Germany's Unification 1862-1871 Foreign Policy

The Kaiserreich : Foreign Policy under Bismarck, 1871-1890

Before Bismarck was appointed chancellor in 1862, he had served as Prussia's ambassador in St. Petersburg. When the Poles rose against Russian rule in 1863, Bismarck closed Prussia's borders, refusing any aid to the rebels and thus winning Russia's gratefulness. In 1866 Bismarck treated Austria generously, demanding no territorial concession to Germany and only the cession of Venice to Italy, thus winning the gratefulness of both Austria and Italy. Bismarck's harsh treatment of France in 1871 was meant to deepen the hatred between both nations, and to employ it as a means to unite Prussians, Bavarians, Saxons etc. and mold them into Germans.
In Europe after 1871, Britain continued it's policy of splendid isolation, mistrusting the colonial expansion of both France and Russia. France was humiliated and looking for revenge, but was isolated as it again had changed it's form of government and had no allies yet. It was Bismarck's goal to keep it that way. He signed treaties with both Russia and Austria, promising to come to the partner's aid should he be attacked (Austria feared to be attacked by Russia and Russia by Austria). In 1872 the LEAGUE OF THE 3 EMPERORS was formed (Germany, Austria, Russia, extended in 1881), in 1882 the TRIPLE ALLIANCE (Germany, Austria, Italy), which was joined in 1883 by Rumania. Bismarck's network of treaties and alliances, although contradictory in many details, prevented France from forming an alliance directed against Germany.
Bismarck regarded colonies as not really desirable - Germany was a European power - and was happy to see France and Russia focus on colonial expansion; their forces were tied up outside of Europe. Bismarck was so much in control of European politics and beyond, that Bismarck was accepted as a neutral mediator in the Balkans Conflict of 1878 (BERLIN CONGRESS) and as a not quite so selfless mediator in the partition of Africa on the BERLIN CONFERENCE 1885. In 1878, Bismarck gained the trust of the Sultan of the OTTOMAN EMPIRE, an Empire finding itself the target of both imperial powers and small nationalist Balkan states (or states to be).

DOCUMENTS 7 October, 1879 : The Dual Alliance Between Austria-Hungary and Germany, from World War I Document Archive
18 June, 1881 : The Three Emperors League, from World War I Document Archive
20 May, 1882 : The Triple Alliance (First 8 Articles), from World War I Document Archive , click here for the French original
18 June, 1887 : The Reinsurance Treaty between Germany and Russia, from World War I Document Archive
Bismarck on Colonial Policy : Excerpt of a letter to von Roon, 1868, from psm-data; Bismarck on Colonial Policy in an interview given traveller Eugen Wolf 1888, from psm-data
Images from Chronik 2000 Bilddatenbank : Berlin Congress 1878
Treaty of Berlin between Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Turkey, from ANN, July 13, 1878
Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation and Consular Convention, between Hawaii and the German Empire, 1879, from Hawaiian Independence Home Page

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 12th 2004

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