The Agadir Crisis is seen as one of the medium terms causes of World War One. The Agadir Crisis occurred in 1911 just four years after the First Moroccan Crisis. What happened in Agadir is sometimes called the Second Moroccan Crisis. Events in North Africa were once again going to destabilise the relationships between the major European powers and while Europe was not taken to the brink of war by the Agadir Crisis, it was symptomatic of how fragile diplomatic relations had become.
Between 1905 and 1906 Morocco had been a major cause of diplomatic ructions in Europe. By the end of the Algeciras Conference of 1906, it was generally accepted that France had come out of the First Moroccan Crisis well while the opposite was true for Germany. Consequently, German politicians lost a lot of influence in Berlin while their place was taken by senior military figures. In France a more nationalistic outlook developed based upon French ‘élan vitale’. In 1911 a repeat performance took place when it became even more obvious that the ante had been upped. Consequently, Europe became a far more destabilised entity that required just one single incident to spark off war. This occurred in Sarajevo in June 1914.
Agadir was a port in Morocco in the southwest of the country. The 1906 Act of Algeciras had never really sorted out the problems of Morocco. However, Germany’s attention was diverted after the 1905-06 crisis by other issues, mainly building up her navy so that it rivalled the Royal Navy. As a result France spent five years having far more influence in Morocco than Germany. They backed the corrupt Sultan, Abdul Aziz, who was accused by some of his countrymen of selling out Morocco to the French. The half-brother of Aziz, Mulay Hafid, took a stand on behalf of the Moroccan people who proclaimed him Sultan in January 1908.
It was around this time that the German government wanted a better share of the economic potential that they believed Morocco offered. The influential Mannesmann Company wanted to get what it believed would be lucrative mining concessions in southern Morocco. In February 1909, Germany and France signed an agreement whereby Germany recognised the ‘special interests’ France had in Morocco while France agreed not to hinder Germany’s commercial and economic interests there. All seemed well between the two powers until it became clear to the Germans that France was not going to allow Germany to have any input into the building of two vital railway lines in Morocco. The German Foreign Minister, Alfred von Kiderlen-Wächter tried to work out an agreement with his French counterpart. However, the French Foreign Minister, Jean Cruppi, viewed all of Kiderlen-Wächter’s suggestions with alarm.
While there was diplomatic discord with regards to Morocco, there were also internal problems occurring that the new Sultan, Mulay Hafid, could not deal with. The general dislocation that Morocco was experiencing encouraged certain tribes to rebel against Hafid and those who were supporting him, including the French. Rebel tribesmen attacked French forces stationed near Casablanca from January 1911 onwards. Fez also came under attack. Germany believed that if France sent more troops into Morocco to restore order, they would not leave the country and would be used to assert French authority throughout the country. This, they believed, would threaten German mining interests in the south of Morocco.
As the situation in Fez became more and more threatening, a decision was taken in Paris to send in more French troops. In April 1911 a decision was made to send troops to Fez to support the foreign contingent living there. In May 1911, 20,000 French, Colonial and Moroccan soldiers arrived in the city and their presence had an impact as the rebels became less active.
Technically, this should have improved the situation as there were many foreigners living in Fez including Germans who now seemed a lot safer. However, the mere presence of 20,000 French troops in the city was too much for the German government in Berlin. However, Kiderlen-Wächter had to tread carefully. He knew that there were those in Berlin who were sabre-rattling. He did not share their enthusiasm for taking on the French as he believed it was simply a matter of time before France took over Morocco and that it was a fait accompli that Germany could do nothing about. However, Kiderlen-Wächter was well aware of the clout of the military over the Kaiser, Wilhelm II. He had to persuade the Kaiser that he knew what he was doing without appearing to support the sabre-rattlers while at the same time ensuring that the French believed that he was not going to tamely let them keep a further 20,000 troops in Morocco. His plan was to send German warships to Agadir and Mogador ostensibly to defend German citizens in Morocco. He hoped that such a move would placate the hawks who seemed to be surrounding Wilhelm. But Kiderlen-Wächter also knew that it would provoke a French response which he hoped would not be aggressive. Kiderlen-Wächter gambled that his move of sending warships to Morocco would result in a positive French reaction that would ironically allow him to curb the excesses of the hawks in Berlin. Wilhelm expressed concern about the plan but he did not refuse to support it.
Kiderlen-Wächter found an unlikely ally in Jules Cambon, the French ambassador in Berlin who wanted to take the sting out of the Agadir crisis before it got out of hand. Cambon was also aware that hawks existed in the government in Paris – men who were all too prepared to push the crisis to the limit. With hindsight, it is possible to label both Kiderlen-Wächter and Cambon as the doves in the proceedings.
Despite this a gunboat was sent to Agadir. This was the ‘Panther’ which arrived at Agadir on July 1st 1911. On July 5th, the ‘Panther’ was replaced by the larger ‘Berlin’. However, the French and the British were aware that the Germans were simply making a statement and neither was prepared to respond in an aggressive manner. On July 9th 1911, Kiderlen-Wächter and Cambon met to discuss the situation. Both clearly stated their nation’s intentions in Africa. Kiderlen-Wächter expressed Germany’s interest in the French Congo in exchange for French control in Morocco. While the French were not keen on this, they were prepared to keep the discussions going. In Britain there was no desire for war over Morocco. On July 20th 1911, Grey sent out a note that stated that a war with Germany over Morocco was not worth it.
However, on the same day “The Times” published an article about Germany’s desire for French Congo. It was an alarmist report that also stated that no British government worth its salt would allow such a move as it would threaten British interests in sub-Saharan Africa. On July 22nd the Germans complained about the ‘Times’ article, which claimed that the Germans acted like Dick Turpin. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, upped the ante when he gave a speech in which he stated that if Germany gained what she wanted in Africa “it would be a humiliation intolerable for a great country like ours to endure.”
Kiderlen-Wächter continued with his policy of seemingly placating the French while convincing the Kaiser that Germany was making a resolute stand against them. Franco-German talks continued with regards to Morocco and the French Congo right through to September. However, the British media presented a more hawkish front. It was reported that Churchill had completed plans for a British expeditionary force and that he had ensured the protection of the Royal Navy’s cordite supply against suspected German sabotage. It was also reported that the Royal Navy had been put on full alert. This approach by the British media forced Foreign Secretary Grey into announcing that he would not send Royal Navy warships to Morocco but that he would monitor what was happening in Africa with great care and caution so that British interests were not threatened.
On September 1st 1911 negotiations between France and Germany came to an abrupt halt. This resulted in the stock market in Berlin crashing. It showed just how sensitive the situation had become as the only reason the negotiations had halted was because of an illness to French diplomatist Cambon. Others misread the situation. By November 1911, both Germany and France had come to a conclusion over their particular stance in Africa. France handed to Germany over 107,000 square miles of land, which the French media portrayed as “a few acres of swamp”. Germany handed over to France 6,450 square miles of land in the Upper Cameroons. But neither the Congo nor Morocco turned out to be economic goldmines.
What part did the Agadir Crisis play in the outbreak of World War One? There were those in the British government who believed that the episode proved that Germany was hell-bent on trying to dominate Europe as a whole. Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George were among those who believed this. The irony is that diplomatic negotiations ended the Agadir Crisis. But it was the media that stirred it up into a ‘crisis’ and politicians had to respond to the media such was its influence. The approach of Kiderlen-Wächter was criticised in Berlin and the more aggressive approach of Tirpitz, especially with regards to naval expansion, became popular and then the norm. The French belief in ‘elan’ was reinforced and the approach of Jules Cambon rejected. But the work done by Kiderlen-Wächter and Cambon was recognised by themselves when they sent each other signed photographs after the end of the ‘Agadir Crisis’. Cambon wrote on his to Kiderlen-Wächter: “To my dear friend and terrible enemy” while Kiderlen-Wächter wrote on his to Cambon: “To my terrible friend and dear enemy.”