British Foreign Policy
There were many factors influencing British Foreign Policy throughout this period such as Balance of Power, great Power Rivalry, Trade, Routes to India and fear or Russia and Germany. In this essay I am going to look at how important the maintenance of balance of power was compared to the others. All these factors influenced British Foreign Policy, but which was the most important? One of Britain’s main objectives was to maintain the balance of power throughout Europe. In the first half of the 19th century, Britain dominated the balance of power in Europe.
However, by the 1850’s they were becoming increasingly concerned about the developing power of Prussia (Germany) and Russia. Relatively, their economic strength was over taking Britain’s very rapidly. Balance of power was critical for Britain because it enabled them to keep their policy of free trade and to keep Europe free from wars. Britain didn’t want to take part in wars and one of its later policies was ‘splendid isolation’ meaning they never made alliances with other countries.
However, in 1854 Britain and France went to war against Russia in the Crimean War to protect their assets in the Ottoman Empire and to prevent Russia taking control of the Black sea and the Mediterranean. Britain and France won the war and this meant that Russia would be refused entry to the Straights until 1870. The Treaty of Paris reinforced this in 1856 when the Black Sea clauses were made prohibiting Russia from using the straights to their advantage. Therefore keeping the balance of power stable for a little longer. In order to maintain the balance of power, Britain had to protect its trading route to India.
Britain relied a lot upon their trading with India and in 1857 there was the Indian Mutiny, which troubled Britain, as they didn’t have a secure safe route to support the troops in India. Henceforth, in 1875 Disraeli (conservative PM) bought 45% shares in the Suez Canal that ran through Egypt so to secure a safe and fast route to India. The Black sea clauses stopped Russia from gaining any land on the Ottoman Empire and not having access to the Straights kept the route to India through the Mediterranean clear. This benefitted Britain by making them more powerful (over Russia) and securing trade with their vital trading partner India.
Routes to India was very important influence of British Foreign Policy, because without India Britain would have been in a much less stable economic state and therefore less powerful in Europe. Another important principal was the propping up of the Ottoman Empire and keeping strong trading going with them too. Britain knew that the Ottoman Empire was on the verge of collapse and didn’t want Russia to expand over the Ottoman lands. Britain didn’t want to break up the Ottomans because she had no interest in ruling it as separate countries.
In the Russo-Turkish war, Britain was biggest concern was to keep the Ottoman afloat for strategic reason and to encourage trade. The Ottomans at this time were one of Britain’s largest trading partners. When Russia made Big Bulgaria, Britain was worried for the safety of the Ottomans, at the Treaty of San Stefano, Russia stated that they could have access to the Mediterranean ports which also worried Britain greatly. The balance of power was slowly shifting towards Russia because it had such a large influence over South Eastern Europe. In 1840 Britain shifted toward a free trade policy (trading without government interventions).
As Britain was going through the industrial revolution it was seen to be a good idea, the industrial growth of Britain mean that it could make products quickly and very cheaply henceforth swamping other countries with its load and benefiting Britain’s economic state. Free trade also spread as far as China later on in the century benefiting British consumers and exercising British influence over the other side of the world. Trade was a very important policy for Britain; it helped keep economic stability, communications with other countries and with their won products flooding in to foreign markets, could influence others to be similar to them.
In my opinion, balance of power was very important for maintaining British Foreign Policies because it meant that there was peace in Europe and no money was spent on wars so the economic state was kept stable. However, I also think that Routes to India was very important for the country because it was such a reliable and rich trading partner, Britain’s relative power decreased rapidly over the century and as Germany and France became more and more powerful India was a great advantage to Britain. So, in conclusion, I believe that the Routes to India were the most important factor for maintaining British Foreign Policies.