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Entente Cordiale Notes

History Notes > British and French History(1689 - Present) Notes

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'The entente cordiale, although ostensibly a resolution of outstanding imperial issues, was really a "move in European diplomacy" (Kennedy)'. Discuss. Paul Kennedy is an historian who places emphasis upon the rise of the German Reich after 1871, and particularly during the 1890s, as the motive force behind the Anglo-French rapprochement of 1904. The entente cordiale of course prefigures the alliance that France and Britain would maintain during the First World War, against Germany, between 1914 and 1918. Although the apparent threat that Germany posed with increasing potency to both France and Britain during the years after 1900 is enormously significant, it is important to remember that war with Germany was not at the forefront of either Theophile Delcasse or Lord Landsdowne's minds when the agreements between them that constituted the entente cordiale of 8th April 1904 were signed. Colonial considerations were crucial to the success of the discussions that preceded the formalisation of the entente cordiale; Britain and France were the two leading colonial powers at the turn of the twentieth century. However, Kennedy is nonetheless correct in asserting the primacy of European concerns in the forming of the entente cordiale. It must be recalled that Britain and France came close to open warfare in 1898 over the Sudanese outpost of Fashoda; by 1904 these hostilities had been swept under the carpet. Ultimately the primary reasoning for this shift in diplomacy was Britain's reassessment of her European position after the disastrous Boer War against the South African Republics (1899 - 1902). French ambassador to London, Paul Cambon, wrote at the time of the signing of the Anglo-French pact, 'Without the South African war which bled Great Britain and made her wiser, the Anglo-French agreement would have been impossible'.

At was colonial

exertions that forced Britain out of her 'splendid isolation' and once again to realise that she was a part of Europe.

For this reason the entente cordiale of 1904 succeeded in preserving good

diplomatic relations between Britain and France where that of the 1830s had failed. First and foremost, it is important to emphasise that both Britain and France by 1904 stood to gain significantly from an agreement between them over 'outstanding imperial issues'; the colonial arrangement reached between them possessed intrinsic value to both parties. Anglo-French imperial rivalry has a very long history going back to the later seventeenth century; the entente cordiale

represented a critical turning point in this history. It is of great significance that Britain and France avoided war over Fashoda in 1898. Notwithstanding Britain's determined desire to secure the White Nile basin and France's ambition to unite her western and eastern possessions in Africa, Darrell Bates suggests that there survives to evidence to suggest that Britain and France would have gone to war over the outpost. Furthermore, despite Fashoda, both Britain and France saw the benefits of finally settling long-standing imperial controversies. Britain was motivated to settle with France over a range on on-going disputes including France's role in the construction of the Orenburg-Tashkent railway deep into Asia and thus threatening the security of India and the demand by Lord Cromer to reform Egypt's finances that had from 1876 been hindered by the Caise de la Dette's guarantee to preserve French government bonds in the old Napoleonic colony. After Fashoda France had lost her commercial rights on the river Nile completely to Britain and had accepted her dominance in Egypt and the Sudan. 1904 offered the opportunity to procure concessions from Britain for France's losses by in effect 'swapping' remaining French influence in Egypt for a free hand in Morocco; the entente cordiale paved the way for the French protection of Morocco from 1911 and the realisation of many French romantics' dreams of establishing a new 'Roman' empire across the Mediterranean. In return for France finally withdrawing her fishing rights in Newfoundland, Britain ceded Parts of the Gambia and Nigeria that united several disparate parts of France's large West African empire. Conflict between the two states was also curtailed in the Far East and in particular the agreement of borders in Siam - a country that had generated political crisis between Britain and France in 1893. In addition, in can be argued that the signing of the entente cordiale in 1904 contributed to the failure of Joseph Chamberlain's idea to establish a British imperial Zollverein and protect the empire from foreign imports. This move in 1906 was particularly important to French wine merchants who enjoyed a healthy trade surplus with Britain and her empire. In fact, the majority of the commercial and entrepreneurial classes welcomed the entente cordiale with applause. By 1900 French exports to Britain had expanded dramatically and stood at a figure three times that of Britain's exports to France and her empire. It is clear therefore that both parties stood to gain tremendously from the

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