The Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1902-22

By Phillips Payson O'Brien | Go to book overview

3

The Anglo-Japanese Alliance and British strategic foreign policy, 1902-1914

Keith Neilson

The signing of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance on 29 January 1902 is often discussed in the context of the ending of British isolation and the first step on a path that would lead, through the signing of the Entente Cordiale with France (1904) and the Anglo-Russian Convention (1907), towards a Triple (perhaps Quadruple) Entente designed to check Germany in Europe. 1 A necessary corollary of such thinking is that the Anglo-Japanese alliance was necessary due to Britain's relative decline as a Great Power, particularly her ability to maintain a naval supremacy against the burgeoning strength of Imperial Germany. 2 The Anglo-Japanese Alliance is less viewed (if at all) in the context of British strategic foreign policy, that is to say, in the way that the British policy-making élite considered how the Alliance affected its naval, military, economic, financial and foreign policy positions. 3 Nor is the Alliance generally analyzed to see whether it achieved its goal of protecting Britain's global interests.

What first needs to be considered in making such an analysis is the international framework within which British policy was made. After the Congress of Vienna, the stability of Europe (as much as it existed) was assured by a rough balance of power. 4 During the rest of the century, it underwent several changes, particularly those caused by the unifications of Germany and Italy. Nonetheless, by the turn of the twentieth century what existed was a system in which any attempt by a European Power to increase its relative strength or to dominate the Continent entirely tended to result in the formation of a grouping to oppose it. This often led to odd ideological pairings, the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894 being one of the most unusual. Such a system was ideal for Britain. Protected by geography and the Royal Navy (RN), Britain (while never actually pursuing a policy of 'isolation', 'splendid' or otherwise) had a degree of freedom in foreign policy denied to the other Powers. 5

It was the British Empire that complicated matters. Lying outside Europe, but connected to it by imperial rivalries, the Empire was simultaneously a British strength and a potential strategic liability. 6 Its value was evident. It provided prestige, trade, a safe (if not always the most profitable) haven for investment and a destination for British emigrants. Its dangers were less

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