29 JUNE 1912, Page 21


IN our opinion the Mediterranean problem, which has been discussed of late with such vehemence and sensationalism, has been badly handled. Considerations academic and practical have been mixed up in hopeless confusion, and principles strategic and political have been distorted and exaggerated. We propose on the present occasion to do our best to treat the matter more coolly and from a more common-sense point of view. In the first place it must be admitted as an abstract proposition that, important as the Mediterranean is, our essential object is the command of the sea as a whole. Next, the command of the sea can only be obtained by dominating in peace and destroying in war, the fleets and warships of those who challenge that command. From this it follows that in order to do the work which is required, which, remember, is always war work and not parade or exhibition of the flag, our ships must be placed near those of the Power most likely, and most able, to challenge our naval supremacy. For example, if the command of the sea is challenged by a Mediterranean Power we must keep the bulk of our ships in the Mediterranean. If, however, as in the present case, it is challenged by a North Sea Power, our chief naval force must be in northern waters. Nay, more, if the challenging fleet is so powerful and so concentrated that we should otherwise be in a minority of force, it is con- ceivable that we may have to bring home ships from every other part of the world in order to keep them at the point where their work must be done should war break out. In that case we must be content to know that if once we have beaten the enemy's fleet we can regain the local sea supremacy in any and every sea or ocean where we desire control. There could be nothing more foolish or more tragic than to risk defeat by keeping an inferior force in the North Sea while boasting that we were ruling the waves in the Mediterranean, the Pacific, or the Indian Ocean.

But though this proposition is so obviously true in the abstract, so elementary indeed, it by no means follows that the moment has already come when every other considera- tion must be sacrificed to piling up force in the North Sea, and that the many and great strategic interests—. military and naval---not to speak of the political and com- mercial interests involved in our hold upon the Mediter- ranean, must be sacrificed. In our opinion it is a gross piece of exaggeration to adopt such an attitude at present. We cannot believe that when the Imperial Defence Committee, which, we presume, have the whole question under careful consideration,have given their opinion it will be in the direction of declaring that the supreme moment has arrived, or at any rate the moment which demands the concentration of our whole naval force in the North Sea, no matter what the contingent consequences. But if that supreme moment has not arrived, then, un- questionably, there are reasons of the utmost gravity why it should not be forestalled. In the first place it is always foolish to cry "stinking fish" or to lower one's prestige in the international market by appearing to con- fess to a weakness which does not exist. We all want to secure peace, but there is no better way of securing peace than to inspire confidence in the strength and solidity of British power ; for, whatever they may say, all the Powers know at heart that we are sincerely anxious to keep the peace and shall never make an unprovoked attack upon any nation, however intense its rivalry or however un- friendly. In other words, to proclaim that our naval responsibilities are larger than we can undertake when that is not in truth the case must be a capital error. Indeed, we would go further and say that till the last possible moment our duty is to show that we are capable, not only of effectually masking any German force in the North Sea, but also of maintaining in the Mediterranean a, fleet able to control the situation. We believe we are just now well capable of accomplishing both tasks.

In our opinion, however, we can go further than this. We believe that premature withdrawal, or rather prema- ture talk about withdrawal, from the Mediterranean—for, remember, that is all that there has been as yet—is calculated to produce the very conditions of political or rather strategic stringency which it should be our chief object to avoid. A few moments' consideration will make this clear. Italy holds at present, and is likely for sonic time to hold, the balance of sea power in the Mediterranean. Suppose war to have broken out and what we may term Italy's sleeping partnership in the Triple Alliance turned into an active partnership. We should then behold the astonishing sight of Austrian and Italian battleships jointly protecting Trieste and securing Austrian domination in the Adriatic. We may feel sure that such a state of things could only be brought about by dire necessity, and that Italy, though she might be obliged to play the role of naval henchman to Austria-Hungary, would view the task with the utmost dislike. Obviously also such an active naval combination would be highly in- jurious to the interests of this country, and might very seriously affect the conditions under which we should carry out the struggle for the command of the sea. If Italy were once definitely ranged against us, whatever might be the feelings of her population, she would have to fight us as hard as if she were a Power whose vital interests were anti-British, and who had everything to gain by our annihilation. Clearly, then, we want to give Italy every possible ground for refusing to become the naval henchman of a Power which she in her heart dreads so much as she does Austria-Hungary. The force of circumstances has, curiously enough, during the past six months tended very greatly in the direction of affording such ground. Italy has for the present, and will probably have for the next three or four years, very serious military commitments in North Africa. While she has to keep 120,000 troops actually in Tripoli, and to use a large part of her naval force in maintaining their communications with Italy, she has, from the strategic point of view, her hands 'very full indeed. Her army is cut in two by the sea. Therefore she is at the mercy of whoever holds the command of the sea in the Mediterranean. To put it in another way. If we have naval supremacy in the Mediterranean Italy cannot take the side of any Power at war with us without the terrible risk of losing, not only Tripoli, but the whole of her military forces in Tripoli. In other words, should war arise under existing conditions her action must be decided by her commitments in Tripoli. But if Italy were thus deprived by the force of circum- stances from fulfilling her obligations to the Triple Alliance, that alliance would be greatly weakened. On the other band, if Italy has no excuse for not fulfilling her obligations to her allies, she will have no option but to throw her whole weight, naval and military, on the side of Austria and Germany. Therefore, if we were to abandon the Mediterranean in order to get a more overwhelming force in the North Sea, we might very well be making our general naval position not better but worse. Italy in fact holds the key of the position, and to abandon the Mediterranean now would be to abandon it just at the moment when circumstances had given us a tremendous hold over Italian policy. In our opinion, then, we ought, in the interests of peace and security, to strain every nerve to maintain our supremacy in the Mediterranean and to maintain it at Malta, that is, at the point where we can speak to Italy with a command- ing voice.

We trust it will not be thought when we write as we have written that we are showing any hostility to Italy. The reverse is the case. We fully recognize that if Italy throws in her lot against us it will be with a heavy heart and under compulsion. Italy must, of course, think of her own national interests first, but we can well believe that she might be very glad to be com- pelled by superior force to refuse, as we have said, to be the naval henchman of Austria-Hungary. If, however, the force of circumstances, owing to any blunder of ours, sets the other way, and we oblige Italy, so to speak, to go with the big battalions, she may be reluctantly forced into a position much more anti-British than she desires. In our view there is no sort of danger to British interests in Italy obtaining a strong hold on the Egean. Properly considered, Italy's domination of the Egean is far more likely to injure Austria-Hungary than it is to injure us. So long as Italy retains the Egean islands, and keeps one portion of her fleet there and another portion off the African coast, our power of controlling the Mediterranean situation and making it work out to our interests is enormously increased—provided, of course, we are still in power at Malta, and not merely on sufferance. To sum up, circumstances make it easier now for us than before to hold the balance in the Mediterranean. Therefore this cannot be a favourable moment for reducing our fleet in the Mediterranean, but rather a most unfavour- able one. Unless, then—which we cannot for a moment admit—the naval situation in the North Sea has suddenly become so dangerous that concentration of power is abso- lutely necessary, we deprecate very strongly the abandon- ment of the Mediterranean. Nothing could be more unwise than to act under what we can only describe as panic conditions. We have, we believe, naval force enough and to spare, not only for the North Sea„ but also for the Mediterranean. If we are wrong, however, then the sooner we organize a force sufficient for both fields of action the better it will be for us and for the cause of peace.