6 FEBRUARY 1897, Page 8


IT is nearly impossible as one reads reports of the constant oscillations in the European Alliances, of the fears that they may break up, and of the elaborate efforts made to keep them firm, not to speculate for a moment as to what would be the natural alliances among the greater States, and as to the causes which seem, if not permanently, at least for long periods of time, to arrest their formation. To us, looking at the question with- out bias and purely as historians, it seems that the present arrangement is almost purely artificial, and that the only natural one is England and France on one side, and the " Imperial Powers," as Lord Beaconsfield called them, on the other, with Italy swaying towards one or the other group, or remaining neutral, as her interests or her desire for peaceful development might in turn dictate. England and France represent in different degrees and by different methods the great democratic idea that nations should govern themselves, and that no question of internal organisation should be allowed to stand in the way of changes which a people decides to be clearly made in the interests of progress, either in their happiness or their civilisation or their virtue. The ultimate instrument of government is therefore in both a representative body, or on great occasions an appeal to the mass of the popula- tion. The acceptance of that principle acts in both of them as a strong motive-force, and influences their action abroad as well as at home, operating, we admit, in the former case only spasmodically, as when France freed Italy, but still occasionally for long periods and in a great way and with permanent results. England and France, for example, have been honest in putting down slavery and the slave- trade. The three Imperial Powers, on the other hand, represent the conservative impulse of Europe ; they are almost pledged to use force against any social up- rising, and they all either tacitly or openly declare that the preservation of Monarchical power is their first object, and should be that of their populations. That is a radical difference in the motives of action of the two groups, and is so far from an academic one that it has repeatedly produced great consequences, such as the Russian conquest of Liberal Hungary in 1849, the refusal of Prussia to join in a league against Russia in 1856, and the determination of the three Emperors last year not to depose Abd-ul-Hamid,—that is, in fact, to maintain a grand source of inquietude in Europe. The interests of the two groups, moreover, tend historically to bind their component States together. The true " expansion " of France—that which would really yield her at once a noble and a. practicable field for her energies—would be in the vast region south of the Mediterranean, once the most directly valuable of the provinces of Rome, because the grand source of her food-supply. Well, allowing for a difficulty about Tangier, which must be neutralised, Great Britain would not care, provided she were left free to reign from Alexandria to the Cape, if France reigned from Barca to Mequinez, and southwards even to the Niger. That magnificent Empire at her own doors is, on very moderate conditions, at the disposal of France, with the full approval of Great Britain. The supposed quarrel about Siam would be seen, if the two Powers were friendly, to have nothing in it ; and everywhere else in the world we are on the best of terms, Great Britain having even surrendered its really strong claim, as discoverer and civiliser, to Madagascar. We, for our part, literally want nothing except Egypt, as aforesaid, that France also thinks she wants. On the other hand, the Imperial Powers, already bound together by the partition of Poland, could, if they agreed, not only dominate the Black Sea and the Scandinavian States, but practically treat the Turkish Empire and its old dependencies in the Balkan Peninsula as derelict kingdoms, to be governed and divided as suited best their aspirations or their interests. No Power could resist them except England, and England, securely seated at Cairo and Khartoum, and incurably distrustful of the Ottoman caste, would have no interest to defend worth the risks and, the expenditure of a great war. The two Leagues might endure for a century, for they would have plenty of work to do ; at points their interests would become identical, and whenever they could agree they would be, if not the masters, at least the arbiters of the world, and could arrange, not, indeed, for disarmament, which is the dream of bookmen, but for such a reduction and redistribution of their forces as would perceptibly diminish their necessity for imposing taxes, and with it the Socialist tendency of their subjects and their own most discreditable hunger, even rage, for acquiring profit- able estates.

So strongly has the naturalness, as we must call it, of this system of alliances been felt, that it has been realised once, the result being the permanent disappearance of Poland from the map in the face of the unavailing pro- tests both of England and France, and that Kings and diplomatists have tried at least three times to renew it, always with imperfect and momentary effect. It very nearly became solid in 1856, but the " magnificent in- gratitude " of the Hapsburgs, who wanted to keep Italy and their German position, induced them to swerve towards the Western Powers, and so to lose the beat opportunity they have ever had of expanding on their natural path to the South-East. The special interests of Austria in the West have, however, now disappeared, be is out of Germany, and it is difficult to believe that f a compensation to Germany could be devised—and two Dr three might be pointed ont—the interests of the three Powers—not their real interests, be it observed, but their interests as dynasts reckon them—could not be brought into nearly complete harmony. There remain, if the interests could be reconciled, certain distrusts which are probably ineradicable, like the German doubt whether the Hapsburgs have forgotten their old ascendency over Germany, certain acute antipathies of race, like those which divide Germans from Slays, and which have their foundations deep in differences of national character— the Slav, for example, postponing his pecuniary interests to his antipathies, his passions, and his ideas in a way the German is slow to imitate—and the dislikes which have grown up in centuries between the dynasties. Those dislikes lie deep in the ruling dynasts. The Romanoffs, Hapsburgs, and Hohenzollerns have been rivals for long periods, they have studied each other with the minute care with which an Englishman studies only his closest connections, they have discovered what we may impolitely call for the sake of clearness the "vicious point" of each, and they dislike and resent it with a bitterness that it is not easy to explain, though we have been told that great English or Scotch families, if seated in the same county, often retain permanently, even in the midst of friendships and marriage alliances, the same feeling. If we should say, for instance, that Hapsburgs and Hohenzollerns thought the Romanoffs " Greeks," that Romanoffs and Hapsburgs thought Hohenzollerns greedy, and that Romanoffs and Hohenzollerns considered Hapsburgs pompous almost to lunacy, most diplomatists familiar with those Courts and their histories would smile in a, deprecating manner, and—not contradict. No dislikes of the kind would greatly impede unity on any project promising immediate advantage, but they do greatly im- pede cordial understandings, and help, with many other influences, to keep the Imperial Powers in their permanent position with regard to each other, which is one of jealous and even minute watchfulness. That watchfulness might, however, if their common interests as dynasts were aroused, or their territorial interests were reconciled by compromise, disappear with startling suddenness. A " Drei Kaiser Bund " is never quite a political impossibility.

We have not, we need scarcely say, written down these considerations with any idea that the present groupings will be speedily broken up. The financial gain of them to Russia is too enormous to allow of that. It is the purse of France, not the Army of France, that Russia wants to draw on, and has drawn on with a quite extraordinary measure of success. But it is worth the while of our readers when they hear of agreements and difficulties among the Powers to remember that the present groupings are rather artificial, that the Imperial families form a caste by themselves with thoughts of their own, that if Germany and Russia could agree there would in Berlin be no fear of France, and that, loudly as its servants speak, the house- of Hapsburg is just as likely, when the hour arrives, to compromise with Russia, as it did in 1877, as to avail itself of its position on the Russian flank. We want, too, to point out that the peace which for eighty-one years has reigned between us and France suggests that we must have some motive-forces in common, that our jealousies must be in part at least superficial, and that our interests- cannot be so permanently and deeply opposed to an alliance as it is often the custom to assume. We may, too, have- to make up our minds about alliances much more clearly than we have done since 1870, ever since which turning-point in history our statesmen and our people, with rare unanimity, have said to each other " " Splendid isolation " is a very proud attitude, but it can be maintained in only one way, and we can imagine con- tingencies, by no means remote, in which the choice would lie between strong alliances for definite ends, and an ex- penditure upon the Army—the Army, mind, not the Navy —such as this generation has no experience of. We would ask those who doubt this, and who think that to-morrow will always be as to-day, to reflect for a minute on what the position of this country would have been if in 1857, when the strength of the Army was afloat for the suppression of the Indian Mutiny, Napoleon III. had imagined in his dreamy reveries that the hour for avenging Waterloo had at last arrived.