With the rest of Europe being controlled in a complex string of alliances and treaties during the later half of the 19th century, Britain remained uninvolved. Their policy of Splendid Isolation was to keep themselves out of the quarrels and disputes of continental Europe, and allow them to focus on their overseas empire. With the crowing of a new Kaiser in Germany, and the interest of other nations to hold overseas colonies, Britains colonial empire was under attack. Their interest to focus on their vast empire would eventually lead them into disputes with other European nations.
It would ultimately be their reason of going into isolation that would end it. In 1888 Kaiser William II ascended unto the German throne. William II was filled with a sense of Germanys destiny as the leading power in Europe. (Kagan, Ozment, Turner, The Western Heritage 2nd Ed. ) William longed to achieve recognition from the rest of the world that Germany was as great, if not greater the Great Britain. He believed the only way to achieve a place under the sun (Kagan, Ozment, Turner, The Western Heritage 2nd Ed. ) was to build a navy and establish colonies like Britain. Thus began William IIs commitment to colonial and commercial expansion.
The German commercial rivalry with Great Britain not only brought direct trouble, but nourished German desire for sea power and a large navy. The Baghdad Railway was a venture from German businessmen to create a railway from Turkey to Baghdad. The British, who feared German influence too close to the Suez Canal and India, opposed greatly to the idea. The Suez Canal was an important waterway to India. If the oncoming Germans disrupted the usage of the canal, then Britains ability to transport to and from India would be disrupted by having to go around the tip of Africa.
Even worse, if the Suez Canal were to fall under German hands, then Britain might have to pay taxes to use it. William IIs naval policy is what the Britains had the most problem with. In 1898, a passage of a naval law provided Germany with nineteen new battleships. Two years later another law was passed that issued the building of almost 40 new battleships. Germany started a naval race with Britain that Germany could not win. As the architect of the new German navy Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz said Germany could build a fleet strong enough, not to defeat the British, but to do sufficient damage to make the British navy inferior to other powers.
Kagan, Ozment, Turner, The Western Heritage 2nd Ed. ) Ultimately Germany could not win a naval race with Britain, for lack of resources. However, Britain did begin to feel threatened by Germanys policies and were Alarmed enough to abandon their traditional attitudes and policies. (Kagan, Ozment, Turner, The Western Heritage 2nd Ed. ) It was not only Germanys aggressive policies that brought Britain out of their Splendid Isolation. Britains interests in Africa would also lead to them to change their policy of isolation. Two major events happened in Africa that concerned Britain greatly; The Fashoda Incident, and the Boer War.
Both of these events played a key role for Britain to end their isolation and seek out alliances with other countries. The Fashoda Incident, also known as the Fashoda Crisis, was the climatic event caused by years of territorial disputes in Africa, between France and Britain. Both countries held a great amount of Africa under their control, but both also claimed land over the area of Sudan. In 1898, the forces of the French and British collided at Fashoda. For days tensions between London and Paris built up and war seemed likely. However, France decided to back down from Fashoda to try to establish a friendship between Britain and France.
Britain was facing trouble in Egypt and Sudan as long with tensions rising up in South Africa. After the Fashoda Incident Britain realized their limits and Splendid Isolation was risky business if the whole world could be your battlefield and each of the Great Powers your enemy. (Perry, Western Civilization 6th Ed. ) Nothing convinced Britain to retract their policy of isolation more then the Boer War (1899) did. In 1895 Cecil Rhodes and his friend Leander Jameson led 600-armed men into Transvaal to cause an uprising against the president of Transvaal, Kruger. Kruger was able to fend the raid off, and Rhodes and Jameson were disgraced.
Kaiser William II sent a telegram to Kruger congratulating him for his victory. The British took the diplomatic insult as symptomatic of their isolation. (Perry, Western Civilization 6th Ed. ) What enraged Britain even more was that they had to deal with not only French opposition with their colonies, but now German. In 1899, Britain declared war on the Boers. During the war, Britain was surprised and embarrassed at the general anti-British attitude the world had towards them. The British were suddenly alarmed that their isolation no longer seemed splendid. (Perry, Western Civilization 6th Ed.
From 1898 to 1901, Britain had made several attempts to conclude an alliance with Germany. However, Germany thought that an alliance between Britain with France or Russia would be impossible so they refused Britains offer. With the Boer War ending in 1902, Britain was still looking for an ally to bring them out of isolation. Russia moved into Persia, Tibet, and Afghanistan for more strategic reasons then economic. These areas that Russia moved into, bordered India and frightened the British greatly. The Russians to the north of India could cause Indian rebellions to occur.
British and Russian troops began to fight each other in Afghanistan. However, with Germany rising to power, both Britain and Russia were willing to compromise. They both felt that Germany was more of a threat to their nation then the other was. Britain and Russia were able to resolve their differences in the area, and with that give way to future cooperation in Europe a possibility. Realizing the need to gain allies throughout the world, Britain finally decided to give up her policy of isolation. In 1902, Britain officially became un-isolated with the signing of an alliance with Japan.
This alliance insured Britain that Russia would stay in check in the Far East. Britain now had Japan to watch Russian in Asia, and Britain was less fearful of Russian expansion. With the alliance in place, Russian expansion lessened. With disputes slowly coming to an end, the alliance between Britain and Japan would eventually pave the way for future Anglo-Russian cooperation. By 1902, Britain had successfully brought themselves out of their Splendid Isolation and established their role on the European continent. By 1904 Britain and France signed the Entente Cordiale and were in an alliance.
By 1907 Britain was in alliance with both Russia and France in the Triple Entente. This new alliance between the three nations was to establish a direct opposition to the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. The ending of British isolation is the result of Kaiser William IIs aggressive foreign policy and naval expansion, the Fashoda Crisis and the Boer War in Africa, and Russias expansion to territory around India. With Britain now allied with France and Russia, Europe has now been split into two sides. This split will eventually lead to the events that initiate the start of the First World War.