chapter  3
27 Pages

Superhighway to the World Wide Web: The Mediterranean in British Imperial Strategy, 1900-45

When Vice-Admiral Sir John Fisher took up his appointment as Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean, in 1899, his fleet was ‘Britain’s principal fighting force’ and Britannia, though under challenge from the putatively hostile Franco-Russian alliance, ruled the waves of the middle sea.1 Austria-Hungary and Italy, moreover, were traditional friends and Britain exercised the paramount influence at the Ottoman court. Though Britain’s political and economic interests in the Mediterranean and the Middle East were not negligible, they did not form a significant proportion of the nation’s total economic portfolio, while the principal imperial political responsibilities were located well beyond the region’s bounds. At the century’s opening, then, the Mediterranean’s role in imperial strategy was essentially that of a superhighway to the world wide web, a function underlined emphatically by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Britain viewed the Mediterranean ‘as a single geo-strategic unit’, but in the industrial era it was no longer the centre of the world.2