In the 1880s, Britain continued to enjoy primacy in the imperial, naval and commercial fields. The task before British statesmen was to ensure that their country remained in unmolested enjoyment of this position. But they faced many challenges. In the economic field, faced with depression, European countries were adopting protectionist policies. This was bound to have adverse effects on Britain's economy. This period also saw a race amongst world powers for acquisition of colonies irrespective of their value. Within two decades, most of Africa and many parts of Asia were partitioned into territories under the formal rule or informal political domination of a handful of states. 1 Since Britain was a power with worldwide interests, it felt threatened everywhere. Across the Atlantic, relations with the United States were cool and threatened to become worse because of issues such as the Bering Sea seal fisheries and the Sackville-West Affair. 2 But the matter of greater concern was that Britain seemed friendless on the continent. At the time of the Penjdeh crisis, Germany and Austria-Hungary had stood by Russia and had together put pressure on the Ottoman government not to give permission to the British navy to enter the Black Sea. Thus Britain was deprived of a means to defend the Indian Empire should the occasion arise. Relations with France could not improve until the Egyptian wound had healed. Moreover, being a colonial power next to Britain, France could and did cause problems. At this time the British government became uneasy about French expansion in South-East Asia, which was seen as a threat to the security of the Indian Empire's eastern frontier. Nor did the prospect of war with Russia recede after the Penjdeh crisis. Throughout 1885 it was believed that Russian troops might march on Herat and that the presence of Russians at this key centre would seriously endanger the security of British India.
Added to the widespread challenge to its imperial position and diplomatic isolation was a consciousness of lack of military resources. During the Penjdeh crisis, Britain had promised to supply reinforcements to India. But an examination of the actual position showed that the situation was perilous. Sir Henry Brackenbury, Director of Military Intelligence, concluded in 1886 that because of lack of cavalry and departmental services, Britain could not place even two complete army corps in the field for foreign or home defence. 3 Even if available, it was believed that the armed forces could not ensure the security of the Indian