THE VALUE OF CONSTANTINOPLE.
frELERE is one argument in favour of the Ottoman rule which all friends of the Turks, from Lord Derby down to the smallest Conservative orator, assume to be incontro- vertible. Constantinople, they say, must never fall into Rus- sian hands. The Russian possession of such a naval station would be too dangerous to English interests, might even lead to the extinction of the British Empire in Asia,—that is, to a catastrophe as injurious to the world as to ourselves. Those who make this assertion, it will be observed, as a rule, do not condescend to explain themselves or to enter into details, but treat the fact as self-evident; and as a rule also, the audience, always greatly impressed by a repetition of anything they, have heard before, honour the statement with applause. We have not the slightest wish that Russia should possess Constantinople, which belongs to the people of European Turkey, and not the slightest desire to prevent its defence by Great Britain in the interest of that population, or even of our own, if that interest is clearly proved ; but we should much like to know a little more clearly what our opponents think Russia would be able to do with it, that is so exceedingly menacing to us. As far as we can perceive, they are somewhat disinclined to explain, and when they do explain, offer reasons which, though valuable enough in themselves and as far as they go, certainly de not support the immense deductions they usually proceed to make. The best of them is not an argument for the Turkish possession of Constantinople, but against allowing Russia that access to the seas of the world' which every other Power with a sea-coast possessesmithout objection or remark, and which undoubtedly, whatever we may do, she will one day acquire. Russia, they say, in possession of Constantinople would be able -to shut up the Black Sea, and be able also to intercept our Indian trade by the Suez Canal almost at her pleasure. That is too great a power to entrust to her, and therefore she must' not have Constantinople, even if it costs a war to prevent her taking it.
Let us look at this Black-Sea argument first, because it is much the simpler. It is not intended, we presume, to argue that Russincould, merely because she owned Constantinople, treat the Bosphorus as an internal water-way, and shut it up by legal municipal order, because, in that case that right belongs to the Turk, and we must drive him from Constanti- nople, for fear he should ever exercise it. It is rather intended that the position itself would give Russia the power, if ever she chose to exert it, of shutting out the merchantmen and navies of the world from the Black Sea. Well, that is quite tree. The owner of Constantinople, if rich enough to buy certain guns, and build certain fortresses, and commission certain ironcla.ds, could prevent access to the Black Sea and that would be very annoying, first, because the world wants to trade there, and next, because the grand check upon Russia hitherto has been the possibility of a descent upon her Black-Sea possessions. But then this power could only be exercised at the cost of a war, in which the whole world' would be on the side of the Power which defended the general privilege and immunity, and the position of Russia on the Bosphorus would be no better than that of other States now seated on more important straits. We ourselves, for example if we chose to encounter a general war, could shut up the example, from Gibraltar, or the Bed. Bea andwith 'it the Suez Canal, from Aden, or for that matter, the English Channel itself from Portsmouth. We actually did these things during the Napoleonic war, and could do them again at discretion. It is a mere question of expenditure and risk, and the world, if the principle which governs action in Turkey is a general principle, would have a fair right to make war on us till we surrendered Gibraltar, Aden, and Portsmouth, —quite a Constantinople in its naval importance. The reason we do not do these things is that we do not want to impede trade, but to foster it, and that we do not want a great war for such an object; and those are precisely the reasons which would prevent Russia from using a power which, when all is said, she possesses even now. If it is worth her while, she can lock the Black Sea now. She has only to station a few ironclads off the east entrance to the Bosphorus, and sink any vessel entering the Black Sea, and the Sea would be effectually locked. That, it will be said, is absurd. She would draw on herself the hostility of civilised mankind. Very true, and quite unanswerable, but in what does such a proceeding differ from the one that it is apprehended she will actually attempt. Absolutely not at all, except that the fire from a fort may be a little cheaper and a little more formidable than the fire from an ironclad fleet. No doubt, in the event of war, say, with England, she might stop our Black-Sea trade, at any cost to her own people, and prevent a landing on her Black- Sea coast ; but then, if she owned Constantinople, we should not want to land there, but at some point on the Sea of Marmora, much more distant from her own resources and much nearer to ours. As a positive fact, Constantinople, if she did not possess the peninsula, would be a terrible weakness to Russia, for it could only be defended by sea, on which she could be beaten even by single Powers ; while if she did pos- sess the Turkish peninsula, she would be no more out of range than she is now, but much more nearly within it. She would have more subjects and perhaps more revenue than she has now, but she possesses already larger armies than she can use, and every sixpence of her new revenue would be absorbed
in the expense of government. Apart altogether from the necessary hostility of the great military Powers on her flank, who will never allow her to command the Danube, she would be no more powerful than she is, and from the climate and .fertility of her new possessions, much less invulnerable. That is no reason for allowing her to oppress populations who wish to be free, but it is a reason for not regulating our policy by the dictates of a timid selfishness which blinds us to the plainest moral claims.
The Black-Sea argument is, however, only secondary, the real argument being that Russia, possessed of such a naval station, could rush out and interrupt our communication with India by the Mediterranean whenever she chose. Of course her power of so doing would be greatly increased by the possession of Constantinople, but it would not be increased un- manageably, or be greater than the power already possessed, say, by France, which could do precisely the same thing from Marseilles. A Russian fleet emerging from the Hellespont would be merely a fleet, and could be destroyed with just as much ease or just as much difficulty as a French fleet emerging from Marseilles or Toulon. It would be only a fleet, where- ever it was, and would be no whit fitter for battle because pre- pared in Constantinople, than if prepared in Sebastopol or Cron- stadt. If, indeed, we could imagine that the mere possession of Constantinople would make Russia the first of maritime Powers, then, indeed, we should be in danger as serious as if we had lost the command of the seas ; but except position, what would Constantinople give her, in men, or materiel, or means generally for the maintenance of a great fleet, that she does not already possess ? There would be, in fact, another fleet in the Mediterranean besides the French, Spanish, Italian, and Austrian, and that would be all. That is not an accept- able result to a Power like Great Britain, but it is not a result so dangerous that all other considerations should be postponed to it ; while it is a result which will happen whenever Russia
• obtains the free water-way which she can never cease to seek, and to which, by every rule of justice, she has for a century been entitled.
But finally, argue the Russophobists, Russia intends to con- quer India, and seated at Constantinople, she would conquer her way to Bagdad and threaten us upon the Persian Gulf. We do not believe that the Russian object in Asia is India, holding that her conquests, so far as they are not fortuitous, like many of our own conquests in India, are intended rather to enable her to attack Persia, and through Persia, Turkey, from behind ; but accepting the idea that she desires to reign in India, how does the possession of Constantinople advance her end ? She must move towards the Persian Gulf, and she would have to conquer a larger extent of territory and more numerous populations than she has, as matters now stand. At present the Caspian is a Russian lake, and from the Caspian to the Persian Gulf the isthmus of Persia is only 500 miles broad, possessed by a people who, since the famine, are certainly not three millions in number, who cannot face Russian infantry, and who, but for us, could be conquered in a campaign. Persia is the Russians' road, if not to India, at least to a position which would make India a most expensive possession ; and access to another road, equally difficult, and leading to precisely the same point, would not make the Indian situation either better or worse. In any case, if seriously menaced, we should have to defend India by a war, which would not be waged upon the spot, and would not be rendered more difficult by Russia's possession of a great naval station accessible by sea. We do not deny that Russia would gain by such a possession, more especially in prestige in the East, and in her ability to intervene directly in the politics of the Mediterranean, but we do deny that she would gain so much as to make it too dangerous for us even to do our duty in face of such a risk. With a little more audacity and philanthropic spirit in our statesmen, Constantinople would be transferred. not to Russia, but to a Slav Confederation, assisted, it might be, by an Italian army ; but even if by persistently throwing the South Slays on Russia for protection we ultimately enabled her to seize the" Imperial City," our position would only be affected to the extent of a new reason for the occupation of Egypt,—one reason added to the hundred which statesmen of all parties have already perceived. There may be other reasons behind for protecting Constantinople, and on all such matters experts are entitled to a hearing ; but if there are, they are reasons for occupying Constantinople ourselves, or securing masters for it whom we can trust,—such, for instance, as the Italians,—not for defending a wretched Power which desolates what it pre- tends to govern, yet could not without our aid protect the "Imperial City" for an hour.