The Halt in the Mud: French Strategic Planning from Waterloo to Sedan

By Gary P. Cox | Go to book overview

8
Collision Course: 1840-1848

For France, 1840 was at once the most needless and the most important diplomatic crisis since 1815, an assessment made all the more painful by the French government's unique responsibility for its outbreak. Choosing to play for high stakes with losing cards, she barely escaped disaster. Loss of international face was rebuke enough. Yet this crisis produced a result many times more serious than the issues involved: it set the states of Germany on a collision course with France, confirming the supposition of both Germans and French that each was the other's principal military adversary. The French especially would reinterpret their contingency planning and force development around this assumption. It would be German mobilization plans, German railway developments, German force improvements that most disturbed Paris.

The crisis itself need not long concern us. France hoped to advance her interests in the eastern Mediterranean by backing a rebellious vassal of Turkey's Sultan Mehmed II, Mehmet Ali Pasha of Egypt. The other great powers, fearful that any loss of Ottoman territory might destroy the empire and initiate wholesale partition, preferred to defend Turkey's territorial integrity. France found herself pursuing a solitary course, and in her isolation misread the situation. 1 The French newspapers indulged in an orgy of wishful thinking. Prussia had little interest in the Near East; Austria, capable only of defensive war, awaited France's lead. 2 England, seeing "everything that makes up the splendor of the British Empire" menaced by a Russian presence on the Bosporus, would acquiesce in French sponsorship of Mehmet Ali in exchange for a solid front against St. Petersburg. Implicit in this concept was yet another attempt to overturn the hated Vienna settlement. France would once again return to the very center of the diplomatic universe and could demand suitable compensation, offering her favors to either Russia or the other powers for the right price -- the "Grand Duchy of the Lower Rhine [the Prussian Rhineland]." 3

French politicians made this issue of compensation their constant refrain. Typical of these highly publicized demands was this comment from the French press:

I do not hesitate to declare that the advantages France must claim arc oil the Rhine; far off possessions are not useful to her. ... But an acquisition that would

-139-

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