Friday, 18 May 2012

Evaluate the view that Gladstone did more than Disraeli to involve Britain in European affairs during the period 1868 to 1880?



It could be argued that both Gladstone and Disraeli were eager to see Britain involved in European affairs. Gladstone can be viewed as eager because of his belief in a Concert of Europe to work for the morale good. Disraeli also believed Britain’s involvement in Europe was important in order to prevent Russia from threatening Britain’s trade route to India, although not strictly to do with European affairs, it does illustrate Disraeli’s motivation towards a more Empire focused policy. Disraeli took the opportunity to give Britain a decisive position in Europe through an active foreign policy, but he remained cautious in his dealings with major European powers. Gladstone also believed that Britain had a significant role to play in European affairs, however unlike Disraeli he saw Britain’s role as one which would work in concert with other major European powers, rather than solely for the interests of Britain.

Gladstone was highly motivated towards the integration of Britain into European affairs. A central factor in Gladstone’s pursuit for greater openness of British foreign policy, in relation to Europe, was through British involvement in the Franco-Prussian War. Gladstone was seeking for Britain to serve as a mediator in this dispute and therefore prove to the rest of the world that Britain was willing to cooperate. It can be argued that by adopting the role as mediator, Gladstone was seeking to preserve the balance of power in Europe at the time; his aim was to prevent any one country gaining a significant amount of power in Europe. As Gladstone had realised that it would be very hard to keep Britain in a state of isolation, the country needed, in his eyes, to be far more progressive and interventionist in order to preserve her interests abroad. His belief in the Concert of Europe came to apparition when Gladstone tried to oppose Prussia’s forcible taking of the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine at the end of the short war. Gladstone made Britain take the lead in standing against the annexations of Alsace and Lorraine. However, the British government were opposed to such as policy as they preferred to focus on the Empire rather than disputes in Europe that did not concern them. Furthermore, another major move of Gladstone’s towards the greater integration and involvement of Britain in European affairs through calling a Conference to deal with the Black Sea issue in 1871. This threat was a major threat to the balance of power in Europe; this was because Russia was increasing the strength of their armed forces in the Black Sea area. This increase in military strength in the area was problematic for Britain because it threatened their major trade routes. As a result it required the ‘Ottoman Empire’, regarded as the “sick man of Europe”, to be propped up by the British. The Russian denunciation of the Black Sea neutralisation clauses of the 1856 Treaty of Paris, was the sought of unilateral announcement that Gladstone detested. The Conference did not succeed in reversing the Russian move to break the clauses, but the principle that in the future such actions should be subjected to international ratification was accepted.
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