For the past several days there has been an interesting discussion on the LSTSRV H-WAR concerning the importance of the Agadir Affair, also called the Second Moroccan Crisis, in terms of the causes of World War I.
In the decade and a half prior to World War I there were a series of international disputes that involved or affected the major European powers that in 1914 went to war as members of either the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy) and the Triple Entente (France, Russia, and Great Britain).
An important question concerning World War I has been to gauge the relative importance of these various diplomatic crisis’s and evaluate them in terms of the so-called Alliance System that developed as each participant attempted to guarantee its own security and protect its own national and dynastic interests.
The Second Moroccan Crisis and Agadir Affair are interesting because they led to results that the Germans, French, and British had not intended or anticipated. Below is a slightly edited version of my post on H-WAR on 24 March that discusses two of these unintended consequences.
H-WAR, 24 March 2009
There is a certain seduction about World War I theories of causation. The various pre-war diplomatic crises can be arranged and re-arranged to appear to march in step from one to another until shots are fired in August 1914. Such an approach not only obscures the fundamental causes of World War I, it also ignores the contingent nature of history.
So, before I too am seduced by the Second Moroccan Crisis, let us remember that the demographic revolution that began in the 18th century, the economic and technological expansion of Europe and world markets at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, and the powerful attraction of aggressive nationalisms are as and possibly more important in understanding the conditions that resulted in World War I rather than a diplomatic dispute over colonial interests in North Africa. The Second Moroccan Crisis, moreover, is arguably of greater importance to Moroccan history than European because it demonstrated again that European interests were of greater importance than Moroccan interests.
None the less, the Second Moroccan Crisis or the Agadir Affair, in my opinion, is important because its unintended consequences are, in retrospect, more significant than the German protest over the French occupation of Fez in 1911 that ostensibly triggered the crisis.
The first unintended consequence was Lloyd George’s Mansion House speech delivered three weeks after the Panther sailed into Agadir. The second unintended consequence is the Italian opportunism of using the Second Moroccan Crisis as a pretext for the Tripolitan War, which led to the Second (and final) Balkan War.
The significance of Lloyd George’s speech was that it marked a significant shift in British foreign policy in which it would no longer tolerate Germany’s colonial interference; that when such interference threatened British interests Britain may consider them to be points of “national honor” (escalatory vocabulary); and it signaled an increasing alignment of British and French interests that led to further military cooperation between their navies as well as discussions, “informal” to be sure, about further military cooperation on the Continent.
The Tripolitan War exposed Turkish weakness and Germany’s inability to aid directly her Turkish friend. Equally important, Turkish defeat led Bulgaria and Serbia to find further opportunities to expand their own national interests at the expense of both Austria-Hungary and Turkey, which resulted in the Second Balkan War, 1913, which in turn was ended on August 10, 1913, with the Treaty of Bucharest. However, the Treaty of Bucharest, the terms of which had been agreed on by the major powers in an earlier London conference, pleased few and aggravated many.
On the surface it appeared that the outcome of the Second Moroccan Crisis had given Germany the colonial concessions she sought; but Germany’s victory was Pyrrhic. Germany was now more isolated, Britain and France were growing closer, the Turks were defeated, and the Balkans remained unsettled.
However, even if we accept the importance of these unintended consequences, we ought not be seduced in thinking that they led inevitably to war in August 1914. After the Second Moroccan Crisis, Britain attempted to engage Germany in discussions that Britain hoped would lead to an agreement on future ship building. Although the Haldane mission was unsuccessful in obtaining such an agreement, it served to restore confidence between the two governments, a confidence that bore some fruit when Britain and Germany cooperated to limit the Balkan War in 1912 and 1913.
While the British and the French held important discussions after the Second Moroccan Crisis, they declined to commit the discussions to formal agreement. As long as that was the case, Germany had the potential to wean the British back from the French and to become in spirit if not in fact the “natural” ally Germany thought Britain should be. Germany, for example, took that opportunity by negotiating and signing an agreement with England in the Spring of 1914 that settled their long dispute over Portuguese colonies. By the fall of 1913, however, it was becoming clear that even though the major powers could agree to treaties, those treaties were unable either to ameliorate the inflamed passions of the south Slavs or to harness their own competing interests in the Balkans.
Whether or not British and French relations would have grown closer or whether or not Italy would have invaded Tripoli are topics that would form the counterfactual question, “What if the Germans had not reacted to, even ignored, the French occupation of Fez in 1913? Would Europe still have gone to war in 1914?”