What were Bismarck's thoughts on Great Britain and the idea of an alliance with the Brits?

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,241
Sydney
Not really , Germany was the rising power of the continent
their custom union and industrial dynamism were undermining the British influence
Germany had overtaken Britain in coal production by 1910 , its chemical concern were way ahead of the British one
another twenty years and Britain would have some serious balance of payment problems , which they did
WW1 and WW2 demonstrated the ability of Germany to bounce back to the top
while Britain story is one of genteel decline until the miracle of the North Sea oil
 
Jun 2017
2,976
Connecticut
What were Otto von Bismarck's thoughts on Great Britain and the idea of an alliance with the Brits?
I'm assuming it was against simply because he was trying to balance Russia and Austria. Supporting Austria made this impossible enough, supporting the UK who also had the anti Russian history would be worse. The UK's vision was always to prevent one power from dominating Europe and to maintain balance so the UK was probably seen as irrelevant to Bismarck's balance calculations. Germany and the UK were pretty close to an alliance at a time where the French and Russians being the UK's main foes colonially almost overrode this Napoleonic impulse but this was long after Bismarck retired. The UK then manufactured the Germans as a naval threat by making their own overwhelming conventional naval superiority obsolete. But before that the viability of a UK/German alliance had also required the French and Russians to form their own alliance which was something that overrode conventional wisdom.
 
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pikeshot1600

Ad Honorem
Jul 2009
9,971
Bismarck had little use for maritime power, either Germany's or Britain's. Had he been able to lure Britain into an alliance it would have been against France.
I am not so sure that idea was ever a serious one. Mostly it was France that concerned him.

The old man had little interest in colonial expansion; he had no use at all for the Austrian interests in the Balkans, and his main two policies were to:

1) Isolate France

2) "Keep friends with Russia."

As a Junker, Bismarck - and many of his fellow Prussians - had much in common with the Russian aristocracy (they were quite similar in economic interests, and in political outlook). Keeping them away from France's influence was a priority. Had Germany allied with GB, it would have alienated Russia, a major imperial rival of Britain in India and east Asia. The critical mass of Russia, next door to Prussia and then the German Empire, was worth far more than an alliance with GB. Britain had a history of making separate peace agreements and breaking with Continental allies when it was in their interests.

As a possible "diversion," or a diplomatic psych-game, Bismarck may have mentioned the possibility of a British alliance, but it was not a serious initiative IMO. Bismarck was a complex man, but his strategic and political objectives were limited.
 
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Feb 2019
345
California
Bismarck likely saw Great Britain as a nemesis. I would think France was Germany's mortal enemy though. Bismarck's desire was to make Germany their premiere empire in the world.
I don't know if this is true, in fact if Robert Massie's "Dreadnought" is a worthwhile authority Bismark in fact wanted to maintain close and friendly relations with GB while recognizing that they were unlikely to enter an actual alliance. It was only after Willie2 "dropped the pilot" that the two countries' attitude towards each other (traditional one of relative friendship) started to deteriorate
 

pugsville

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Oct 2010
9,669
Bismarck likely saw Great Britain as a nemesis. I would think France was Germany's mortal enemy though. Bismarck's desire was to make Germany their premiere empire in the world.
Bismark really did not rate colonial possessions. And was focused on consolidation within Europe.
He thought the creation of Germany was enugh and it required consildation not expansion.
he was against taking Alsace-Lorraine

As a now satiated, status quo power, without Colonial ambitions how is Britain a Nemesis?
 

pikeshot1600

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Jul 2009
9,971
I don't know if this is true, in fact if Robert Massie's "Dreadnought" is a worthwhile authority Bismark in fact wanted to maintain close and friendly relations with GB while recognizing that they were unlikely to enter an actual alliance. It was only after Willie2 "dropped the pilot" that the two countries' attitude towards each other (traditional one of relative friendship) started to deteriorate
It is frequently overlooked, but in the later years of Bismarck's tenure as Chancellor, The political dynamic of Germany had changed. Middle class commercial and industrial interests had gained influence through public opinion (mostly in the news papers; not the Reichstag). It was a commercial drive for "colonies" that drove the initial German naval programs. The Kaiser was a fan boy of navies, and that complicated the issue. Wilhelm's personal problems with Britain and his British cousins would have had little bearing on Bismarck personally had he lasted beyond 1890. He was not the monarch however.

I doubt that Great Britain played much part in Bismarck's previous strategic alliances, as mentioned above. ANY serious diplomatic interaction with GB risked the possibility of future political clashes or conflict. That was not in Germany's interest according to Bismarck. Relations would best be served by keeping Britain neutral - a cordial, but distant relationship. Before 1890, Britain's rivalry with France was enough to depend upon.
 
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pikeshot1600

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Jul 2009
9,971
I might also mention that Bismarck was no proponent of the army's influence in foreign policy. Some years after his retirement, and certainly by about 1905, the army was almost the effective government of the German Empire. By that time, the influence of the middle classes in the officer corps had increased, in no small measure affected by the industrial and commercial interests from which many of them came. The army and the General Staff were different in 1900-1905 than they had been in 1870. Naval attitudes, always subservient to the army, followed along. Careerists needed the ear of the Kaiser after all.
 
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pikeshot1600

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Jul 2009
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Concerning an alliance with Great Britain in relation to the colonial mania of the late 19th century, Bismarck most likely saw that GB intended to remain independent of Continental entanglements. As mentioned, Britain's historical rivalry with France suited Bismarck's needs. The interest of Bismarck in the colonial issue - which would have brought about problems with GB in any case, ally or not - was summed up by an anecdote concerning some commercial interests; Reichstag members, lobbying for more influence and presence in Africa.

Someone was explaining the benefits, and using a large map of Africa as a visual aid. Bismarck listened, and then responded:

"Your map of Africa is very fine." Then pointing to a map of Europe, "This is my map. Here is France; here is Russia, and here we are in the middle. That is my map of Africa."