Moroccan Crises

views updated


the moroccan crisis of 1905
the agadir crisis of 1911

The Moroccan Crises of 1905 and 1911 were part of a number of international incidents that threatened to embroil Europe in war before 1914. On both occasions, while the trigger for the conflict was provided by a colonial dispute, the issue was used by Germany to provoke a crisis in which its leaders hoped either to make significant territorial gains or to split up the hostile alliances that threatened to "encircle" Germany.

the moroccan crisis of 1905

In April 1904, France and Britain resolved some of their long-standing differences over Morocco and Egypt. In 1904 and 1905, the Russians were losing their war against Japan, and in January 1905, internal revolution further weakened Russia. Against this background, Germany's political leaders challenged France when it tried to force the Moroccan sultan to accept pro-French reform programs in an attempt to extend its influence over Morocco in early 1905.

Although Germany provoked an international crisis over the extension of French influence in Morocco, fearing for its economic interests in the region, the concern of Germany's politicians was more about prestige than trade. They resented not having been consulted by France and Britain when they extended their influence in North Africa, and wanted to demonstrate that as a great power Germany could not simply be ignored in important colonial decisions. Friedrich von Holstein, a senior figure in the German foreign office, felt that Germany could not allow its "toes to be trodden on silently." At the heart of the crisis was Germany's desire to undermine the newly formed Entente Cordiale (March 1905) between Britain and France, to split the Entente partners before they had a chance to consolidate their bond, and to intimidate the French. Germany's leaders hoped a diplomatic victory would demonstrate the importance of the German Empire, and Kaiser William II landed in the port of Tangiers on 31 March to stake Germany's claim and to assure the sultan of Germany's support.

During the ensuing crisis, Germany insisted on the dismissal of the anti-German French foreign minister Théophile Delcassé and threatened France with war. However, their bullying tactics only led to a strengthening of the newly formed Anglo-French Entente. At the international conference at Algeciras in 1906, on which the German government had insisted in order to settle the crisis, Germany was isolated, with support only from its ally Austria-Hungary. The conference did not support Germany's request to limit the extension of French interests in Morocco.

During and following the First Moroccan Crisis Germany began to feel the full effects of its own expansionist foreign policy. British involvement in a future war was now almost certain. As a consequence Italy, allied to Germany and Austria since 1882, became a less reliable ally, for it would be unable to defend its long coastlines from Britain and might therefore opt to stay neutral in a future war. France also looked upon Germany as a likely future enemy. In 1907, Britain and Russia agreed on a military convention that effectively created a Triple Alliance against Germany, another step toward Germany's diplomatic isolation.

the agadir crisis of 1911

German fears of "encirclement" became even more acute as a result of the Agadir Crisis of 1911. In 1911, Berlin felt provoked by French military intervention in Morocco in the spring of that year (the "dash for Fez"). This move amounted in effect to the establishment of a French protectorate in Morocco and ran counter to the Algeciras Agreement of 1906 and to the Franco-German agreement on Morocco of 1909. Germany was again intent on asserting its status as a great power, and on ensuring adequate compensation for France's territorial gains, with an eye to weakening the Entente in the process. The public response to State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Alfred von Kiderlen-Wächter's forceful foreign policy was largely enthusiastic, and, not surprisingly, the mood among Germany's leading military men was bellicose. They advocated unleashing a war, especially in view of the then favorable military situation. After failing to find a diplomatic solution, Germany's political leaders dispatched the gunboat Panther to the port of Agadir to intimidate the French, an event that marked the beginning of the Second Moroccan or Agadir Crisis.

Germany demanded the French Congo as compensation for the extension of French influence in Morocco. However, France again received support from Britain, and Germany's intervention only strengthened the links between the two Entente partners. Britain let Berlin know in no uncertain terms that it intended to support France, and David Lloyd George's famous Mansion House Speech of 21 July 1911, threatening to fight on France's side against Germany if the need arose, caused great indignation in Germany. The crisis was eventually resolved peacefully, and although Germany was given a small part of the French Congo as compensation, the outcome amounted to yet another diplomatic defeat. Moreover, Austria-Hungary's lukewarm support suggested that the ally could not necessarily be counted on, while Germany had identified itself as an aggressor to its neighbors.

In Berlin, many observers felt that only war would now hold any guarantee of changing the status quo in Germany's favor. In Germany, the crisis resulted in a bellicose and hostile anti-French and particularly anti-British mood. While Germany's political decision-makers did not actually want war in 1911, they were willing to threaten it for diplomatic gains. But in the aftermath of the crisis, demands for a preventive war became widespread, as public interest in the army became more pronounced, especially due to the propaganda work of the German Army League (Deutscher Wehrverein), founded in January 1912.

In addition, there were significant international consequences. Because Britain and Germany were being compensated for French gains in Morocco, Italy sought recompense, too, leading to Italy's annexation of Libya and Tripolitania in November 1911. The Ottoman Empire, weakened by that conflict, later became an easy target for the Serbian-led Balkan League during the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913. Italy became a more unreliable alliance partner for Germany and Austria-Hungary, while the strengthened Serbia and Montenegro posed a more serious threat to the Dual Monarchy. In France, Germany's aggressive behavior led to a revival of the revanche idea, a wish for seeking revenge for the lost territories following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871. If the French mood had already been hostile toward Germany before Agadir, it was now distinctly anti-German. Another result of the crisis was the Anglo-French naval agreement, discussed during 1912 and signed in February 1913. The "encirclement" that Germany feared and that was to a large extent of its own making that was fast becoming an inescapable reality.

See alsoFrance; Franco-Prussian War; Germany; Imperialism.


Anderson, Eugene N. The First Moroccan Crisis, 1904–1906. Hamden, Conn., 1966.

Barraclough, Geoffrey. From Agadir to Armageddon: Anatomy of a Crisis. New York and London, 1982.

Geiss, Imanuel. German Foreign Policy 1871–1914. London, 1976.

Rich, Norman. Friedrich von Holstein: Politics and Diplomacy in the Era of Bismarck and Wilhelm II. 2 vols. Cambridge, U.K., 1965.

Annika Mombauer