Despite the warm glow of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897 and the triumph of Fashoda, it was not of imperial power that the Britons were most conscious of during the closing years of the nineteenth century. The evidence of Britain's decline was much more visible. What Britons noted was that their country was losing its mid-century lead in economic, colonial and naval strength, that despite the end of the economic depression, Britain's growth rate was less than that of some other countries, and that the balance of economic and military power was shifting towards Germany, Russia and the USA. Between 1880 and 1900 Britain's share of world manufacturing output declined from 22.9 per cent to 18.5 per cent, while that of Germany increased from 8.5 per cent to 14.8 per cent. 1 The resulting commercial rivalry was featured prominently in the newspapers of the two countries. 2 Besides, the Germans were embarking on weltpolitik, the Russians were busy overcoming the biggest handicap in overland expansion - distance - by building railways, the United States had started flexing its muscles and Japan was making confident moves. On the continent, many a cartoonist portrayed a breathless, ageing and retreating John Bull.
This is not the place to examine whether the power of Britain was actually declining or to examine the reasons thereof. 3 What is relevant here is that just as Britain's position as a leading nation had conditioned the formulation of foreign and imperial policies during the preceding decades, so did the consciousness of decline become the most critical element in determining these policies. British statesmen and strategists became more conscious of the threat the Franco-Russian combine posed to their interests, of deteriorating relations with other continental powers, of the enormity of their commitments all over the world and of the slender resources at their disposal to defend them. 4 At the decisionmaking level, the need to defend the Indian Empire against the sprawling Tsarist Empire was a very important constituent of this mood.
At this time many ministers, mainly Liberal Unionists - Joseph Chamberlain, Lansdowne and Hamilton 5 - began to question the policy of remaining aloof from European alliance blocs. They held that in the new realities of power politics, the assumptions on which Britain's foreign policy was based were outworn, even dangerous. They wanted to fight the battle for supremacy economically by adopting a policy of protection, and colonially by reducing Britain's commit-
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Publication information: Book title: British Foreign Policy, 1874-1914: The Role of India. Contributors: Sneh Mahajan - Author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 2002. Page number: 124.
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