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Mar-Jun-1905 - The Morocco Crisis

somewhere in Morocco, really.

"Through your Majesty I threw down the gauntlet to the French. I wanted to see whether they would mobilize."

Chancellor Bernhard von Bulow explaining to the Kaiser the purpose of the Tangier visit

The Morocco crisis of 1905 helps illustrate a couple of points regarding German diplomatic policy of the time. The first of these is the threat or implication of war to achieve political ends. The Germans were big fans of von Clausewitz, one of Napoleon's Prussian officers who literally wrote the book on modern warfare. The second is an attempt to break up the entente of the nations Germany saw as attempting to encircle her.

The country of Morocco was located in a highly strategic position in the north of Africa overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar. It's domestic state in 1905 was one of chaos. The highly publicized kidnapping of Pedicaris and Varley1, both wealthy Americans, in May of 1904 by a local radical demonstrated this condition. Germany had no real interest in Morocco, whereas France did. Both countries were among the signers of the Treaty of Madrid which, in 1880, was meant to protect the country from the land grab that was going on in Africa. The treaty required that all signatories be consulted before any participant were to take action there. On 21-Feb-1905 the French violated this treaty by demanding control of the Sultan's army and police. These demands were made without consulting Germany.

While Germany, as stated above, did not have any real interest in what occurred in Morocco, they did see an opportunity to humiliate the French and possibly to weaken the entente cordial between France and Britain. Also considering that France's major ally, Russia, was still licking its wounds over its recent defeat in the Russo-Japenese war, the time would be right for the threat of military action without the need for worry over Russian intervention.

Chancellor von Bulow decided that the Kaiser should visit the Sultan in Tangier and pledge German support should the French become more aggressive in their Moroccan policy. A reluctant Kaiser was, more or less, tricked by von Bulow into making the visit on 31-Mar-1905 (the Kaiser wanted to back out but von Bulow deliberately leaked news of the visit to the press and then told the Kaiser it was too late for a change of heart). He was reluctant for several reasons: he feared an assassination attempt in the unstable country, he'd just as soon see the French get bogged down with the occupation of Morocco, and he feared provoking the French into war.

The visit did not go well for the Kaiser. In his own words to Chancellor von Bulow:

"I landed because you wanted me to in the interests of the Fatherland, mounted a strange horse in spite of the impediment my crippled left arm causes to my riding, and the horse was within an inch of costing me my life. I had to ride between Spanish anarchists because you wished it and your policy was to profit by it."

King Edward VII of Britain took the French side and described his nephew's Moroccan visit as:

"the most mischievous and uncalled for event which the German Emperor has been engaged in since he came to the throne."

Edward VII was well aware of the German motive - wrecking the entente. French Foreign Minister Theophile Declasse was sure the Germans were bluffing and was hoping to use the crisis to his advantage by turning the entente into a true Anglo-French military alliance. As seen back home in France, such radical diplomatic moves as this could well push Germany into war with France - better now than later when the Russians would enter the equation again. This fear of war by the French cabinet, along with demands from German diplomats for "someone we can trust", cost Declasse his job on 6-Jun-1905. The Kaiser was ecstatic of this seemingly sweeping diplomatic victory. He declared von Bulow a Prince of the German Empire as a reward.

Had it all stopped there, Morocco would have remained a notch on the German diplomatic belt but von Bulow wanted more. Part of the agreement over Morocco included a conference which was held in Algeciras, Spain in January 1906. Here the prime matter of interest became control of the Moroccan police force. The German diplomats, von Radowitz and von Tattenbach, kept up an overtone of impending war but wound up losing the resolution to keep the control of the police away from the French. Joint control was given to France and Spain. Germany would have been better off stopping while it was ahead after the Declasse dismissal. Instead, due to the strengthening effect of the crisis on relations between Britain and France, the earlier victory was tarnished and the whole event viewed in a negative manner back home in Germany.

1 It was this event that led to the famous Theodore Roosevelt quote: "Pedicaris alive or Raisuli dead!"

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