Courtesy Reuters

Tribulations of Empire: the Mediterranean Problem

TWO years ago the British and the Italians were on the very verge of conflict in the Mediterranean and in the course of the past twelve-month the situation in that sea has been thrown into utter confusion by the Spanish civil war. Anyone who tried to make predictions for the future would obviously be rash indeed. But much may be learned about the present position from an analysis of the various stages which have led up to it and by an examination of the basic factors involved.

Ever since the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the occupation of Egypt by British forces in 1882 the interest of Britain in this shortest route to her Asiatic possessions has been axiomatic. It requires no further elaboration here. But some consideration may profitably be given to the policy that was formulated to protect this route. In the decade following the opening of the Canal the British were fascinated by the danger that seemed to threaten from Russia. Disraeli's whole thought was to block the advance of the Muscovite colossus either in the Balkans or in the Caucasus. When the crisis of 1878 had at last blown over, Britain was discovered in occupation of Cyprus, which was thought of as a place d'armes and a point of departure for meeting Russian encroachment either by sea or by land through Anatolia. The fact that Lord Salisbury offered the French a free hand in Tunis in return for support of the British policy shows more clearly than anything else how little thought was then given to the possibility of Anglo-French antagonism. The conflict of interests came only later. When the French cashed their check on Tunis in 1881 the government of Mr. Gladstone was profoundly displeased, but there was no idea of active opposition. In fact, the French themselves were acting mainly from motives of prestige and certainly had no conception of the strategic value of Tunis.

It was only after the occupation of Egypt that the Mediterranean

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