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C H A P T E R I The Eve of World War I T HE DECLINE of the vast and polyglot Ottoman empire after the 16th century and the concomitant appearance of numerous politically malleable spots in the Balkan peninsula, North Africa, and parts of western Asia may be termed one of the most important developments in the diplo­ matic history of modern Europe. As the once powerful state of the Ottoman sultans weakened and shrank because of admin­ istrative ineptitude, economic, intellectual, and technological stagnation, and the rebelliousness of some of its subject peoples, the Russian and Habsburg empires, as well as Britain and France, were drawn increasingly into Ottoman affairs—and into mutual competition for political and economic influence in the Near and Middle East. After the Napoleonic Wars these four great powers occasionally worked together, especially when it came to assisting some disaffected ethnic or religious group in the Sultan's realm, but usually their relationship in and along the edges of the Ottoman empire was marked by friction or outright animosity. Determined to prevent each other from gaining undue advantages from the weakness and possible collapse of the Ottoman state and intent on securing certain political or economic objectives in the Near and Mid­ dle East, the four great powers were repeatedly drawn, in vari­ ous alignments, into conflict with each other. The clash of great power interests after 1815 was characterized by periodic Austro-Russian friction in the Balkans, several Anglo-Russian confrontations in the Straits region, intermittent Anglo-French quarrels over Egypt, and, most spectacularly of all, by the Cri­ mean War in the1850s.1 1 For general introductions to the "Eastern Question" see Jacques Ancel, Manuel historique de la question d'Orient (4th edn., Paris, 1931); J.A.R. Marriot, The Eastern Question (4th edn., Oxford, 1940); The Cve of World War I During the last two decades of the 19thcentury the rivalry of the great powers in the Near and Middle East assumed a new dimension with the appearance of imperial Germany on the scene. Initially, the newly founded Reich had proved most re­ luctant to become actively involved in the "Eastern Question," but during the 1880s, and more particularly after Bismarck's dismissal, Berlin gradually abandoned its policy of restraint. Prussian military reformers and agents of Germany's arma­ ments industry made their appearance in Constantinople, the latter soon outbidding some of the traditional foreign suppliers of the Sultan's army and navy. In addition, German banks, in­ dustrial firms, and railroad interests moved into the underde­ veloped lands of Sultan Abdiilhamid II and secured conces­ sions, markets, and spheres of influence for themselves. Al­ though German governmental support of many of these ven­ tures was initially rather fitful, it became more and more pro­ nounced as time went by. Kaiser Wilhelm II himself twice journeyed to the Ottoman empire before the turn of the cen­ tury and during the second visit (in 1898) delivered pointedly pro-Ottoman and pro-Islamic speeches. Simultaneously, some L. S. Stavrianos, The Bal\ans since 1453 (New York, 1958); and the excellent new study by M. S. Anderson, The Eastern Question, 17741923 (London, 1966). The entrenchment of foreign capital in the Ottoman empire, espe­ cially after the 18th century, is well covered in D. C. Blaisdell, European Financial Control in the Ottoman Empire (New York, 1929); and Nasim Sousa, The Capitulatory Regime of Turkey (Baltimore, 1933). On Russia's aspirations at the Straits and the counter-moves of the other European powers—especially Britain—useful summaries may be found in James T. Shotwell and Francis Deak, Tur\ey at the Straits (New York, 1940); Ettore Anchieri, Constantinopoli e gli Stretti nella politica russa ed. Europea (Milan, 1948); B. A. Dranov, Chernomorskiye prolivy [The Black Sea Straits] (Moscow, 1948); and Egmont Zechlin, Die tilr\ischen Meerengen-Brennpun\t der Weltgeschichte (Hamburg, 1964). The Cve of World War I nationalistic groups in Germany, particularly the Pan-German League, began to talk openly of the need for expanding Ger­ man influence in the Ottoman empire.2 Germany's penetration pacifique of the Sultan's lands, crowned by the initiation of the "Bagdad Railroad" project, naturally provoked misgivings in Russia, Britain, and France, each of them having "traditional" interests in the Ottoman em­ pire or adjacent regions. There is no need here to enumerate the various strategic, political, and economic interests of these countries which were hurt, or at least threatened, by Wilhelmian Germany's ventures into the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781400877591
Related ISBN
9780691051239
MARC Record
OCLC
966854685
Pages
450
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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