Belgium, the [dagger held at the throat of England]; this small collection of provinces which first attained independence in 1830 had long been a critical factor in British foreign policy. The British were traditionally concerned that Belgium, especially the Flanders coast, would fall under the permanent control of the strongest continental power. This is not the place to detail the struggles engaged in by the various powers during the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries; suffice it to say that from the conclusion of the Dutch Wars of the 17th century through the long struggles against France in the 18th and early 19th centuries, one of Great Britain's primary military and foreign policy aims was to ensure that Belgium, especially the ports along the Channel coast, was either neutral or controlled by a weak nation such as the Netherlands. Following the victorious conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars, the area now known as Belgium was granted to the Kingdom of the Netherlands in order to create a large buffer state on the northern frontier of France. This arrangement lasted barely 15 years.
In 1830 a revolution occurred against the rule of the Dutch and, over the course of an eight-year struggle, Belgium attained independence from the Netherlands. English concerns over the future security of the new state were allayed by the signing of a treaty between the major powers that guaranteed Belgium's perpetual neutrality. This treaty was aimed primarily at France, at that point still England's most threatening rival. The strategic situation in Europe changed slowly and, despite France's defeat at the hands of Prussia in 1871, France remained Britain's most dangerous foe until 1904. It was a combination of the growing military and economic might of the new German nation and the naval building policy of Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz which resulted in Germany taking the place of France as Great Britain's top rival.1