Bismarck's Foreign Policy
Bismarck's fame has always rested on his achievements in diplomacy. His handling of the Schleswig-Holstein question, his struggle for supremacy in Germany, and the treatment of the Hohenzollern candidature were great successes in foreign policy, achieved against considerable odds. And though each of these crucial events in German history caused war, they were limited wars which led, in the end, to the unification of Germany. As a unified major power in the center of the continent, Germany changed the balance of power in Europe. Bismarck had fought three victorious wars in a very short time and the question was whether he would continue a belligerent, expansionist policy or would follow a more peaceful course. Bismarck decided for peace, not only for Germany, but for Europe. He recognized Germany's limitations and realized that localized wars were no longer possible in Europe, since all the major powers would be drawn into any larger war, no matter where it started. As far as Bismarck was concerned, Germany was satiated; what had been accomplished could not be risked for the sake of any conquest, no matter how tempting. His successors, less restrained toward war and convinced that Germany's power was overwhelming, willingly risked her position and reputation; in so doing they brought about her eventual defeat and ruin.1
The attitude of the powers toward Germany in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War was restrained and suspicious. France, thinking of revenge, looked to Russia and Austria as possible allies in case of future war with Germany. Austria, still smarting from her defeat at Koeniggraetz, was jealous of Germany's newly acquired big power status and kept her reserve toward Germany. Russia, though worried about the revolutionary developments in France, was disturbed by Prussia's vastly increased power and by the emergence of a unified Germany. Britain alone seemed unconcerned.