chapter  5
44 Pages

The ‘new diplomacy’

Few events in modern history have attracted more instant academic attention than the outbreak of the First World War. Hardly had the first battles been fought before the task of analyzing the preceding crisis began. Belligerent governments hastened to demonstrate the justice of their respective causes by publishing selections of their diplomatic correspondence, and patriotic historians were at hand to assist them in explaining the evil intentions of their foes. Yet, despite the political truces which prevailed in Berlin, London and Paris, and the readiness of socialists to join with other parties of the left in voting for military credits, there was no universal acceptance of the thesis that the war could be attributed solely to the ambitions of any one power or coalition. Liberal and radical critics of British foreign policy continued, for example, to emphasize the shortcomings of the European states system. These included the commercial and imperial rivalries of the recent past, the concomitant arms races, the pursuit of balance-of-power policies, the secret treaties and conventions which had underpinned and buttressed the pre-war alliances and ententes, and a territorial status quo which took insufficient account of the principle of national self-determination. And while individual diplomats were arraigned for their bellicosity and conspiratorial machinations, their profession was blamed for its failure to halt the drift towards war. George Young, who in 1914 was the first secretary in the British legation at Lisbon, was not alone in expressing his disillusionment with ‘orthodox diplomacy’. Like many of his generation he was converted to the view that if war were to be avoided in the future there would have to be fundamental changes in the way in which nations dealt with each other. Old practices would have to be abandoned and be replaced by what in the aftermath of the war was popularly labelled the ‘new diplomacy’.