We have not a friend in Europe, and I believe that the main cause of the dislike of foreign countries of Great Britain is, that we are like an octopus with gigantic feelers stretching out all over the habitable world, and constantly interrupting and preventing foreign nations from doing that which we in the past have done ourselves.1
(Lord George Hamilton, 1899)
STUDIES dealing with British foreign and defence policy before 1914 suffer from a basic flaw. While well researched and well argued, they are based on the fundamental assumption that Britain was destined to go to war with Germany in 1914. This tendency to read history backwards--in effect, to have the White Queen's memory--has led to a misunderstanding of events. The effect has been not only to exaggerate the impact that Germany had on British policy, but also to underplay the influence of other states. As a result, the historical literature centres on Anglo-German relations and considers other dimensions of British policy too much in this Anglo-German context. To remedy this distortion, Britain's relations with other states need to be regarded more independently. In particular, and for the reasons outlined below, Britain's relations with Russia need to be given more prominence.
In 1894, Russia was Britain's most persistent and formidable opponent. The principal global powers, Britain's and Russia's interests clashed worldwide, nearly everywhere the 'feelers' of the 'octopus' of the British Empire reached.2 Since at least the 1820s, Russia had posed a threat to British India, a threat that grew apace after 1860 as Russia expanded into Central Asia. In the Far East, Russian activities in China (and the building of the trans-Siberian railway) challenged Britain's commercial interests. In the Near East, Russia's persistent efforts to solve the Eastern question to her own satisfaction had led to the Crimean War and the crisis of 1878. The Russian army was the biggest in Europe, if not the most efficient, and the Russian navy, combined with that of Russia's newly acquired ally, France, was the yardstick against which the Royal Navy's two-power standard was measured. When it is remembered that Tsarist Russia, widely regarded as the bastion of reaction and repression, was seen as the greatest ideological challenge to liberal____________________