TOPICS OF THE DAY.
FRANCE AND RUSSIA. THE correspondent of the Times in Paris, who, in spite of his foibles, is an unusually keen-sighted and well-informed man, is, we fancy, endeavouring to warn the British public that the political barometer is falling. Certainly the state of things which he describes is extra- ordinary enough to cause English statesmen some anxiety, and to strengthen the bands of those who desire to spend money upon armaments. The young Czar, or the group of statesmen who in his name are now governing Russia, are evidently determined to draw closer the bonds of the alliance with France, and moreover to show the world how completely they recognise that those bonds exist. The Russian Court not only loses no opportunity of dis- playing its friendship for France, but makes opportunities in a rather unusual way. General Dragomiroff has been despatched from St. Petersburg to watch and report on the manceuvres now in progress round Mirecourt, and is exhausting eulogy in praise of the French infantry and its "little men who never tire." His speeches are not perhaps of the wisest, but he would not make them, we may be sure, without permission from his chiefs. Prince Lobanoff, too, the Foreign Minister of Russia, who is said to be the most trusted confidant of the Emperor, has been allowed, during a visit in search of health, to accept the French Minister's invitation to Mirecourt, and to stimulate enthusiasm for Russia by his visible presence at the grand review. The French are, it is reported, wild with enthusiasm for their great ally, and it requires all their sense of discipline to keep the troops from publicly expressing it. At the same time, it is an- nounced that a second Russo-Chinese loan is to be subscribed, in France only, in November; that France is to find capital for a Russo-Chinese Bank in Pekin ; and that the three Powers, Russia, France, and, after some hesitation, Germany, have decided to press upon Japan a more rapid evacuation of the Liau-tung Peninsula,—an order which will be bitterly resented in Tokio, where the Mika,do's Government, in the face of a people half-crazy with humiliation, has a most difficult game to play. Tele- grams are received daily from Constantinople announcing that Russia and France are acting together there ; and everywhere, in Turkey as in the Far East, it is palpably Russian interests rather than French to which the agents of France devote themselves with such zeal and eagerness. France, in fact, deems no price too high to pay for the Russian alliance, and the total effect of the combination is plainly this. The Czar at this moment disposes of the French as well as the Russian Army and. Fleet, and can rely for almost any purpose upon that inexhaustible mine of treasure,—the savings of the population of France. That is a bewildering mass of force, actual and calculable force, to be concentrated in the hands of one man, who has some interests hostile to those of Great Britain, and who, this week, allows his agents to expel an innocent English traveller like Lord Sheffield from Sebastopol, they alleging as their sole excuse that Sebastopol has been recently de- clared a "naval port." It must be difficult for any man to possess for a time, and, as it were, on loan, so transcendent a weapon and not desire to take advantage of it, and that advantage, though it may be to the injury of China, which has embarked on a course most threatening to her in- dependence, may also be to the injury of Great Britain. The Czar, who, it is known, has personal convictions as to what may be achieved in the Far East, who is almost openly threatening Japan, and who is so driving on the Trans- Siberian Railway that it will be ready for slow trains in 1900, is now master within the China seas. Granting him to be the purest of patriots, intent only on advancing the interests of his country, that is a situation full of peril, for nations may clash almost without intending it, and neither his Majesty nor Lord Salisbury can guarantee that the two countries may not find themselves suddenly at variance about a question on which neither can give way.
We have not the slightest wish to assist in developing a panic, but we cannot but remember that Russia is always possessed with the idea that Great Britain is thwarting her ; that France is madly jealous of our external position ; that a strong party in each country is sleepless in stirring up animosity ; and that the incurable foible of our organisation for war is that, except in India, we are never ready. Our Fleet is the strongest in the world ; our Army is s ifficient for all our usual requirements; our ability 10 raise money at one is only limited by our needs; but if a great struggle came on us suddenly, we should, if all our precedents can be trusted, be a month behindhand. It is on that point, and that only, that we desire to see the Departments, and the Army and Navy chiefs, and the community at large, thoroughly woked up, We want them all to be certain, on other evidence than returns and assurances on paper, that we can act to the- extent of our strength in a week instead of a month ; that the ships are ready ; that the soldiers are efficients ; that above all our stocks of war material and commissariat stores are not all to be produced, or at all events collected, after the emergency has arisen. We entirely admit—have always admitted—that our strength, when we can get at it, is gigantic; that if time is given her Great Britain,. sadly as she is overstraining herself in the race for Empire, has nothing ultimately to fear ; but we want to see this necessity for time so far as possible eliminated. We do not understand, for example, why the Government did not take a much heavier vote to complete its stock of cordite. We do not understand why the Fleet in the Far East, upon which everything may at any moment depend, is not made the strongest in those waters, and we do not understand above all, why there in such delay in securing in the waters of Northern China a, position for a naval arsenal. The responsible experts may understand and may be content, but their tendency through all our modern history has been to be afraid of Parlia- ment and the taxpayer, and to think, if not to say, that much even of necessary precaution must be postponed until the people see that danger is at hand. That was always unsound policy even in days when no mass could be stirred quickly, and you were nearly sure of time, but now, when armies can be moved by telegraph, and fleets are driven by steam, it is mere foolhardiness, or worse, a reliance on the chapter of accidents, which may, for a moment at all events, all tell on our adversaries' side. We admit, be it understood, to the full the truth of the regular answers, that we cannot be prepared for everything, that other nations feel the same difficulties in mobilising, that it is folly to exhaust the nation with preparations against improbable contin- gencies. All that is true, but we can, if we please, without an exhausting effort, be ready to the extent of our usual strength, and it is of that, and that alone, that we enter- tain serious doubts. It is to this, the reality of every- thing which we are believed to get for our money, that the Committee of Cabinet which is henceforward to be our Aulic Council—absit omen—ought permanently to direct its attention. It is there that our weak place has always. been, and there, as it arises from the national character, that it always will be. The Russians are hampered by the corruption in their departments, the French by the mad jealousies between the branches of the service, and even individual Generals, and we are impeded by an un- readiness born of long-continued security. We want that unreadiness diminished, now and at once, for we may rely on it that with one man in possession of means for war such as have never before been at the disposal of one will, the continuance of our safety is not from week to week quite secure. It might end on this question of Armenia. The situation is a strange result of all the progress of late years, but there it is, not to be denied or even questioned, even though the witness first in the box is no more im- portant a man than M. de Blowitz.