As 1901 dawned,
Britain's empire and its hold
on the rest of the world seemed secure. In regions beyond
direct British control - in the decaying empires of Morocco,
China, Persia (modern Iran) and Ottoman Turkey - Britain
enjoyed a form of 'empire on the cheap', having established
an unwritten supremacy.
However, there were also shadows
in the picture for Britain, whose supremacy was no longer
quite unquestioned. Besides the war in South Africa, from
the 1880s Britain had quarrelled with its main rivals in
Africa and the Middle and Far East. In the face of potential
threats from these countries, Britain had not only to administer
its colonies, but also to defend them.
In these circumstances senior figures within the British
government began to question the Prime Minister's policy
of 'masterly inactivity': Britain's increasing isolation
in the world was causing concern. At various points in 1901
Britain considered alliances with France, Russia, Japan,
the USA and Germany.
Anglo-German antagonism began to emerge in the last decades
of the 19th century. Increasingly, nationalists
in both saw their countries as diverging ideologically: Britain
was seen by German critics to have held to its liberal beliefs
(including free trade), whilst in Britain, the Conservative
administration installed in 1895 raised concerns about protectionist
economic policies, the navy and
Germany's growing commercial might.
|In 1884, 1894 and 1896, Germany sided in conflicts with
Britain's opponents, thus apparently bearing out the popular
view that it was too often ready to take advantage of Britain's
misfortunes. Yet a more widespread fear of a German threat
did not develop at senior political levels until 1902. At
bottom was the issue of whether British and German strategic
interests were compatible. As the American naval theorist
A.T. Mahan argued in 1902, to preserve its existence as a
world power Britain must command the approaches to Germany.
Germany's population was considerably greater than that of
Britain and in 1900 its regular army was over twice the size.
It was also a strong economic competitor.
Watch film of the Kaiser and Edward VII at Queen
Yet, although a proposed
commercial alliance with Germany effectively fizzled out
in the spring and summer of 1901, German imperial ambitions
were still relatively limited. The second German Navy Law
of 1900 alerted Britain to potential naval rivalry
with Germany, but in 1901 a complete breakdown in relations
was not inevitable.
After decades of Anglo-Russian rivalry in Asia, alarm persisted
among Britain's military planners in 1901. These fears were
not unfounded, because Russia was pursuing an expansionist
policy in Persia (now Iran), Afghanistan and Manchuria,
and also in Mongolia and China, just at the time when Britain's
armies were committed in South Africa, in Somaliland and
British analysts were concerned about the relative strength
of British and Russian armies, communications and military
spending. True, Russia's industrialisation lagged behind
that of Britain and other European countries, but its population
was almost equivalent to that of Britain, France and Germany
together: it was estimated that if Britain had to field
an army on the frontiers of India, it would be outnumbered
by twelve to one.
In response, Britain tried to cement old alliances with
the new Amir of Afghanistan, continued to sponsor exploration
and intelligence gathering in the belt of territories separating
Britain from Russia, and also tried to improve its own diplomatic
relations with Russia. Above all, however, Britain looked
to an alliance with Japan to
ease its position in Asia.