Mary Margaret Clark
HIST 206, Spring 2014
Weltpolitik: Calculated Policy or Haphazard Folly?
A paper examining the question, “Was Germany’s Weltpolitik a violation
of the unwritten rules of European Diplomacy?
Germany’s Weltpolitik was a clear violation of the status quo and thus the unwritten rules of European diplomacy as Kaiser Wilhelm II ruined Anglo-German relations, spent more than the German economy could handle, and aggressively tested international alliances.
II. Bismarck’s Decline
The start of Weltpolitik began when Otto von Bismarck ended his absolutist reign as German Chancellor in 1890 . Bismarck’s break with Kaiser Wilhelm II came after a prosperous and powerful term as Chancellor under Kaiser Wilhelm I. In fact, Kaiser Wilhelm II was only on the throne for two years before Bismarck realized their differences were too great and submitted his resignation .
After establishing a unified Germany after several continental crises, Bismarck retreated to conservatism and preservation of the established order . Bismarck had isolated a revolutionary France, pinned Russian interests against British policy in the deteriorated Ottoman Empire, and propped up the Austro-Hungarian Empire with the refortified Dual Alliance3. All of these measures were calculated and precisely timed thanks to Bismarck’s uncanny political capabilities. Wilhelm II’s forced dismissal of Bismarck signaled the end of rational negotiations with all the great world powers, but also the beginning of the pursuit to win over the British as a lasting ally3.
Bismarck’s successor was a different kind of Chancellor, a man who would share the responsibility of German statesmanship with Kaiser Wilhelm II. A grandson to Queen Victoria of Great Britain, Wilhelm II was not content with merely the title “Kaiser”; Wilhelm II wanted the head seat at the international table, so to speak. In Frank Thackeray’s words, “the bombastic young emperor surrounded himself with yes-men who saw it as their duty to inflate his ego” (65) 2. Thus, Bismarck’s successor Chancellor Caprivi took office under a young monarch with autocratic tendencies4.
III. Reinsurance Treaty
To understand Weltpolitik, one must search beyond the surface of the actual policy tenants and delve deeper into the reasons for such grand showing of international power. The first incident that highlighted the new German political order, centered behind Wilhelm II, was the abandonment of the Russian Reinsurance Treaty (initially signed in 1887) 3. The semi-secret treaty that Bismarck negotiated with the Russian Tsar was set to be “extended indefinitely” before Bismarck’s resignation3. Instead, Wilhelm II moved away from Russia and towards earning Great Britain’s friendship and success4. The failure to renew this treaty and to instead concentrate diplomatic efforts on wooing Great Britain was a harbinger of future German tendencies.