Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Liman von Sanders Affair

Liman von Sanders
The last great diplomatic crisis before the Great War took place in late 1913 and early 1914. It exacerbated German-Russian tensions and also stressed the emerging Triple Entente of Russia, Great Britain, and France. At the center of the brouhaha was a German general named Liman von Sanders, whose name was later attached to this "Affair."

After their dismal performance in the recent wars in the Balkans and Libya, the Young Turks controlling the Ottoman Empire went shopping for military expertise and decided that Germany offered the best model for their army. The appointment of von Sanders to lead a mission for upgrading the Turkish Army was announced in November 1913. His portfolio, however, went beyond advising and training. Part of his scope of duties was the command of a Turkish army corps in Constantinople. This triggered a ferocious response from the Russians, who a) had their eyes on the Straits for access to the Mediterranean, and were secretly considering military options for seizing them, and b) did not want the Germans to be gaining a military foothold and political influence in the "Sick Man of Europe." 

Russia decided to test its putative allies in Paris and London and asked them to join in energetic action against the German military mission. The British, though, found themselves somewhat embarrassed, since they had agreed to a similar role for the Turkish Navy. Additionally, both France and Britain did not want to risk war. Both governments stipulated diplomatic support only. 

Von Sanders Arrives in Constantinople, December 1913

By January—with the Russians gritting their teeth—a deal was brokered where General von Sanders's direct command of the army corps was taken away from him by kicking him upstairs to the office of Inspector General of the Turkish Army.

Immediately afterward, it seemed like the crisis had passed and that diplomatic methods had once again defused a potential war. Yet, the Kaiser and Tsar both believed they had once again been forced to back down. Also, France was compelled to spend much of early 1914 reassuring the Russians that they would be stalwart allies in any future confrontations, culminating with President Poincaré's fence-mending visit to Russia in the middle of the July Crisis. 

Sources: British Foreign Policy 1874-1914: The Role of India by Sneh Mahajan (Smuts 1918, Clavin 2013).

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