The Algeciras Conference was held as a result of the First Moroccan Crisis that started in 1905. The conference at Algeciras started on January 16th 1906 and all the major European powers were represented there as well as the Americans. The Algeciras Conference had one aim: to decide what was to be done with regards to Morocco, one of the few African nations that had not been taken over by a European power.
The two main protagonists at Algeciras were France and Germany. However, it soon became very clear to Germany that other European powers had sided with France – Britain, Spain and Italy had all come to a prior agreement as to what should happen to Morocco. These four nations had decided which Moroccan cities would be governed by which European power: Casablanca, Rabat and Larache. For example, Tangier was to be governed by a Franco-Spanish military force commanded by a Frenchman. None of this had been put before the Germans and their delegation felt as if it had been deliberately left out of the discussions – which, in fact, it had.
Ironically, this did nothing to harm European relations as Wilhelm II had a new idea as to how Europe should diplomatically proceed. Despite the obvious delicate relationship between Germany and France, Wilhelm wanted to bring France into an alliance. While Wilhelm may have had a huge ego which some in Europe knew how to play on, he was not a complete fool with regards to diplomatic niceties. Wilhelm’s plan was simple. By agreeing to many of the French demands in Morocco, he would bring them into a full alliance with Germany. Coupled with this would be a third nation – Russia. At this time Russia had recently lost a war to Japan and had experienced the 1905 Revolution. Wilhelm believed, with some justification, that Nicholas II of Russia needed to be seen as a European ‘big player’ and that an alliance between Germany, France and Russia would satiate this desire and give the impression to the Tsar that Russia was still seen as an important ally by the major European players. So Wilhelm’s conciliatory gestures at Algeciras had a purpose to them. But what was that purpose? Wilhelm wanted to diplomatically isolate Great Britain, which he believed was Germany’s biggest rival in Europe – economically and militarily. If France and Russia were tied to Germany, Great Britain would be left with Spain and Italy – neither of whom were seen as major powers in the same league as France and Russia.
The German delegation at Algeciras was encouraged by Berlin to offer more than the French had asked for with regards to Morocco. Or they were ordered to agree to suggestions made by Rouvier. For example, Rouvier suggested that after three to four years after a signed agreement at Algeciras, France should get a police mandate over the whole of Morocco. The German delegation agreed with this but German Chancellor von Bülow did not as he was not privy to the fact that it had come from Rouvier. In fact, Wilhelm II criticised von Bülow when the Chancellor openly spoke out in favour of a more hard-line approach to France over the Morocco issue. By now Wilhelm was looking for a quadruple alliance as he wanted to bring Turkey into his plans. He did not want anything to endanger his plans and he believed that von Bülow’s remarks about the French would do just this.
The Algeciras Conference became a lot more than a conference on Morocco. The historian D C Watt believes that Morocco actually became of secondary importance as the major powers jockeyed to get alliances wrapped up. On paper, Wilhelm’s plan of either a triple or quadruple alliance made sound sense as if either of them ever came to fruition, Great Britain would have undoubtedly become diplomatically isolated. However, the plan had two weaknesses. The first was the constant lack of trust between the players; after the numerous verbal battles between France and Germany, it must have come as something of a shock for the French to find that they had a prospective ally in Germany and that Germany was actively courting this. The second was Great Britain who in January 1906 got a new Liberal government. The new Foreign Secretary was Sir Edward Grey, who from 1892 to 1895 had gained great experience as to how German foreign policy worked when he was an Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office.
Grey realised that Britain would be isolated from the European great powers if Germany’s plan worked out. Grey also knew that France was the key player in the plan. Therefore he approached the French ambassador in London, Jules Cambon, and told him that France could expect British help if the Algeciras Conference broke down with all issues unresolved and Germany threatened France. Grey would not give a specific statement that this support equated to military support but he did inform Cambon about the secret contacts between the British and French military staffs that had been occurring – meetings that were kept secret from the whole British Cabinet until 1911. Cambon informed Paris that France could expect full British support throughout the negotiations at Algeciras. This was the first breakdown in the German plan to bring France into an alliance.
The conference itself did not go well. Three camps appeared: France, Britain, Russia and Spain against Austria-Hungary and Italy while Germany appeared isolated by herself. Wilhelm’s plan disappeared during the conference. Even Austria-Hungary told Germany to act less like a bully as to them the Germans wanted every decision on their terms.
It is now known the von Bülow believed as early as February 1906 that there would be no successful outcome at Algeciras and that the only thing he had to do was to save Germany’s prestige. On March 27th, he accepted an Austrian proposal that the policing of Moroccan ports should be left to the French and Spanish who, in turn, would be overseen by a Swiss inspector who would report back to the Sultan. The Algeciras Conference ended on April 7th 1906.
The Germans got very little out of the conference. The plan to create a triple alliance or even a quadruple alliance to isolate Great Britain failed. Arguably, by the end of the conference, Britain and France had even closer ties to one another. A German presence in North Africa had also failed to materialise. In France, many nationalists saw Algeciras as a triumph. The French media portrayed Germany as an inferior nation, much to the concern of the more experienced politicians in Paris. In Germany, there was a belief that they had been outplayed by the British and French and blame was heaped on von Bülow. The German High Command revised the Schlieffen Plan accordingly and pushed for the government in Berlin to adopt a more aggressive stance if only to redeem Germany within Europe. It is probable that the failure of the German politicians at Algeciras led to an increase in the influence the military had over the Kaiser at the expense of politicians. Great Britain realised that she had to continue cultivating relations not only with France but with other European powers.
The Algeciras Conference may have ‘resolved’ the crisis in Morocco but it had another far more important impact: the outcome clearly defined Europe into certain camps. At this conference Germany publicly lost out. There were many in Berlin who promised that it would be the last time that this would happen. In future a diplomatic resolution would not even be considered as there were those who believed that Germany’s military strength was such that diplomacy would not be needed in any future European disagreements.