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Why and to what extent did Britain abandon Splendid Isolation under the Conservatives

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Jenny Mason Why and to what extent did Britain abandon Splendid Isolation under the Conservatives From 1895 to 1900 Britain continued the policy of 'splendid isolation'. This policy was started by Lord Salisbury in his previous government of 1886-92; Salisbury was more concerned with affairs out of Europe then becoming entangled in the Bisamarkian alliance system. Britain could afford to follow the policy of 'splendid isolation' because of her naval supremacy. However 'splendid isolation' is a misleading term as it was not that Britain was deliberately refusing to have anything to do with the rest of the world as she signed the Mediterranean Agreements and negotiated boundary settlements in Africa. Yet in a sense Britain was isolated as Salisbury kept Britain aloof from binding alliances in case he committed her to military action. When Salisbury came to power again in 1895 important changes had taken place and the two countries he had most feared, France and Russia had signed an alliance with each other and also in 1894 the Triple Alliance had been formed which consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy; this left Britain the only major European country not associated in an alliance bloc. ...read more.


Naval rivalry later became the main cause of Anglo-German friction. Salisbury at last gave up his Foreign Office in October 1900 and Lord Lansdowne took his place. Lansdowne like Chamberlain was in favour of a more positive approach to Britain finding an ally. In 1900 the matter of Britain finding an ally became urgent as Russian power in northern China continued to grow. By the end of 1900 Russian troops occupied the northern part of Manchuria and in January 1901 details of a Russo-Chinese agreement became known which meant that in practice Manchuria was now a part of Russia. This made Lansdowne determined to form some sort of alliance to check Russian ambitions. Lansdowne firstly turned towards Germany where he hoped for joint Anglo-German action under the Yangtze Agreement. However Germany refused to co-operate, she was happy for Russia to be occupied in Manchuria as it kept them out of the Balkans where they might clash with her ally, Austria-Hungary. This was another failed attempt for Britain to obtain a formal agreement with Germany; Germany was convinced that Britain would not be able to find allies elsewhere so was not worried about negative alliances towards her. ...read more.


In February 1904 the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese war made an agreement more urgent and speeded up the final negotiations. The Anglo-French Entente Cordiale agreed that France would give Britain a free hand in Egypt and Sudan and Britain would recognise French interests in Morocco. France also gave up her claim to the Newfoundland coast in exchange for land in Gambia. The Entente Cordiale had the desired effect of limiting the Russo-Japanese war yet it was a just a settling of differences not a military alliance. However the German Kaiser began to view the Entente as an anti-German move and announced that Germany too had interests in Morocco. This was a challenge to the new Entente and gradually pushed Britain into closer commitment to France and away from the German camp. By 1905 when the conservatives were voted out of government Britain had gone from a country which followed a policy of 'splendid isolation' to a country with alliances. During this time the whole balance of power in Europe had shifted and Europe had also become divided into two hostile camps where Britain's previous 'splendid isolation' would have been considered more of a 'dangerous isolation'. Yet under conservative rule of Salisbury and Lansdowne Britain had formed alliances with Japan and France this had been a major u-turn in British foreign policy and one of the conservative's better moves. ...read more.

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