THE DARDANELLES. T HERE is a story, probably ill-founded, of an
English Cabinet Minister who did not know where the Dardanelles were, or, at any rate, confounded them with the Bosphorus, but "in any ease" was determined that whatever they were and wherever they were the Russians should not be allowed to interfere with them. Happily this frame of mind among our rulers is altogether out of date. Still it is to be feared that some scintilla of the old prejudice remains, and that a good many people are inclined at first sight to say that they do not see why the Russians cannot leave the Dardanelles alone. We propose to-day to try to say something as to why the Russians cannot, or at any rate do not, leave the Dardanelles alone, as to how and in what way British interests are involved, and generally as to what is vaguely called" the Mediterranean situation."
At the present moment very little that is definite has been made public upon the question of the Dardanelles. We only know that something is stirring in connexion with them, and that Russia, probably excited thereto by the suggestion that the Italian fleet may force the passage of the Dardanelles, is talking of urging her old claim that her warships should be allowed to pass through the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmora, and the Dardanelles into the open Mediterranean. If, as we think most likely, it is true that Russia is at the moment con- sidering the advisability of pressing this claim, the first question that arises is, Would the claim, if satisfied, involve any injury to British interests ? In spite of old theories and old policies, we hold that no British interests would be injured by Russia obtaining the right to move her ships of war from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean and to send them back again to their home ports. On the contrary, we believe that such egress and ingress for the Russian Navy would be a positive advantage to this country, and would help restore that balance of power in the Mediterranean which may be seriously impaired should the Austrians carry out their present naval programme, and should the Italians remain active members of the Triple Alliance—a condition which we must assume will continue in spite of certain contra-indications.
It will no doubt be urged in refutation of our view that the Russian demand is, per Sc, utterly unfair and unreason- able, for the Russians, it is alleged, want to make a treaty with Turkey that they shall be allowed to move up and. down the long passage which begins at the Black Sea mouth of the Bosphorus and ends at the Troad and the peninsula of Gallipoli, but that similar rights of free passage shall not be allowed to the warships of any other Power. We quite admit that in the abstract this sounds a selfish and dog-in-the-manger demand, but upon it we should like to make two remarks. In the first place we are now on the most friendly footing with Russia. Though the fact may not be openly acknowledged, we are in truth co-operating heartily and loyally with Russia to prevent either her or France being overwhelmed by a sudden attack of the great allied Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary, whose territories are wedged between. Now what we have got to consider is, not whether Russia is apparently selfish and unreasonable, but merely whether her demands, stripped of the vitupera- tive adjectives which are applied to them by anti-Russian publicists, would injure this country. If they would not, then why in the name of common sense should we oppose them ? To arrive at the answer to this quest;on we must ask two other questions. The first is, Will British interests be injured by the Russian Black Sea fleet entering the Mediterranean ? This we have already answered in a& vance. They will not be injured. Next we must ask, assuming that the Russian proposal is for exclusive rights in the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, whether British interests will be injured by the British Navy not enjoying corresponding rights. Our answer is that British interests will not be injured should we not obtain the treaty privileges which Russia seeks. The reason is plain. There arc no circumstances existing at the present, or likely to exist in the reasonably near future, which would render it advisable, or anything but utterly foolish, for the British fleet to pass the Dardanelles and go into the Black Sea. If for any reason we were anxious to exert naval pressure in the Black Sea, much the best plan would be for our fleet to operate at the mouth of the Dardanelles and hermetically seal those waters.
Since the development which has taken place in floating mines, in the range of modern artillery, and, we may add, in the size of capital ships of war, the dangers of operat- ing in narrow waters like the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus have been immensely increased. We are not arguing that it would be impossible to force the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus and to get a fleet into the Black Sea, nor do we trouble about the risk of indi- vidual ships being destroyed in doing the work if it were necessary. Battleships were made to be risked, and the notion of paralysing naval action for fear of losses is, we fully admit, the most dangerous one that could be en- tertained by a maritime Power. What we do say is that after a British fleet had forced the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus and got into the Black Sea it would be able to do very little, and it would be in imminent danger of that disaster befalling it which no wise naval strategist or commander can ever contemplate with anything but horror—the disaster of being "bottled up," of having the door which it had forced slammed to and locked and. barred behind it, and. so of being deprived of that freedom of action which is the essential condition of naval power. To put the matter in yet another way, there is no prize, no naval or political object obtainable in the Black Sea, which is worth the risks which must be involved in sending a fleet up the Dardanelles. Note, however, that when we say this we are not contemplating any abandonment of British rights during war. If we were in alliance with Turkey it would not matter what the treaties were, for we should. then always be able to have a free passage up the Straits. What we have got to contemplate is a condition of things in which Turkey would be hostile and would attempt to deny us the use of the Straits or might only apparently be neutral, and therefore, even if she let us up the Straits, might be in a position to blackmail us before our fleet could return. But to force the Dardanelles while Turkey was hostile would mean not only naval action, but the landing of an expeditionary force to take the forts on both sides of the Dardanelles, and a force big enough to over- come the military force of Turkey at the place where it is strongest. However, we need not labour this point any further, for we are quite certain that there will be other and more important uses for our Army and Navy in the near future than in forcing the passage of the Dardanelles. In truth the problem is an entirely unreal one. We cannot conceive, then, any policy more inept than that of showing unfriendliness to Russia and to Russia's demands merely in order that we may obtain the abstract right of sending our warships to a place where, so long as the Board of Admiralty is compoo auntie, we shall certainly not send them—unless, as we have said, we are in alliance with Turkey and acting in her defence, in which case the whole problem is solved in another and wholly different way.
Now let us attempt to look at the question somewhat more from the point of view of Russia. We are bound to say that at first sight one might feel a certain surprise that Russia should desire to acquire the right of sending her Black Sea fleet into the Mediterranean, considering the risks involved therein. It may be pointed out, however, that the risks of sending ships down from the Black Sea are not so great as the risks of sending them up. Though the Black Sea has no outlet the Mediterranean has, and if a Russian fleet which had once got down the Dardanelles were to find the door bolted behind it, it could always betake itself vizi the Straits of Gibraltar to the Baltic. But even if these considerations did not hold good it would certainly not be for us to say the Russians nay or to quarrel with their decision. On the contrary, as we have suggested above, we can conceive plenty of circumstances where the Russian fleet, acting in conjunction with a French squadron, would be most useful in maintaining the balance of power. The course of naval pressure in the North Sea has already made the basis of our Mediterranean force not Malta but Gibraltar. The result of this change must tend towards making the naval forces of the Triple Alliance dominant in the Adriatic and the Agean. In these circumstances can any sane man think that our naval dangers and difficulties will be decreased by keeping a Russian fleet cut of 'the sEgean ? Surely, instead of hostility, our attitude should be one of sincere gratification. Indeed, we might almost say that the news of the Mediterranean balance being corrected by the introduction of the Russian factor is "almost too good to be true." Unfortunately, however, there are many difficulties in the way of a con- summation so "devoutly to be wished." In the first place tie Russian Black Sea squadron can at present hardly be eviLid an up-to-date naval force ; and next, even if it becomes that, as we trust it may, and gets into the Mediterranean, where is it to find a naval base unless, of course, we lend it one at Malta ? But that eventuality— and it is by no means unthinkable from the practical point of view—is certainly not one which can be used as an argument for preventing Russia carrying out her wish to negotiate a treaty with Turkey for the opening to her of the Dardanelles.
To sum up. We hold that we shall be most foolish if we do anything to prevent Russia obtaining the fulfilment of her desire in the matter of the Dardanelles or if we stand upon a punctilio and insist that if Russia obtains the right of passage the Turks must grant it to all the naval Powers of the world. After all there is something to be said for Russia's argument that she is in quite a different position from every other Power. If we omit Rumania and Bulgaria, which are Powers virtually with- out fleets, the only naval Powers that border the Black Sea are Russia and Turkey. If, therefore, they like to come to a special and exclusive arrangement it seems to us they have a right to do so. The claims of a Power like Russia, which owns the greater part of the shores of the Black Sea and half of whose fleet has its home in that sea, to egress and ingress are very different from the claims of Powers which have no territory bordering upon it. As we have said before, however, we do not -want to argue the matter on abstract con- siderations or on the ground of international law, but purely on the ground of British interests. Those interests do not bar the claim of Russia; but, indeed, if properly under- stood, support that claim. Therefore we shall be most foolish if we throw any impediment in the way of Russian diplomacy in this respect. But, though we desire that Russia should not be opposed but supported in her claim, we fully realize that the question is one which, if pressed at an unfavourable moment, may not be without danger to the peace of Europe. Many of our readers will doubtless recall the curious legend of the sea nymph who, like the Lorelei, has her home in the waters of the Straits :— " Oh fair and dreadful is the maid that dwells Between the two seas at the Dardanelles."
If we remember rightly, her vocation was to lure ships and men to their ruin. We sincerely hope that Russia, in pressing her claims, will remember the legend, and will guard herself from the dangers of these fateful waters.