Bismarcks Foreign Policy

  • Created by: Louise
  • Created on: 27-04-13 11:40

Foreign Policy Aims of Germany 1871

In 1871, Bismarck had completed German Unification. Bismarck had succeeded in the emergence of a Prussian dominated Germany. In doing so, he had carried out an agressive and expansionist foreign policy:

  • Defeated Austria - Austrian Empire had wanted to presve what was left of its empire and made a compramise with Hungary to create the Austro-Hungarian Empire
  • Defeated France - Emperor of France had been overthrown as a result of their defeat. France had lost Alsace-Lorraine to Germany and had been forced to pay an indemnity to Germany and support a German army of occupation until it was paid

Bismarck wanted to preserve the Reich, rather than gaining more.

He knew:

  • France would want revenge
  • Austria-Hungary was looking towards the Balkans to establish her interest
  • Russia also had an interest in Balkans (panslavism) and the Far East
  • Britain was going through an isolationist phase in her foreign policy
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Foreign Policy Aims of Russia 1870

Defeat in the Crimea in the 1850's had curbed her attempts to move into the Balkans. Her attentian turned to Central Asia and the Far East, where she had some success. Foreign reaction to Russia in this area was small, except from Britain who saw Russia as a threat to her trade with China and control of India.

By 1870's Tsar Alexander had become a supporter of the idea of Panslavism. Slavophile movement to preserve "Holy Russia" Russia thought of herself as the protector of the Slavs. This lead a new focus on the Balkans from the 1870's. She announced intention to place a naval fleet in the Black Sea - Supported by Germany.

  • Russia had been humiliated in the Crimean War
  • Russia wanted to establish her authority as a Great Power
  • Russia was aware of the limitations of her Military Power
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Bismarcks Aims

Bismarck had unified Germany but in the process humiliated France and Austria with defeat.

Main aim - Consolidate the German Empire, prevent any external threat:

  • Keep France isloated, a weakened state unable to seek revenge, without allies France didn't pose a threat
  • Wanted to prevent war between Austria and Russia in the balkans, either would provide an ally for France. Germany feared encirclement, having to fight a war on two fronts. 
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French Indemnity

Treaty of Frankfurt which ended the Franco-Prussian war.

  • Germany seized Alsace Lorraine
  • France was given the task of payin g off an indemnity of £200 million
  • An army of occupation was kept in France until the amount was fully paid

New French Republican government under Theirs appealed to the patriotism of wealthy Frenchmen to pay the indemnity quickly. By 1873 the German army was forcd to leave:

  • Aroused futher anti-German feeling in France
  • Thirs was regarded as a French hero and hoped were raised to the return of A;lsace Lorraine
  • The Repub;ican government began to modernised the French army as well as introduce compulsory military service
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Dreikaiserbund 1873

Bismarck also wanted to appear as a man of peace to reassure potential allies. He used his friendship with the German Kaiser, Austrian Emperor and Russian Tsar to create the Dreikaiserbund agreement. The agreement was vague:

  • The three rulers ecprssed their desire to stand together in the interstes of monarchial solidarity against republicanism and socialism. 
  • They stated their wish to avoid war over Austrian and Russian differences.
  • They promised to consult togther on future issues to uphold peace and stability

For Bismarck it was a way of isolating France and securing Germanys borders. It also nheld out the hope that Austria and Russia would not go to war over the Balkans. But the agreement was vague, provided a deceptive veil of unity which wouldn't last.

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War in Sight Crisis 1875

The French government in 1873, did not improve relations with its right-wing procatholic stance, at the time which Germany had the policy of Kulturkampf.

Bismarck was alarmed by French army reforms and military expansion,he demanded an increase in army spending in the Reichstag and used the press to create an Anti-French mood and demands for a "defensive" war. The French resopnded in a similar way and both Russia and Britain had to step in to warn Bismarck to back down.

The crisis was significant as it showed to meaning less of the Drekaiserbund. It also demonstrated that Austria was the only power prepared to stand by Germany. It showed that Britain France and Russia were able to cooperate which threatened Bismarck

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The Eastern Question

Decline of ottoman empire in the Balkans caused the eastern question. Slavs in Balkans were keen to get independance from Turk Empire.

This threatened the peace of Europe due to interests of Russia and Austria Hungary

  • Austria-Hungarian Empire - Worried the rise of an independant serbs would encourage rebellion among the large groups of Slavs in their own empire.
  • Russia - Keen to exert influence in the Balkans as to gain access to the Mediterranean. Pan-Slavism movement in Russia believed they had a duty to protect fellow Slavs
  • Britain -was worried that Russian expansion would threaten trade routes and Britains Empire and lead to Russian expansion in asia.
  • Germany - Concerned with Austro-Russian rivalry in the Balkans, would force Germany to pick sides and would provide France with an ally
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Balkan Crisis 1878

Serbs in Herzegovina revolted against turkish rule. Bosnia, Serbia, Montengro and Russia declared war on turkey in 1876. Russian army had sucess. However Britain and Austria intervened and demanded an armistace. Russia unwilling to risk the combined opposition of Turkey, Britain and Austria and ended the war.

Russia was in a strong position to dictate Peace terms in the Treaty of San Stefano:

  • An enlarged Serbia and Montenegro gained independance from the Ottoman Empire
  • Russia enlarged territorally at the expense of Romania.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina was given self rule from the Turks.
  • A "Big Bulgaria" was created which would become a satellite of Russia and help provide her with access to the Mediterranean.

Treaty caused alarm amongst the Great Powers as it allowed Russia to dominate the Balkans. Britain and Austria were concerned, as well as Bismarck at potential conflict over the Balskans.

Russia was pursuaded to accept a Great Power conference on the issue.

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Congress of Berlin 1878

Bismarck was able to portray himself as a man of peace, acting above personal interest in the negotiations. Main aim was to limit Russian gains from the San Stefano treaty.

Terms of the Berlin Congress:

  • Independance of Serbia and Montenegro were upheld
  • Big Bulgaria was reduced in size, cut in three. 
  • Russia kept her Asian conquests but Britain also gained Cyprus from Turkey
  • Austria-Hungary allowed to occupy but not annex Bosnia.
  • Ottoman Sultan promised reforms 
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Successes of the Congress for Bismarck


  • Short Term - Bismarck was seen as securing peace. Germany - a peace loving nation


  • Russia held Germany responsible for pro-Austrian settlement at Berlin. Increased tension
  • The Congress didn't settle anything in the Balkans
  • Bismarck ahd encouraged Serbian Nationalism - by giving them independance
  • Austria wasn't totally satisfied - concerned with increased power of Serbia. 

Germany and Bismarck earned prestige from the congress. But in the long term it increased tensions, gave rise to a threatening Serbian Nationalism and pushed Germany closer to Austria. 

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Dual Alliance 1879

Bismarcks Motives - after angering Russia at the congress of Berlin (possible ally of France) he needed to strengthen Germanys position with Austria. It would be popular with the Catholic Germans (in the south) had previously been alienated by Kulturkampf. More popular with Germans than an alliance with Russia, due to links of language and culture. 

Terms - Germany and Austria-Hungary would help each other in case of an attack by Russia. Both would remain neutral if they were attacked by another European power.

Consequences - Dual Alliance became the centrepiece of Grman diplomacy. It seems Bismarck however thought of it as a temporary solution and didnt expect it to be the foundation of future policy. Criticisms:

  • Didn't give Germany aid in case of French Attack, Austria would remain neutral
  • Isolated Russia - would drive her into alliances with other countries
  • By allying with Austria, Germany had tied herself to the weakest of powers, it would also draw Germany into areas of little interest (Balkans)
  • Secret Alliance -bred suspicion and increased tension. Soon other European powers would follow suit and build alliances, leading to a divided Europe.
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Dreikaiserbund 1881

Russia feared isolation after the Dual Alliance and in 1880, negotiations began to renew the Dreikaiserbund. 

Agreed that:

  • Each power would remain neutral if attacked by a fourth power
  • There would be mutual consultation on the Balkans
  • The terms of the Congress of Berlin should be upheld


  • Bismarck was happy that an Austrian-Russian war in the Balkans was less likely and that he could act as a peacmaker between them
  • German protection against France was boosted by the fact that she could not be attacked by a Franco-Russian combination. 
  • Austria were pleased as Bismarck stated that the agreement did not override the Dual Alliance and Austria right to annex Bosnia in the future.
  • It offered Russia security from a British naval attack in the North or Black Sea.
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Triple Alliance 1882

Bismarck still concerned with the prospcts of a Franco-Russian alliance. Italy were angered by the French (acquisition of Tunis in Africa) and so turned to Bismarck. Italy joined the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria. 


  • Germany and Austria would protect Italy from a French Attack
  • Italy would hekp both other nations if attacked by two other Great Powers
  • Italy was not required to fight against Britain.


  • Triple Alliance futher secured Germany's borders as well as increasing her security
  • Germany had gained the services of another deeply-French ally (Italy)
  • Bismarck felt so secure he began accumulating colonies for Germany in Africa
  • Alliance was complicated, defensive and was no guarantee of peace.
  • Germany had futher isolated Russia as well as increasing the likelihood of trouble in the Balkans.
  • Bismarck had tied Germany to another weak power
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Reinsurance Treaty 1887

In 1885, crisis in Bulgaria, Russia forced the independant King Alexander to abdicate. Replaced by a more pro-Russian monarch, memories of Big Bulgaria were stirred. Increased likelihood of Russia differences in the Balkans. Placed strain on the Dreikaiserbund. This led to the secret Reinsurance treaty between Russia and Germany.


  • Russia was allowed to have dominant influence in the Balkans.
  • Germany and Russia would remain neutral if any was involved in a war with another Great Power. Didn't apply if Germany attacked France or Russia attacked Austria.
  • Treaty was to be renewed every three years.


  • Germany could decide if she wanted to get involved in a war involving Great Powers.
  • Was not compatible with Germanys Dual Alliance with Austria.
  • Didnt really improve Russo-German relations. Bismarck refused an international loan in 1887 and instead Russia turned to France.
  • Secrecy highlighted desperation of Bismarck, struggling to hold alliances together
  • After Bismarcks fall, the Kaiser chose not to renew the Treaty
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Bismarcks Foreign Policy - Successful

  • In the short term Bismarck was successful, Germany enjoyed 20 years of peace and was able to become Europes dominant industrial nation.
  • Bismarck was able to prevent a Franco-Russian alliance. He was skillful in keeping France isolated and avoidng a Austro-Russian war over the Balkans.
  • Bismarck was constantly able to improvise, control and repair his agreements.
  • Bismarck knew where to draw the line, his policies were about consolidating Germany rather than expanding it. 
  • It was not Bismarck but his successors who pushed Germany into a world of war
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Bismarcks Foreign Policy - Failure

  • Arguably Bismarcks biggest failing was his creation of a complex and dangerous alliance system. Many of the alliances contradicted each other. His successors were unable to work within this system
  • Bismarcks diplomacy at Berlin favoured Austria and strained German-Russian relations. In the long term this would be disatrous for Germany who would be dragged into Austrian affairs in the Balkans, where she had no interest.
  • Congress of Berlin was unsuccessful in the long term. It shelved rather than solved problems in the Balkans, increasing tensions, weakening Russo-German relations and increasing Serbian Nationalism
  • Allied with two of the weakest Great Powers in Europe. Bismarck had hardly strengthened Germany security
  • Aliance system through secrecy had built up suspicions and insecurity within other powers, leading them to seek alliances
  • Dreikaiserbund a contradictory failure. Pointless trying to improve Russian and Austrian relations, terms were vague and did little to improve German security
  • France and Russia arguably pushed into alliance by Bismarcks pro-Austrian policy
  • Bismarck began to expand Germany slowly (Colonies in Africa) this lead to Wilhelms II weltpolitik and want for a world power status
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Bismarcks Foreign Policy - Conclusion

Successful in the sort term yet in the long term was disastrous. It ultimately isolated and allienated Russia with Bismarcks pro-Austrian policy leading Russia to seek alliance with others (France?) Nothing was done to resolve the problems of the Balkans. Bismarcks secret alliance system built suspicion amonst other Powers. 

Bismarck was facing many difficulties, long term success was arguably impossible given the situation of Europe. Bismarck was actually trying to avoid war rather than encouraging tension, expanding Germany by agression and interfering in Foreign Policy like Kaiser Wilhelm II would begin to do.

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