The Russo-Japanese War
THE Russo-Japanese War brought about the decisive turning point in Anglo- Russian relations between 1894 and 1914. Before the war, Russia had repeatedly rejected British overtures for a general agreement between the two countries. After the war, as a result of military defeat and internal unrest, Russia attempted to accommodate the Great Powers. The Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 was the eventual result. Such a result was not preordained. The Russo-Japanese War also marked the nadir of Anglo-Russian relations. Without skilful management and good fortune, the struggle in the Far East could have resulted in a general global conflict between an Anglo-Japanese coalition and the Franco-Russian pairing.
During December 1903, while Russo-Japanese relations soured, the British élite pondered the situation. They focused on two linked issues: the balance of power in the Far East and the British response to any attempt to change it. The first was tied to finance and naval strength; the second to considerations of Britain's interests worldwide. The urgency was evident. On 11 December, the Cabinet authorized unofficially warning the French that a Russo-Japanese War might lead to complications between the two European states, and by 16 December both Russia and Japan were purchasing supplies in London preparatory for war.1 The British attempted to maintain, at least publicly, an even-handed policy. First, they turned down--on the grounds that it was overtly anti-Russian--an attempt by the Japanese to buy the Chilean battleships.2 Second, they continued to discuss a general Anglo-Russian agreement, although Hardinge felt that 'it is gradually becoming complicated & too unwieldy to inspire confidence'.
These were holding actions; the pressing need was to decide British policy. On 21 December, a flurry of correspondence began among Balfour, Chamberlain, Lansdowne, and Selborne. Balfour inquired of his military experts what Japan's____________________