe that other factors are equally important as the ententes in Britain’s declaration of war. One can only speculate that if the ententes were not signed would there have been war in 1914 or go on further to convey that would Britain be in the war. With or without ententes the situation in Europe was reaching a breaking point, a point in which a war would perhaps have shattered the ‘peace’.
As numerous historians have, the balance of evidence for both aspects of an argument can be tilted. Due to this when viewing historic sources one must be sceptical of the true message of the source, as it may be concealed. To conclude, various historians believe that the declaration of war is not solely a result of her ententes as other factors influenced it. By looking at the situation in Europe whether the ententes were signed or not there would have been an outbreak of war. Therefore, war was not a complete consequence of the alliance systems.