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British Foreign Policy in the Balkans from 1856-1902: Part 1

British Foreign Policy in the Balkans from 1856-1902: Part 1

Throughout this time Britain relied heavily on trading and the collection of raw materials to fuel its industrialising economy. This meant that the protection of its colonies and trade routes was vital to the maintenance of Britain’s well-being, making the Balkans of strategic importance because it provided a blockade that prevented Russia from going through the Straits and dominating The Mediterranean as well as taking India. Throughout the ministries of Palmerstone, Disraeli, Gladstone and Salisbury policy towards the Balkans remained largely the same, however towards the end of the nineteenth century foreign policy became more focused on Egypt.


Palmerstone became prime minister in 1856 just after the Crimean war between Britain and the Russians; therefore Russophobia was on the rise in Britain, especially as Russia had begun building a new fleet in the Black Sea within the year. The process of Italian unification from 1859-60 revealed Palmerstone’s policy towards the Balkans when he advised the Austrians to withdraw from Italy entirely because it showed that he wanted Austria to consolidate its power in the Balkans so it would be more effective as a shield against Russian expansionism. His policy towards the Balkans was also so because he wished to avoid France getting involved in the situation via expansion and therefore upsetting the balance of power within Europe. However Palmerstone’s policy in the Balkans was also not to get involved directly because in 1859 France went to war against Austria and defeated them twice at Magenta and Solferino until and in July 1859 an armistice was signed. This lack of action by Palmerstone conveyed that he believed the risk of being direct enemies with France would be more damaging than if Britain let their ‘blockade’ take a couple of hits revealing his priorities in his policy, that the Balkans weren’t as important as the balance of power throughout  Europe.


Post-1865 nationalism became more accepted in Europe and this was dangerous for Britain because it created instability within the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires and so made the Balkans more vulnerable to an attack from Russia. However during the Derby-Disraeli ministry from 1866-1868 Britain’s policy continued to be one of isolation and so like Palmerstone avoided involvement in the Austro-Prussian war showing that policy remained the same as Disraeli stated: ‘We are interested in the peace and prosperity of Europe, and I do not say that there may not be occasions in which it may be the duty of England to interfere in European wars.’ The statement suggests that Britain would only engage in a war if it was vital to maintaining balance of power and therefore they would only defend the Ottoman Empire directly if there were no other option. This approach parallels Palmerstone’s because he also abstained from direct action in Europe.


In 1868 Gladstone became prime minister. However this change meant little difference to the status quo of British policy on the Balkans because firstly Britain’s focus was on ensuring the neutrality of Belgium in the Franco-Prussian war from 1870-1871 and Britain had too weaker army to prevent any actions in Europe from happening.


Image: By Original uploader and author was Perconte at de.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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