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Remembered Today:

Treaty of London


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Today's Times notes that it is the anniversary of the signing of this treaty, in 1836, which recognised the independent Kingdom of Belgium. I am not sure if it was this one or a later which tipped the balance causing the UK to declare war on Germany in 1914.

Old Tom

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Britain signed a whole series of treaties and agreements guaranteeing Belgium including one with Germany in 1870. There is a detailed thread somewhere

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It was the 1839 treaty which Grey used as an excuse for going to war. The 1870 treaty was to last until a year after peace was declared between France and Germany.

Strangely, the 1839 treaty which he quoted mentions a collective guarantee, not individual. The same clause was in the 1867 treaty guaranteeing the neutrality of Luxembourg, and the government of the day when questioned in both the Commons and Lords about "taking on onerous military obligations in Europe", replied that it was a phrase meaning that all the guarantors had tobe in agreement to take action before anyone would.

As in both treaties the guarantors were Russia, Germany (Prussia), Belgium (for Luxembourg but with no military obligation), France, Italy and the UK.

It does not take a great geographer to work out that in both cases the only people who could in practice invade were the guarantors! Thus, if the German army (for the sake of argument) invaded Belgium and Luxembourg, the treaty clause was null and void unless the German government decided to take action against the army. A less than likely proposition.

Thus, when Grey said the Britain had treaty obligations to Belgium he was talking legal rubbish, even if practical sense.

Put bluntly, he lied.

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Also the Cabinet in the final days discussed how much of Belgium had to be invaded before it could be used as a casus belli. A majority thought a little bit in the east would be OK for us.

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Thanks for the comments. Not being familiar with the text of these treaties, and not being very bright on a Sunday morning, I don't follow Healdav's point. Surely the Gwerman Government and Army must be a single entitiy. However, the many and varried reasons for the out break of the Great War seems to be an appropriate topic for discussion in the coming year. My apologies if I have noticed that it has already been exhausted.

I have read: Europes last Summer by David Fromkin, Dreadnaught by Robert K Massie and The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson. I feel partially convinced that Germany was looking for a reason to go to war before Russia, with French assistance, achieved superior military capability. I also have in mind a BBC radio programme of some years ago which, in a general survey of German history, suggested that a significant factor was it's lack of geographic boundaries.

May I ask for suggstions for further reading.

Old Tom

Old Tom

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If Germany was looking for a reason/excuse to go to war what exactly was it? Of course there were Germans very worried about signs of growing Russian strength (some of it like strategic railways bankrolled by the French) but each Power had hawks and doves. For the European perspective you need 'The Sleepwalkers' by Christopher Clark (Russia does not come out too well) and for Britain Zara Steiner's update of her original book of the 1990s.

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The Congress of Vienna had attempted to unite The Netherlands and Belgium as a buffer state against possible French invasion. This did not quite work and Belgium gained independence in 1830.

The 1839 treaty was partly devised to stop The Netherlands attempting to invade Belgium.

http://www.scottmanning.com/content/treaty-of-london-1839/

I accept various reasons why Britain went to war in 1914 but not the so called 'legal' argument centred round the Treaty of London. But apparently section VII is the one that bound Britain to declare war on Germany once Belgium neutrality had been violated.

Regards

Michael Bully

It was the 1839 treaty which Grey used as an excuse for going to war. The 1870 treaty was to last until a year after peace was declared between France and Germany.

Strangely, the 1839 treaty which he quoted mentions a collective guarantee, not individual. The same clause was in the 1867 treaty guaranteeing the neutrality of Luxembourg, and the government of the day when questioned in both the Commons and Lords about "taking on onerous military obligations in Europe", replied that it was a phrase meaning that all the guarantors had tobe in agreement to take action before anyone would.

As in both treaties the guarantors were Russia, Germany (Prussia), Belgium (for Luxembourg but with no military obligation), France, Italy and the UK.

It does not take a great geographer to work out that in both cases the only people who could in practice invade were the guarantors! Thus, if the German army (for the sake of argument) invaded Belgium and Luxembourg, the treaty clause was null and void unless the German government decided to take action against the army. A less than likely proposition.

Thus, when Grey said the Britain had treaty obligations to Belgium he was talking legal rubbish, even if practical sense.

Put bluntly, he lied.

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The treaty, according to the British government in 1867 gives a "collective" guarantee. This is the replies given to questions in Parliament.

House of Commons:

"The guarantee now given is collective only. This is an important distinction. It means this, that in the event of a violation of neutrality; all the Powers who have signed the treaty may be called upon for their collective action. No one of these Powers is liable to be called upon to act singly or separately. It is a case, so to speak, of 'limited liability'. We are bound in honour - you cannot place a legal construction upon it - to see in concert with others that these arrangements are maintained. But if the other Powers join us, it is certain that there will be no violation of neutrality. If they, situated exactly as we are, decline to join, we are not bound single-handed to make up the deficiencies of the rest. Such a guarantee has, obviously, rather the character of a moral sanction to the arrangements which it defends than that of a contingent liability to make war. It would no doubt give a right to make war, but it would not necessarily impose the obligation.”

"Take an instance from what we have done already. We have guaranteed Switzerland; but if all Europe combined against Switzerland, although we might regret it, we should hardly feel bound to go to war with all the world for the protection of Switzerland. We were parties to the arrangements which were made about Poland; they were broken, but we did not go towar. I only name these cases as showing that it does not necessarily and inevitably follow that you are bound to maintain the guarantee under all circumstances by force of arms".

In the House of Lords, the Earl of Derby in reply to a similar question defined the British Government's view in the following manner:

"A several guarantee binds each of the parties to do its utmost individually to enforce the observance of the guarantee. A collective guarantee is one which is binding on all the parties collectively; but which, if any difference of opinion should arise no one of them can be called upon to take upon itself the task of vindication by force of arms. The guarantee is collective and depends upon the union of all parties signing it; and no one of those parties is bound to take upon itself the duty, of enforcing the fulfilment of the guarantee".

i.e. "Forget it. Meaningless nonsense, but don't tell Belgium or Luxembourg".
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Also the Cabinet in the final days discussed how much of Belgium had to be invaded before it could be used as a casus belli. A majority thought a little bit in the east would be OK for us.

They first discussed this in 1911.

Translates as being a little bit pregnant.

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Thanks for the comments about the treaties. I have gained the impression that these treaties were intended to protect Belgium from the Netherlands. My limited knowledge of Belgian history suggests that was likely to be the case. If that is correct, these treaties had nothing to do with the outbreak of war. However as Clemenceau said, IIRC Belgium did not invade Germany.

Alan many thanks, what is the title of Steiners book please.

Old Tom

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'Britain and the Origins of the FWW'. Palgrave. 2nd ed. Zara S.Steiner and Keith Neilson. 2003.

Do not use the first edition

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Also worth mentioning in 1832 that the French besieged the citadel of Antwerp that was being held by a Dutch garrison. I think that the Treaty of London had noble aims in trying to ensure that an independent Belgium would not revert to being the 'Cockpit of Europe'.

Regards

Michael Bully

Thanks for the comments about the treaties. I have gained the impression that these treaties were intended to protect Belgium from the Netherlands. My limited knowledge of Belgian history suggests that was likely to be the case. If that is correct, these treaties had nothing to do with the outbreak of war. However as Clemenceau said, IIRC Belgium did not invade Germany.

Alan many thanks, what is the title of Steiners book please.

Old Tom

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What were Germany's long term intentions by invading France through Belgium? were they there to stay as an occupying power indefinitely or were they going to 'springboard' elsewhere?

khaki

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Billy, Thanks for that. According to my shakey history of the Low Countries, that was before Belgium existed i.e. when it was part of the Netherlands. Were the French from France or were they Wallones?

Khaki, An answer is that they wanted to knock out the French army before turning on the Russians, that suggests the possibility that gaining land from Russia was another reason. Another is that they needed a Channel port. However my appreciation, subject to reading some of the suggestions above, is that the motive was essentially defensive i.e anticipating that they would be attacked. Its all a bit confusing! Niall Ferguson - not liked by this forum- concluded it was a great error.

Old Tom

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It was a bad error politically to go through Belgium but could have been militarily brilliant if the orginal Schlieffen Plan had stood. It was essentially a defensive response to Russian aggression who constantly upped the ante during the July crisis.To mobilise on the German border rather than just the Austro-Hungarian border was an act of supreme folly.

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Hardly just a defensive response, Alan. You mentioned the French investment in the Russian railways but omitted the German investment in Luxembourg's !

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Hardly just a defensive response, Alan. You mentioned the French investment in the Russian railways but omitted the German investment in Luxembourg's !

In fact, the Germans pretty much owned Luxembourg's railways. The problem was that Britain had financed the building of the line from Ostend to Italy via Luxmbourg, Frankfurt and Switzerland to avoid going through France, so east west in Luxembourg. Then the Belgians/Germans put in a line from Liège (Aachen really) to France via Luxembourg.

Even before the line was finished the Cologne Chamber of Commerce put out a study saying that the lines would alter the whole of world trade. However, by the end of the 19th century, althouth the north/south line was going great guns, the east/west was in distress as the British had lost interest. It had become easier for people and goods to take ship in Britain and go straight through the Med, rather than going by train to Italy to pick up ships to Egypt and India.

Once more, all this is thoroughly gone into in my book "Victims Nonetheless", on Amazon.co.uk/Kindle or Amazon.com/Kindle (for those without a UK mail address).

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Once more, all this is thoroughly gone into in my book "Victims Nonetheless", on Amazon.co.uk/Kindle or Amazon.com/Kindle (for those without a UK mail address).

I thought I gave you a good lead in, Dave ! I would recommend the book for an oversight in to the strategic importance of Luxembourg and its railways.

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I thought I gave you a good lead in, Dave ! I would recommend the book for an oversight in to the strategic importance of Luxembourg and its railways.

You are naughty

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