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British Foreign Policy in the Balkans from 1856-1902: Part 2

British Foreign Policy in the Balkans from 1856-1902: Part 2

This was illustrated when Russia renounced the clauses of the Treaty of Paris 1856, neutralising the Black Sea and Gladstone was powerless to stop it happening other than host a conference in 1971 to make the move by Russia official. This could be seen as a change of policy from defending the Balkans as it was a step away from the Palmerstone approach of monitoring Russian expansion. However Gladstone only took this action because he was out of options especially as the Suez Canal had been built in 1869, creating another route to India which Russia could exploit with a navy making protection of the Straits more important than ever.


By 1874 Disraeli was elected prime minister and was faced by the threat of newly formed Germany created after the loss of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. Worse in 1873 the Dreikaiserbund had been formed that consisted of a triple alliance between Russia, Austro-Hungary and Germany. These two factors upset the balance of power in Europe and therefore for Britain it threatened the Balkans. Furthermore the Balkans was vulnerable due to Slav nationalism challenging the stability of the Turkish Empire. Disraeli realised that policy towards the Balkans must be to defend it, preferably through diplomacy. For the first time action was necessary however this did not mean that British policy had changed, the reason why they were taking action now was because the Balkans was weaker than ever before not because previously Britain wasn’t concerned with preventing the destruction of the Balkans. A collapse at this point could lead to a European war obliterating the balance of power and it would enable the Russians to take the Straits, then the Suez Canal and then it would take India. Therefore Disraeli’s policies were to prevent Russian expansion into the Turkish Empire and therefore reduce the possibility of them taking Constantinople and the Straits, preserve the territorial integrity of the Turkish Empire to prevent a division due to nationalism and disrupt the Dreikaiserbund to reduce its influence over Europe, specifically the Balkans.


In 1875 Disraeli’s first diplomatic effort to end conflict in the Balkans was to support the Andrassy Note the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister’s note was a message to the Turkish proposing religious and economic reforms which could restore peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. For Britain this prevented the break-up of the Turkish Empire meaning that it could still be used as an effective defence against Russia. However revolts continued into 1876 because Turkey refused to implement the reforms. This led to the Dreikaiserbund taking the initiative by calling the Berlin Memorandum in May 1876 calling for a ceasefire in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was a dangerous point for Disraeli’s policy of supporting the Turks because he didn’t want Britain to give the Dreikaiserbund to upper hand as he was certain that it was intent on carving up the Turkish Empire. Because of this he rejected the memorandum appearing to reverse his policy on the defence of Turkey; however Turkey also rejected the Memorandum conveying their unofficial alliance with Britain. Unfortunately by the summer of 1876 uprisings occurred in Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro made worse by Turkey’s massacre of thousands of Bulgarians creating opposition towards them in the form of the British public and therefore majorly undermined Disraeli’s policy in the Balkans.


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


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