Monday, April 08, 2024

What if the Entente Cordial was never signed?

Changing of the guard today at Buckingham Palace was different from usual - French soldiers were taking part as part of the celebration of the Entente Cordial which was signed back in 1904. The decision to commit the UK to involvement in the affairs of Europe by aligning ourselves with France in the face of a growing German threat to the stability of the Continent was strengthened over the following years both militarily and diplomatically. 

It was not necessarily a foregone conclusion that the UK was ready to make a Continental commitment before 1904 but gradually British governments (both Conservative and Liberal) realised that what happened in Europe directly impacted on Britain. Far better to be involved in the affairs of Europe to shape outcomes that were more favourable to Britain.

Imagine however if Balfour's Conservative government decided not to sign the Entente Cordial in 1904, and that policy continued by the following Liberal government. If we washed our hands of Europe, German power would have grown to the point where France would have fallen into the orbit of Germany and become a satellite state. Any confrontation between Germany and Russia would have gone in the former's favour as the Tsar would have been without allies. Italy would have continued as a Central Power, adding further to German hegemony of the Continent.

Across the Channel Britain would have bobbed along in the wake of a militaristic and wealthy Germany, isolated and buffeted, gradually dropping in power and status to something similar to France. We may have avoided the First World War but the cost to Britain would have been even more tremendous.

Let's hope that we don't make the mistake that we avoided in 1904. As a European nation we need to influence what happens there. Europe united without Britain  is a danger to Britain. Let's just hope we are not too late to learn that lesson - or are we?

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