Great Britain and the Creation of the League of Nations: Strategy, Politics, and International Organization, 1914-1919

By George W. Egerton | Go to book overview

2

War and Diplomacy: Grey
and the League Idea, 1914-1916

The first few months of fighting found the British government fully absorbed in the war effort. After the initial maneuvering and the crucial frustration of the Schlieffen plan, the fighting quickly settled into the pattern of trench warfare and bloody attrition along the western front. If anything, the invasion of Belgium and the desperate attempts to establish a military equilibrium to stem the German advance confirmed the wisdom of a continental strategy of intervention. Those favoring a naval strategy of initial aloofness from the continental struggle made no headway in August 1914, and the next year saw a further strengthening of western strategy as "easterners" discredited themselves in the mismanaged Dardanelles operation. The strategy of fighting flowed directly from prewar strategic planning, but the appalling costs were totally unforeseen.

Those who proposed schemes for a league of nations to prevent wars were reluctant to push their ideas in the early stages of the war. They were hopeful, nevertheless, that leaders of the Liberal government would respond favorably to their program. Asquith, speaking in Dublin on 25 September, gave them some encouragement when he called for a return to Gladstone's idea of public right and concert in European relations and suggested the creation of "a real European partnership based on the recognition of equal right, and established and enforced by a common will." 1 Asquith later claimed that the "germ of the League of Nations" lay in these remarks. 2

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