Nightmare Coalition Essay, Research Paper
Before 1878 there are many reasons why Bismarck could have been perceived as having a ‘coalition nightmare´. It is also unclear whether the newspaper was talking about Bismarck´s foreign policy or his frequent fragile agreements with the other political powers in Germany at that time, i.e. The Liberals and Conservatives. Outside of Germany one of Bismarck´s coalition problems was always trying to be in a group of three out of the five major nations in Europe so it would be unlikely that Germany would be involved in a war that wasn´t started by themselves. Bismarck liked to think of himself as the ‘middle man´ in Europe who tried to prevent problems before they happened by taking precautionary measures. An example of this was his alliance with Austria and Russia since he knew that these two countries didn´t exactly like each other and so therefore by uniting them in an agreement, (the Dreikaiserbund) Bismarck could at least have a chance to sort out the problems that might be caused if land became available in the Balkans as it did. Bismarck´s policy of ‘balanced tension´ was also a problem relating to coalitions because Bismarck was always trying to create tension between other powers so he could make deals and string together agreements that would make Germany more powerful and give them allies in times of international troubles or war. Bismarck was frequently referred to as a,
It is known that one of Bismarck´s worst nightmares was a coalition against Germany since it was still a growing power and it was hated by one of the countries it had borders with, France who had been humiliatingly beaten by Prussia at the upstart. The biggest example of a coalition problem of Bismarck´s outside Germany was the Dreikaiserbund of 1873, which was always split by squabbling between Austria-Hungary and Russia. The reason why he made this coalition was because of Bismarck´s idea of being in ‘3 out of 5 nations´. An example of this was the Eastern Crisis of 1875-78 which was where both Austria-Hungary and Russia wanted to extract some advantage from the situation although they didn´t want to collapse the Ottoman Empire. However the problem for Bismarck was if there was a confrontation between the two countries because then Germany would be caught in the middle which would be a bad situation. Luckily this time any trouble was avoided between the two countries but this wasn´t the last problem between them so it was a definite nightmare for Bismarck because he always had to sort their problems out without taking sides and risk alienating the other.
“A fair weather system” (A.J.P Taylor)
This quote signifies the fact that this coalition system of Bismarck´s only worked when everyone was in agreement which was very rarely so it was almost useless and could be considered a nightmare for Bismarck because it didn´t work as planned and didn´t strengthen Germany´s position in Europe against hostile threats. Also a reason for his coalition nightmare was because Bismarck was depending on these two countries to provide the support that would hold Germany in strength in central Europe and it meant that if any of them fell out then so would the agreement and they would therefore become a threat to Bismarck and he needed to have them on his side. Also since Bismarck was mainly trying to isolate France at the same time as consolidating Germany´s position in Germany then if France managed to form an alliance with Russia or Britain and the Dreikaiserbund had fallen apart then Germany would be in danger because France had got stronger since it had been defeated by Prussia and now they wanted revenge.
Overall I think that the main reason why Bismarck had a coalition nightmare was because he tried to hard to hold Europe at arm´s length without ever actually showing his true intentions of what he hoped to achieve. Therefore he was always going to have problems with squabbling countries who didn´t know who´s side he was going to take for example in the quarrels between Austria-Hungary and Russia he never took a side even though that was only because if he did he risked making the other one angry. Also a reason is that he tried to isolate France but ended up unbalancing power in Europe because there is no way he could have kept France permanently isolated. After 1878 Bismarck focused on created a series of alliances and pacts for the sole reason of keeping Germany safe from either opposing alliances (especially involving France) or hostile countries that would be dangerous in times of war if they decided not to take Germany´s side. The first example of such an alliance was the Dual Alliance in 1879 between Austria-Hungary and Germany which was a rebound from the Dreikaiserbund since relations between Russia and Germany had become strained and a tariff war had raised prices on goods from both nations and this had damaged trade between the two countries. Therefore Bismarck had wanted to create a Central European bloc that would hold the balance between Russia in the East and France in the West and this would also distract from affairs at home because this idea would be popular with most of the political parties in Germany at this time (Catholics, National Liberals). Therefore this is evidence that Bismarck´s foreign policy was quite focused on preventing countries like France creating alliances that would upset Germany by way of it putting pressure on Bismarck. The reason why the Dual Alliance was good for preventing this was that it would create a large sphere of influence in Central Europe and make countries more likely to stick with Germany than an opposing country that was looking for an alliance against the Dual Alliance.
Bismarck´s reason for making so many alliances was that,
“Nothing lasts for ever…from its [Germany´s] very beginning I have devoted my whole political career to creation and consolidation.”
When in 1881, the Dreikaiserbund was updated it seems that Bismarck was intent on stopping any countries from forming coalitions against Germany because he was binding most of Western Germany to his agreements and therefore there was only France, Britain and maybe Italy left that could be considered major powers. The updated Dreikaiserbund was Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia patching up their differences and promising that they would remain neutral if one of them was attacked by another country. This allowed Bismarck the security of knowing that there wouldn´t be an alliance between France and Russia which would have been a nightmare for Germany because if both countries turned hostile then Germany would be fighting on two fronts which is the worst situation and this is what happened to them in World War I. The worst thing for Bismarck was that the tension between Austria-Hungary and Russia was still as acute as ever and so he knew that they would still find it hard to agree on things as they did before. To add to the series of alliances and updated pacts, in 1882 Bismarck negotiated the Triple Alliance which now included Italy who had been looking for countries to support her against France which was exactly what Bismarck wanted because Germany had a great dislike of France as well and gradually this alliance was closing France in because she was surrounded on all sides by countries that were not on her side except maybe Spain. In this agreement, Bismarck agreed to support Italy in the event of a French attack and Italy agreed to support Germany or Austria if either France or Russia/Britain attacked them respectively. However in 1885 the Dreikaiserbund, unsurprisingly broke down which worried Bismarck because now Russia were not allied to anyone and France could try and form an alliance with them and he would again have that old ‘nightmare coalition´. It was again the feud between Austria-Hungary and Russia which caused the disbanding of the Dreikaiserbund because there was a disagreement over Rumelia uniting with Bulgaria (Russia wanted to prevent it, Austria wanted to support it). Still the amount of alliances Bismarck was making with various countries shows that his fear of a nightmare coalition was a major part of his foreign policy and he was unwilling to see France join up with Britain or Russia because it would cause problems for Germany in the long term. Bismarck´s last alliance was 3 years before his resignation in 1887 and this was called the Reinsurance Treaty and it was aimed at preventing Russia forming an alliance with France. This agreement stated that in the event of the war unless Russia attacked Austria or Germany attacked France the other country would remain neutral. Here Bismarck is still trying to prevent opposing countries from forming negative alliances against Germany by forming an agreement with Russia so that France don´t try and do the same thing and hinder German progress in Central Europe. If ever there were a France-Russian alliance, the problems for Germany would be catastrophic in times of war although the Russian army was not the best since it was not well equipped. The Reinsurance Treaty came close to breaking down once or twice however it was never renewed after Bismarck resigned because the new Kaiser, William II had different ideas and didn´t particularly like Bismarck anyway.
The two main things that Bismarck was trying to avoid were a clash between Russia and Austria in the Balkans and an alliance between France and Russia. Both of these scenarios would not have been good for Germany because they would have caused problems especially in the case of France and Russia.
Overall I think that Bismarck focused quite a lot on preventing coalitions against Germany after 1878 because he made such a number of agreements and pacts with a range of countries even though they were always going to be fragile. Bismarck´s method of ‘juggling´ Germany´s relations with several countries was never going to work because of how unstable Europe was now that there was a fifth country (before it would have been 2 against 2 which would not have been seen as a threat). His method of isolating France was not good enough either because he always felt threatened by them and always feared an alliance between France and Russia the most. Although it is obvious that Bismarck worked hard to make a set of agreements to protect Germany in the future, it is questionable whether there was any country that was actually going to attack them because even France had not fully recovered since it´s defeat by Prussia.
“Nobody besides France had the least desire to go to war with Germany… [but Bismarck´s] restless shuffling of alliances producing an unhealthy and enduring tension all over Europe.” (Crankshaw)
In the above quote it confirms that although Bismarck did put a lot into making agreements with Russia and Austria and then keeping them alive, it is doubtful that it was actually worth it in the end because only the Triple Alliance stood the test of time and even then Italy dropped out of that in World War I.