TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE BAGHDAD RAILWAY.
fr HE Baghdad Railway turns out to be a matter even more urgent than we believed. When we dealt with .the .matter last week we knew that the British Government .were being approached on the subject, but we did not imagine that only four days after the publication of our article we should find the Prime Minister telling the House ,of. Commons the terms of the proposals or "suggestions" • made to the British Government, and stating that the matter must be decided without undue delay. That being -so, and in view of the fact that the Government will not commit Us to another German entanglement if they receive a clear mandate from public opinion telling them not to do so, we would urge the nation and the leaders of that public opinion to give their most earnest attention to the matter. It is clear that if they approve, or if they are indifferent in regard to, the German scheme for an internationally financed Baghdad Railway, we shall be involved in an undertaking under which the Govern- ment will be pledged to take action that will en- courage, and will be intended to encourage, the invest- ment of British capital in the Baghdad Railway. If, on the other hand, public opinion is seen to be clearly and definitely against this financially unsound and politically dangerous project, we may feel sure that our Government will not take the responsibility of what may be described as allowing the British name to appear on the front page of the German, or, if Mr. Balfour prefers it, international, prospectus., • We will give shortly the reasons why we consider that all men of sense and discretion, and all who appreciate the great issues which are slowly maturing in the politics of the world, and especially of Asia, should join in preventing our entanglement in the Baghdad Railway enterprise. In the first place, the railway is most unlikely to prove a com- mercial success. If the prospect of its paying the investor were a really good one, we may be sure that such potent and persistent efforts would not be made to get that nod of approval from the British Government which it is believed will act as a sort of guarantee to the British investor. Schemes that are commercially sound do not require the kind of encouragement which the Baghdad Railway Is apparently so much in need of. It will no doubt pay handsomely to make the line and to finance the line— that is, to act as the middleman who finds the money in 'the first place, and then sells it in instalments to the private investor—and therefore those who build railways and those who finance great undertakings of the kind are naturally very anxious that the line should be made. They 'will employ their money and their special ability profitably 'enough, and need not consider whether in the end the railway will be a bond-fide dividend-paying concern. But that is what the investor who stands behind the financiers must consider, and must consider undazzled by anything which can be represented as "a virtual British guarantee." What the result of such consideration if carried on without reference to British official approval of the line would be it is hardly necessary to ask. With South Africa, Canada, and India still with vast opportunities for remunerative rail- -way investment unexhausted, who would give his money to lay lines in Mesopotamia,—a land which on the death of the present Sultan or on the break-up of the Turkish Empire may quite conceivably be overrun by tho fierce tribesmen of Arabia ? Surely our Government,- even if they should unfortunately give official sanction to the rail- way, will point out the risks that the investors must run.
But if the commercial objections to making the line are • strong, still stronger are the political. Mr. Balfour says, and no doubt believes, that the project is a purely com- .mercial one. To arrive at such a state of mind he must have forgotten, or never have noticed, the genesis of the idea on which the Baghdad Railway is based. The idea came into the region of practical politics soon after the German Emperor's visit, first to Constantinople and then to the Holy Land. While at Constantinople and in Syria the German Emperor's mind was excited by the idea of a railway which should connect the ancient Assyria and Chaldaea—the cradle of human civilisation—with the Mediterranean on the one hand and with the Persian Gulf on the other. The Emperor had already inflamed his mind with the thought of German expansion in Asia Minor, and these schemes, coupled with a Baghdad Railway, for a time carried him completely off his feet. But it was not for long that he dreamed his Asian dream hi peace. He soon found that he could not move in Asia Minor without stirring up the deadly hatred of Russia. But the dread of Russia will break any German dream, however captivating, and accordingly the Kaiser, like the practical man he is, let the Russians clearly understand that he had no more intention of incurring their enmity over Asia Minor and the Baghdad Railway than over China. A less ingenious and less persistent man would after this have abandoned his schemes altogether. Not so the German Emperor. We all know the schoolboy who will gladly take things which he does not want, or cannot manage to keep, because, as he says, "they will do for swaps." The Kaiser has acted, unless we entirely misread his character, in much the same way as regards Asia Minor and the Baghdad Railway. He knows that he cannot have them for himself, and has frankly admitted so to Russia, but he still is active in the matter because he holds that any interests which he may acquire in these parts will be good for" swaps." [If any of our readers think that we are romancing in regard to the policy of "swaps," let them recall what happened in the case of Zanzibar, which was deliberately acquired with a view to a "swap," and was ultimately " swapped " against Heligoland.] In other words, the German interest in the matter is not commercial, but political. It is not, of course, political in the sense of an interest based on the desire to acquire territory, but on the desire to acquire something which at a crisis may be usefully exchanged. That this policy is a wise one from the German point of view we are by no means prepared to deny. Suppose that either on the death of the Sultan, or of the Emperor of Austria, or of the Queen of Holland without an heir great territorial changes are imminent. It will clearly be far easier for Germany to induce Russia to allow the course of events to flow in a pro-German direc- tion if Germany has something "in hand" to offer to her great neighbour. Therefore Germany is desirous as far as she dares, to manufacture German interests in Asia Minor.
And though she cannot do this alone without alarming Russia, she can do it in comparative safety in com- pany with France and Britain. Accordingly, Ger- many has not given up the idea of the Baghdad Rail- way, but has determined that Britain and France shall join her. France is glad to do so because of her traditional interest in Syria, and also because she would not object, so long as things do not go too far, to show her independence of Russia. She also feels, no doubt, that if Britain can be persuaded to go into the matter, Britain will act as a lightning-conductor for Russian hostility. If Britain is in the scheme, Russian jealousy and suspicion may be trusted to be entirely directed against her bete noire. But after all, it is really superfluous to argue the matter. We have only to appeal to Mr. lalfour's own speech to show how entirely political the scheme is. The considerations which Mr. Balfour urged in regard to the matter were almost wholly political and non-commercial. Could we politically afford not to have a hand in the scheme ? That to him was evidently the essential consideration. But if Mr. Balfour holds that we must consider the matter from this point of view, why are we to assume that it is politically of no importance to Germany? Again, Mr. Balfour assures us that Germany is not asking us to do anything whatever in the matter. But some one is. Who is that some one, significantly un- named, who is responsible for the suggestions which, according to Mr. Balfour's printed answer to Mr. Bowles, it is under- stood are to be made to us ? That some one is no doubt a syndicate of financiers. But who inspired the syndicate in the first place, and suggested that an excellent oppor- tunity had arisen for exercising their talents Was it not the German Emperor who told them, but added that they must get the British Government to approve if they wanted the matter to take practical shape However, we will not attempt any further argument with those who see nothing in the Baghdad Railway but a simple commercial undertaking. We will deal instead with what answer ought to be made by the British Govern- ment to the specific suggestions, whether c,onimercial or political, That are going to be made to them. In the first place, we would have the British Government make it clear that though we can have nothing to do with the line, and can take no responsibility for a specula- tion so dangerous at once politically and commercially, we shall take no steps whatever to oppose the line. As we said last week, we are strongly against opposing any railway anywhere. If philanthropic investors desire to make a line of railway, we should never dream of opposing them. The precedent of Lord Palmerston's opposition to the Suez Canal is one which should never be followed. Again, if the railway is made, and. if the Indian mails can be as conveniently and more quickly carried by that route, we would certainly favour their being so carried. All we ask is that we should stand neutral, and not encourage the project by our official sanction. But it will be said that in such a case —i.e., in the event of our standing neutral—the railway will be made in spite of our neutrality. Well, what if it is ? We shall benefit just as much, and in reality have quite as much control. Those who control a line are the people who use it. But if the railway is made we shall certainly be its biggest customers, and shall get a much more secure control than if British in- vestors owned 25 per cent. of the stock, and Russia under transfers from Germany and France owned the rest. After all, the line will not run through our territory or be under our physical control, and we should never, of course, dream of using it in time of war. Again, it is quite possible that some invention, such as the steam turbine, may so greatly increase the pace of ocean-going steamers that the Canal route may prove in the end quite as rapid. Certainly we have no right to assume that we have reached the limit in sea-speed.
Another question, and one of great importance, remains to be considered. How comes it, if the railway is to be purely commercial, that Russia has not been consulted in the matter by us ? Has our Government asked the Russians whether they have any objection to the scheme, assuring them at the same time that if so we should certainly not move in the matter ? If such a question has not been asked, ought it not to be asked forthwith ? In truth, the whole matter turns on the interests of Russia in the scheme. If we tell Russia that we cannot allow her to alter the status quo in the Persian Gulf, or to make a railway through Persia to a port on the Gulf, and at the same time help an international railway to reach the Gulf, are we not treating Russia with a hostility which must make her believe even more strongly than before that we are her natural and essential enemy,—the view that German secret diplomacy has so often instilled into her?
With one practical suggestion we will close this attempt to induce our countrymen to think out the answer which shall be given to anonymous " suggestions " which are to be made to us in regard to the Baghdad Railway. It is declared that those who believe, as we do, that Ger- many may some day transfer, and probably has already agreed to transfer, her share to Russia are indulging an unworthy suspicion of Germany. Possibly ; but why not test the matter by making it a condition of our agreeing to the suggestions—if unhappily it should come to this— that Germany shall agree that if her shares are sold they shall be first offered to us ? If Germany agreed to that proposal, she would certainly have given a guarantee of good faith. Surely she ought not to object, as one of the " suggestions " is that our capital and control should be equal to those of any other Power. Russia and France might have a corresponding agreement. But we would rather not contemplate these contingencies, for the answer which we trust will be given by us as a nation will be a simple negative. Let those who like to risk their money in speculative enterprises invest it. We will certainly do nothing to oppose them ; but, again, we will not assume an iota of responsibility in their behalf, or incur the resentment of Russia, and involve ourselves in a new German entanglement, in order not to be left out of a commercial undertaking.