What is the Triple Entente?
- At the beginning of the 20th century, all major European powers were divided into two coalitions. They were known as the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance.
- The Triple Entente was an informal agreement between Great Britain, the Russian Empire, and the French Third Republic. In Russian, it was called Troystvennaya Antata. The French word entente means friendship, understanding, and agreement.
- It was created in response to the formation of the Triple Alliance in 1882, which included powers like Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. The three countries in the Triple Alliance promised to support each other if any of them were attacked by France or Russia.
- The Triple Alliance was seen as a threat by the French. In 1904, France signed the Entente Cordiale with the British as the British also viewed the expansion of the German Navy as a threat. In 1907, Russia joined the Entente due to the perceived threat of the German Army.
- Unlike the Triple Alliance, the Triple Entente only placed a moral obligation on Russia, Great Britain, and France to support each other. The conditions of the Entente did not require the countries to go to war on behalf of each other.
- Both the coalitions were made to balance power in Europe, however, they served as one of the causes that led to World War One.
- During the 19th century, many alliances had taken place among the European powers. Globalization made Europe the contributor to two-thirds of the global trade. Thousands of foreign laborers worked in the heavy industries of France and Germany.
- The Third French Republic was formed in the Treaty of Frankfurt when the Second French Empire lost to Prussia and her allies during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 to 1871. France had to surrender Alsace-Lorraine to the new German Empire as a result.
- This caused France to fear the German growth in industrial power and military and the French retaliated by growing their own industries and military to discourage further attacks.
- Similarly, German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck was afraid that France would try to avenge her losses of the Franco-Prussian war and sought to corner France diplomatically.
- Russia was a part of the League of the Three Emperors, an alliance between Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Germany. This alliance was important to Russia because it opposed the communist, socialist, and anarchist movements like the First International which fought for the rights of the working class.
- However, the League of the Three Emperors started to face issues when the nationalist struggle in the Balkans led to tensions between Austria-Hungary and Russia. To challenge possible attacks from France or Russia, Germany signed the Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary in October 1879 and then with Italy in May 1882.
- This caused Russia to refuse the renewal of the League of the Three Emperors in 1887. The Balkan issue during the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1875 as well as the Treaty of Berlin signed in 1878 made Russia feel cheated of her rightful gains from the Russo-Turkish War 1877-1878.
- When Chancellor Bismarck sensed that Russia may support France in the war, he signed the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia in 1887. It was a top-secret treaty and only a few officials in Berlin and St. Petersburg knew that it existed.
- This treaty played a very important role in the large network of agreements that Chancellor Bismarck had made intending to maintain peace in Europe. The German dominance in economy, politics, and diplomacy was of critical importance to Chancellor Bismarck.
- In the Reinsurance Treaty of 1887, both Russia and Germany assured each other that they would maintain neutrality if war were to break out.
- Despite Chancellor Bismarck’s efforts, Russia grew friendlier with France. Russia’s exclusion from the German financial market in 1887 led to the Reinsurance Treaty’s lapse in 1890. And soon after Chancellor Bismarck was forced to resign.
- The German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II took his place and led Germany on a course of imperialist foreign policies called Weltpolitik which were drastically different from Bismarck’s pragmatic policies called Realpolitik.
- The Weltpolitik of Kaiser William sought to make Germany a global power while Realpolitik was based on considerations made on present circumstances and had no particular ideology or moral premise.
How was the Triple Entente Formed?
- Though Russia had the most manpower reserves compared to all of the European nations, she also was the poorest of them all. Like France, Russia was concerned about Germany’s growth in industry, military, and economy.
- The Russians were afraid that they would lose control over Dardanelles, a very important trade route that transported two-fifths of the Russian produce. The failure of the Reinsurance Treaty in 1890 and the growing tensions with Austria-Hungary prompted the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894 also known as the Dual Alliance.
- While France’s main objective was to defend against an attack from Germany and regain Alsace-Lorraine, Russia’s objective was to strengthen her diplomatic ties and reduce her global isolation. The Franco-Russian Alliance was a strong counter to the Triple Alliance.
- Britain at this time was mostly focused on protecting her large overseas Empire. In Europe, the British maintained the policy of ‘splendid isolation’. But in 1900 Britain was jolted out of her slumber by the dramatic growth of Germany.
- Initially, Britain made proposals to Germany but in vain. So Britain eventually turned to Russia and France. Entente Cordiale, a precursor to the Triple Entente was signed between Britain and France in 1904.
- Though these agreements were mainly focused on settling colonial conflicts in North Africa between France and Britain, they also brought Britain back into European politics.
- In March 1905, Germany tried to challenge France’s control in Morocco in an event called the First Moroccan Crisis but in a conference of European nations, the control of France was affirmed. This made the conflict between Germany and France even more bitter and the relationship between France and Britain even stronger.
- Russia recently had lost the Russo-Japanese war which had caused the Russian Revolution of 1905. Russia did not find Britain useful in the Russo-Japanese war but against the Triple Alliance of Germany and Austria-Hungary, the friendship of the Brits made practical sense in Europe.
- Though shaky at first, the alliance grew stronger over various crises. On August 31, 1907, the Anglo-Russian Convention was agreed upon in St. Petersburg. It ended the conflicts between Britain and Russia in Central Asia and discouraged the influence of Germany in the region.
- This agreement together with the Entente Cordiale of 1904, formed the Triple Entente between Britain, Russia, and France.
Important Facts and Additional Context
- Before the Triple Entente, the relationships between Russia, France, and Britain were not friendly. Historically, they had fought several wars for a long period of time.
- In the Napoleonic Wars of 1803 to 1815, France had fought against Russia. Similarly, France and Britain had fought on several occasions like the Hundred Years War, Seven Years’ War, Anglo-French War, etc.
- Apart from a rough history, they also shared colonial ambitions in the regions of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Hence, the Triple Entente was a series of agreements between the three nations to resolve their disputes and align their power against German Expansionism.
- The Royal Navy of Britain always had great control over the seas. But in 1909, Germany’s naval expansion drastically increased. Even though Britain was well ahead in the naval competition due to her heavily armed warships with Dreadnought technology, the British still saw a need to further grow their navy and try to reduce tensions between the two nations.
- War minister Lord Haldane was sent to Berlin in 1912 to conduct peace talks. The mission failed since neither nations agreed on the conditions set out by the other, and as a result, both nations became mutually hostile and ultimately became rivals in WWI.
- Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor and the King of Prussia led Germany after the resignation of German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck. Kaiser Wilhelm was greatly in favor of an aggressive war.
- Though he played a major role in strengthening Germany by developing the blue water navy and encouraging scientific innovations, he also pushed Germany into WWI due to his politically incorrect public speeches and a careless foreign policy.
- Italy had joined the Triple Alliance in 1882 promising Germany and Austria-Hungary her support, however, few Italian territories had been conquered by Austria-Hungary which motivated the Italians to leave the Triple Alliance and join the Triple Entente on 26 April 1915 through secret agreements made in the Treaty of London.
What did the Triple Entente Entail?
- The first alliance in the Triple Entente was the Franco-Russian Alliance or the Russo-French Rapprochement. In the beginning, France offered financial support to Russia and in return, Russia promised military support in the event of a German attack.
- However, through a series of letters exchanged between the foreign affairs ministers of both countries through 1891 and 1894, a Russo-French military and political alliance was officially formed in December 1893.
- On April 8, 1904, the United Kingdom and the French Republic signed a series of agreements that officially ended a thousand-year conflict between the two nations and promoted coexistence and cooperation.
- The first and foremost issue was colonial control over Egypt and Morocco. British received control over Egypt and France over Morocco. A guaranteed free passage through the Suez Canal was also a chief point of negotiation.
- The second agreement was over Newfoundland and some parts of Africa. The French gave up control over Newfoundland and the British reciprocated by giving the French Town of Yarbutenda along with Iles de Los.
- The final agreement was about the influence both nations had in Siam which is present-day Thailand, Madagascar, and New Hebrides, present-day Vanuatu.
- The sphere of influence of the French was agreed to be on the east of the Menam River basin while the British negotiated their sphere of influence on the west of the Menam River basin. Both nations rejected the annexation of the Siamese territory.
- The agreements in the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, granted Russia a sphere of influence in northern Iran. The southeastern part of Iran which was closest to British India was given to the British. The region in the middle of these two spheres was declared neutral and both nations could conduct their commercial activities here in tandem.
- With the Anglo Russian Entente, the Triple Entente was officially created and became a strong contender to the Triple Alliance led by Germany.
- Though the Entente was not an alliance like the Triple Alliance, meaning, it did not oblige the member nations to fight the war on each other’s behalf, it did form the basis of an alliance system in Europe creating two powerful blocks.
- The goal of the Entente was to balance power in Europe through diplomatic means which included making a series of agreements between the member states and aligning common goals.
- On June 28, 1914, the Archduke of Austria-Hungary, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated by a Bosnian-Serb called Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo. He was a member of a terrorist group related to the rising nationalist movement in Serbia.
- The assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenburg, led to the outbreak of the First World War and brought the nations of the Triple Entente and Triple Alliance into the battleground.
- The Russian interests in the Balkans caused conflicts with Austria-Hungary. Russia sent her military to take back Serbia after the shelling of Belgrade by Austria-Hungary on 28 July 1914.
- Austria-Hungary and Germany mobilized their entire military to threaten Russia into retreating from the Balkans. However, when Russia did not comply with their demands, a full-fledged war was declared by Germany against Russia on August 1, 1914.
- On August 2, 1914, the following day, France deployed her army in support of Russia against Austria-Hungary and Germany. Thus, began the Great War or World War One.
- Britain joined the war when the 1839 Treaty of London was invoked by Belgium in response to the invasion of the German army in Belgium on August 3. On August 4, 1914, Britain officially went to war against Germany.
- On August 23, Japan joined the war on Britain’s side and took over the German territories in China and the Pacific. Finding themselves cornered in Europe by the Triple Entente, the Germans sought assistance from the Ottoman Empire in November 1914, and soon enough the war spread to the Middle East, Africa, and other parts of the globe.
- Italy abandoned the Triple Alliance and joined the Triple Entente against Germany in April 1915. Italy had secretly signed the Pact of London with the Triple Entente breaking her 33-year-old Alliance with Germany and Austria.
- The forming of newer alliances evolved the Triple Entente and Triple Alliance into two opposing blocks in the Great War with Britain, Russia, France, Italy, Japan, and the United States together forming the Entente Powers while Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria made up the Central Powers.
- The Great war is known as one of the deadliest wars in history because it caused the death of 9 million soldiers and 13 million civilians.
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