To what extent did Bismarck’s successors change his policy in the decade 1890-1900?
The Franco-Prussian war of 1870 acted as a watershed in European history with the formation of the German Empire. No power alone, (perhaps with the exception of Russia) could defeat the new German Empire, and all the European powers with the exception of France were willing to allow Bismarck to consolidate German gains provided there was no further expansion. Bismarck having successfully won the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and having united Germany, sought to ‘preserve the settlement of 1871’ by maintaining the status of the German empire as a great power amongst the European nations and avoiding conflict. Between 1871- 1890 Bismarck presided as the chancellor and introduced a variety of foreign and domestic policies in the hope of keeping Germany a great power. At home, he concentrated on building a powerful German state and encouraged nationalism and the ideal of a German national identity. In foreign affairs his goal was to make Prussia the dominant power in the German Empire, and to establish the empire as a great power in Europe. Through various alliance systems he managed to accomplish this aim. His resignation in 1890 marked the end of the Bismarckian system and ushered in the Wilehenmne era. This essay will set out to explore the extent to which Bismarck’s successors, William II, Leo von Caprivi, Hohenlohe and Bülow, changed his policy in the decade 1890-1900. With the resignation of Bismarck in 1990 Emperor William II appointed Leo Von Caprivi as the chancellor. Unlike Bismarck who held conservative values and believed that for Germany to became a great power it should maintain the status quo, Caprivi was liberal in his outlook and advocated a more active foreign policy. Bismarck appreciated Germany’s precariousness position amongst the Great Powers and therefore made it his priority to protect Germany’s expanding power. The constant threat of French revival to reclaim Alasce-Lorraine, and conflict in the Balkans which could lead to conflict between the Habsburg monarchy and Russia which would undoubtedly involve Germany led Bismarck to actively pursue a systematic set of alliances and agreements which helped to maintain European peace. Therefore between 1872 up till his resignation Bismark through the negotiation of a variety of treaties adopted a pacific policy of diplomatically isolating France, whilst maintaining cordial relations with other nations in Europe, in particular Russia and Austria. In 1873 the League of 3 Emperors was formed (Germany, Russia, Austria, extended in 1881) and in 1882 the Triple alliance (Germany, Italy, Austria was concluded). Bismarck's network of treaties and alliances although contradictory in many details, prevented France from forming an alliance directed against Germany and maintained the status quo. Of the five major powers in Europe three were now allied with Germany and so the risk of “encirclement” was reduced. Bismarck’s successors rapidly abandoned his cautious and peaceful foreign policy by embarking on a more liberal policy. This was most notable by Capravis refusal to renew the reinsurance treaty in 1991. Whilst the new government proclaimed that they intended to continue the friendship with Russia, Capravi with the backing of the new emperor William II was convinced that the Reinsurance Treaty was incompatible with the terms of the Triple Alliance and that moreover, it presented Germany with too few advantages. Additionally the government proclaimed that in the atmosphere of anti-Russian sentiments in Germany, it was unwise to sign a treaty which would have far-reaching commitments. The affect of not renewing the treaty was that Russia greatly believed that the new government had embarked on a new foreign policy aimed against Russia. Consequently this lead Russia to turn to France as an ally and thus a dual alliance between France and Russia was signed in 1894. By allowing the treaty...
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[i] William Carr, A History of Germany 1815-1990 (Great Britain, 1969) p.162
[ii] Hajo, Holborn A history of modern Germany 1840- 1945 (Great Britain, 1969)
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