International tensions, 1875-90

Looking at relations between European powers and also at how Bismarck handled Russo-German relations. Try to evaluate Bismarck's successes and failures throughout.


"War in sight" crisis, 1875

France was discussing further army reforms and ordering more armaments

To Bismarck, this suggested they were preparing for war

So, Bismarck demanded an increase in the size of the army budget fromt he Reichstag by stirring up anti-French sentiment within the press

Germany accused France of preparing to attack Germany with the Pope's support

France, in turn, accused Germany of preparing for unprovoked war against France

The Russian Tsar (Alexander II) visited Bismarck and warned him to control German media

Queen Victoria sent a personal letter to Wilhelm I, urging him to put an end to Bismarck's "game"

These reactions showed Bismarck that only Austria were willing to support him in trouble and that the Dreikaiserbund of 1872 was thus meaningless

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The Eastern Question 1

Austria feared the rise of the nationalistic Balkan people, such as the Serbs and Bulgarians, as they seemed anxious to secure total independence and to enlarge their territories

Russia was interested in the Balkans for both geographical and religious reasons:

  • Geographically, the passage from the Black sea to the Mediterranean would only remain open if the Balkans remained in friendly hands
  • Religiously, their were many Orthodox Christians living in the Balkans, so Russia felt morally obligated to get involved

France was sympathetic towards nationalist movements in the Balkans, but not concerned with the area itself

However, France felt comfortable with propping up Turkish power in the interest of peace, but to make this more acceptable to the public opinion, France encouraged Turkey to reform and allow more self government in the Turkish empire.

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The Eastern Question 2

Britain was less tolerant as they feared Russian expansion in the Balkans would lead to a Russian presence in the Eastern mediterranean, which could disrupt trade routes and increase the likelihood of Russian expansion in the East. Therefore, Britain wanted to preserve the Ottoman Empire.

Germany was concerned with the territorial ambitions of Russia and Austria-Hungary as if the Balkan concerns came to a war between the two, germany would be forced to take sides

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The Balkan Crisis, 1878

1875: Revolt by the Christian Serbs in Herzegovina against Turkish rule

They were joined by Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro

1876: Serbia and Montenegro declare war on Turkey

Provokes Bulgarian rising which is put down by the Turks with complete ferocity

New Turkish Sultan tries to prevent intervention by announcing a new democratic constitution for everyone in his empire, but he refuses to disarm

1877: Russia declares war on Turkey due to failure to disarm

January 1878: Britain and Austria-Hungary intervene to stop Turkey taking Constantinople

British Pm (Disraeli) concerned with Russia's rapid advance

Austria worried that Serbia and Russia would be able to resist its power and they demand an armistice

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Treaty of San Stefano, 1878

A result of the end of the Balkan Crisis

Primarily dictated by Russia and was therefore very pro-Russian

The terms were:

  • An enlarged Serbia and Montenegro gained independence
  • Russia gained territory in Asia and Bessarabia, which was taken from Romania who received a ***** of Turkey in return
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina were granted home rule
  • A "Big Bulgaria" was created including the district of Macedonia, cutting Turkey off from its remaining possesions in the Balkans. It included many Greeks and Serbs as well as Bulgarians and was to be "advised" by Russia for two years
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The Congress of Berlin

Reasons for calling the congress:

  • Disraeli and Bismarck were concerned that the Treaty of San Stefano would make Bulgaria into a Russian puppet state
  • Bismarck was alarmed at the prospect of trouble between Austria-Hungary and Russia over Russia's new gains
  • Russia faced the possibility of war with Britain
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The Treaty of Berlin, 1878

  • Russia was allowed to keep Asian territory as Britain now had Cyprus to prevent further Russian growth
  • Complete independence of Serbia, Montenegro and Bessarabia
  • Big Bulgaria was split into 3:

1. Bulgaria with no access to the Mediterranean

2. Eastern Rumelia

3. Returned to Turkey

  • The Turkish Sultan promised reform to improve the condition of the Chirstians
  • Austria-Hungary were allowed to occupy but not annex Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as a ***** of land seperating Serbia from Montenegro

Peace settlement seemed very Pro-Austrian whilst making Bismarck seem like a peace lover. Unfavourable to Russia.

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The Dual Alliance, 1879

Bismarck wanted to strengthen his relationship with Austria-Hungary because his actions at Berlin could mean that Russia turned to France for an alliance

An alliance with Austria-Hungary would be popular int he Southern states following the Kulturkampf

Germany and Austria-Hungary agreed:

  • To help each other put in the event of an attack by Russia
  • Each would remain neutral if the other country was attacked by another European power (benevolent neutrality)

The implications of this were:

  • If France were to attack Germany alone, Austria-Hungary would remain neutral but if France and Russia attacked Germany together, Austria-Hungary would get involved
  • This alliance was key to german security
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Dreikaiserbund, 1881

Plans began in 1880 but 3 months before it was due to be signed, Alexander II was assassinated

The Treaty helped temporarily defuse some tension in the Balkans

Under the Dreikaiserbund:

  • Each of the three would remain neutral if one of teh three was involved in was with another country
  • Mutual consultation in Balkan affairs (Bismarck agreed that a "big Bulgaria" could potentially be recreated and when ready. Austria-Hungary could take control of Bosnia and Herzegovina when ready to do so)
  • Other agreements made at the Congress of Berlin should be upheld

Offered some security for Russia in case of a British naval attack in the North or Black Sea

Bismarck believed war between Austria-Hungary and Russia was much less likely

Austria-Hungary was reassured by Bismarck's support and this was made clear when BIsmarck stated that the Dreikaiserbund did not override the Dual Alliance

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Triple Alliance, 1882

France seized Tunis in North Africa, supported by Britain and Germany at Berlin because Britain wanted French support to block actions of Russia and Bismarck wanted Fracne to look away from Alsace-Lorraine

This angered Italy because they had probably been looking at taking Tunis themselves

They turned to Bismarck

Bismarck asked that they give uo their claim to Treiste and Trentino as the price for a triple alliance to protect themselves from France

The terms of the Triple Alliance were:

  • Germany and Austria-Hunagry would defend Italy if Italy were attacked by France
  • Italy would support Germany or Austria-Hungary if either were attacke dby Britain or France

In 1883, Romania joined, sealing off Russia's borders

Increased Germany's security but worsened relations with Russia

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Balkan Troubles 1885-7

At the Congress of Berlin, the creation of a "Big Bulgaria" had been rejected but in OCtober 1885, Prince Alexander of Bulgaria had united Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia

In 1886, following a failed Serbian attack, the union was reorganised

Russia, who were protectors fo Bulgaria, were angered by Alexander's independent action and abdicated him

In 1887, Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was elected as new Prince of Bulgaria

The following years saw a cooling in the relationship between Bulgaria and Russia meaning that Russia was looking for new client states

Serbia, which officially had Austrian protection, was looking increasingly to Russia, creating new tensions, both within the Balkans and between European powers

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Reinsurance Treaty, 1887 1

There were concerns about whether the Dreikaiserbund should be renewed that year

Some argued it was incompatible with Russia’s interests in the Balkans, where Austria was the main stumbling block to Russian expansion

In Germany, concerns were raised concerning Germany’s promises to Austria-Hungary in the dual alliance

However, Bismarck could not afford to let French-Russo relations get closer as that threatened Germany and Austria-Hungary

So, he started making secret negotiations with Russia even though many of these agreements were prejudicial towards Austria-Hungary

He also held back German investments, trying to force Russia to sign

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Reinsurance Treaty, 1887 2

Under the Reinsurance Treaty:

  • Russia should be allowed to be the prevailing influence in the Balkans
  • Both Germany and Russia would each remain neutral if the other became involved in war with another great power
  • The above clause would not apply if Germany attacked France, or Russia attacked Austria-Hungary

The secret treaty was to be renewed every 3 years, was a mark of Bismarck’s desperation. It’s secrecy was a mark of how difficult it had become to control the competing interests of the powers and avoid war.

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