A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 25


her and France. That a rapprochement was taking place became more apparent every day, In 1891 the French channel fleet visited Kronstadt, where it received an ovation; two years later a Russian squadron paid a return visit to Toulon, where its reception was even more enthusiastic. Alexander III died in 1894, when he was succeeded by the third of the tsar-idealists, Nicholas II; next year an alliance between France and Russia became an accomplished though not a published fact, the existence of which was acknowledged and even emphasised by somewhat ostentatious displays of mutual good will in the two following years. Germany can hardly be reproached if the conviction was implanted, and grew ever stronger, that hostility to her was the bond between the two Powers, otherwise so inappropriately yoked together, which lay on her western and eastern marches.

There could be no question about the solidarity of the interests of the two Central Powers, Germany and Austria. If they broke with each other, neither would be secure against attack by one, or, more probably, two hostile Powers; while they stood together, holding strategically the interior lines, the risk of attacking them would be too great to be undertaken lightly. And at the same time they had no clashing interests, and no material divergencies of political sentiment such as those which made a firmly rooted friendship so difficult between a typically autocratic and a typically democratic state. By attaching Italy to themselves they had gained an additional security in relation at least to France. On the other hand, concord between Russia and France gave to each security against aggression by the Central Powers. An equilibrium was established simply because the issue of an armed conflict would be too doubtful — the more because no one was able to gauge the real strength of Russia.

At the same time the isolation of Great Britain was complete, nor had she any desire that it should be otherwise. She was in possession or occupation of the greater and better part of so much of the world as had not been occupied by Europeans before the middle of the 18th century, a position from which no one could hope to oust her while her fleets commanded the ocean highways; those fleets were an impassable bulwark except where their place was taken by the all but impassable mountains of the Indian frontier, or where her only neighbour was the

← 24   ·   25   ·   26 →
(page index)