"VELVET GLOVE" DIPLOMACY: THE BEGINNING OF FRANCO-ITALIAN RECONCILIATION
The discordant nature of Franco-Italian relations after 1881 was the product of a profound suspicion that statesmen of both nations felt toward each other. To reestablish the trust necessary to accomplish his broader plan for reconciliation, Camille Barrère labored to reintroduce reliability and amity to Franco-Italian dealings. From the first days of his ambassadorship he labored to convince Italian political leaders as well as public opinion that France was a friend of the young kingdom.
On the surface, Barrère's diplomatic style was a combination of personal cooperativeness and courtesy. He cultivated friendships, nurtured influential contacts, incessantly lobbied the Quai d’Orsay to support his efforts, and avoided antagonizing political enemies. Ever the gentleman, Barrère continually represented French interests as being Italian interests. Yet, beneath his affability and charming demeanor was a forceful, demanding, and calculated statesman.
Barrère’s diplomatic technique is clear in his handling of three problems which immediately confronted him in Rome: the commercial estrangement which had plagued Franco-Italian diplomacy for a decade; a potentially-explosive colonial confrontation that developed in East Africa in November 1898; and the emergence of Italy as an imperial rival in the Far East.
In the spring of 1899, after Barrère had moved expeditiously to placate a minor disagreement between France and Italy, a correspondent for the London Times brilliantly encapsulated the French ambassador’s operative methodology. His characterization can well be applied to Barrère’s professional approach throughout his crucial first years at the Palais Farnese.
It is one of those clever moves of courteous diplomacy in which it is easy to trace the hand of M. Camille Barrère, who lets slip no chance of proving to Italy that his conception of French policy is by no means incompatible with Italian interests…the French ambassador to the Quirinal is ever ready with the velvet glove.1
The most pressing problem in Franco-Italian relations was the economic warfare which had persisted since 1888. Financially and commercially the Italians had been devastated by their estrangement from French markets. Although the Paris financial market had been closed to new Italian issues, by the late 1890s existing Italian securities were regaining strength and quietly being repurchased on the Bourse.2
This movement did not go unnoticed by French officials. But no attempt was made to exploit this trend as a basis for renovating the Franco-Italian relationship. Barrère’s predecessor in Rome, Albert Billot, acknowledged that there was "a very important and patriotic motive which commands us to fasten to ourselves the interests of Italian producers, to open to them our market, and to hold them by the advantages of a reduced tariff."3 Still, he lamented the fact "that French funds are beginning again to be engaged prematurely in Italian issues; and, if the means were offered to me, I would not hesitate again to detour them from this course."4 This official hesitancy was openly demonstrated in 1897 when the French government refused to allow the placement of a new four-percent Italian bond on the Bourse. As far as official France was concerned, Italy was still the ally of Germany and Austria-Hungary.5
The Italians also encountered similar reluctance when they sought a new tariff agreement with France. The commercial estrangement was broached by Italy in the autumn 1896.6 It was met, however, by procrastination in Paris for the next two years. Billot and Foreign Minister Gabriel Hanotaux proffered excuses that included the need for "preparatory work…to know if it could be attempted with a chance of success;"7 the necessity to ratify the Tunisian Convention first, lest a parliamentary interpellation upset even this modest political gain;8 and the fear that in Paris the protectionist government of Jules Méline would reject any new commercial treaty with Italy.9
Hanotaux was not adverse to the idea of a commercial accord being concluded, eventually. Yet the only fruit of extended conversations with the Italians was a list of items on which Rome hoped to receive the minimum French tariff. Presented in July 1897 by the Italian ambassador to France, Count Giuseppe Tornielli, fifteen months later this list became the basis of a pivotal commercial accord accomplished through Barrère’s efforts.10
Barrère's appointment to Rome augured well for the future economic reconciliation of France and Italy. The new ambassador had gained the friendship of several important Italian leaders during his travels in Italy during the 1890s. Moreover, his reputation as an economic negotiator during his tenure as ambassador to Switzerland was also impressive. For such reasons, his nomination was "well-received" in Rome.11
During his Munich years, Barrère had written about economic aspects of the Franco-Italian "moral war." He knew that stalemate and continued mistrust resulted whenever the French made economic concessions dependent upon political concessions from Rome. In his first months in Italy, Barrère reiterated the primacy of economics in creating and eventually easing diplomatic tensions. In the Naples area, he remarked in mid-1898, "hatred of France has an economic cause; the South no longer sells its wine to us, thus it is France who starves the South…. In the other regions we are still not loved. Tuscany detests us. It is only after Bologna—travelling north—that public sentiment is less hostile to us."12
Barrère hoped that by reintroducing French commercial and financial power into the peninsula, Italy would regain its economic vitality and recognize the fundamental importance of French wealth in staving off economic collapse in the kingdom. Such a blunt message, although not to be openly flaunted, was inherent in the improvement of Franco-Italian commerce. Barrère touched upon this situation in a note written in 1900.
The amelioration of political relations surpasses, and by a great deal, even those of economic relations. This is regrettable. The action exercised upon Italy will only have a really stable and resilient base if it is supported by serious material interests. An Italy that would be supplied by our capital, that would find in our markets the disposal of its products, would be strongly encumbered by following a policy that would deprive her of such precious advantages.13
Most Italian statesmen were favorable to the conclusion of a commercial reconciliation. Barrère quickly surmised that "it is the principal object of preoccupation of officialdom in this capital."14 King Umberto, although committed to his political alliance with Germany and Austria, was eager for an agreement. Customarily, new ambassadors in Rome had to wait at least eight days after requesting their first royal reception. Umberto received Barrère in four days. It was a friendly encounter in which the king expressed his hope that "France and Italy were made to understand each other and to rest their friendship on common interests." Barrère concluded that "no one in Italy desires more than he [Umberto] the establishment of affectionate and cordial relations between the two countries." 15
Luigi Luzzatti, the Treasury Minister whose prime interest was the commercial, industrial and financial development of the battered Italian economy, was anxious for rapprochement with France. Not only did Luzzatti wish to resolve tariff problems, he also wanted French capital made available for his long-range goal of converting Italian bonds to lower interest rates. Luzzatti impressed Barrère as desiring "passionately…to engage his country on new paths."16 Within days of Barrère’s arrival, Luzzatti approached him about the chronically fruitless commercial negotiations between Rome and Paris, emphasizing that this business was "the most important with which an Italian Government has had to be occupied since the conclusion of the Triple Alliance."17
The venerable Italian Foreign Minister Visconti Venosta, one of the revolutionary fathers of the Italian modern state in 1860, also greeted Barrère with gracious thoughts on the future of Franco-Italian relations. His ideas, however, ranged beyond economic considerations. Hoping to find a diplomatic path between Paris and Berlin, Visconti Venosta informed Barrère that Italy "had to choose between two roads: the policy practiced in the past which, perforce, must end in misunderstandings and maybe conflicts; or the policy of entente [Barrère’s underscoring]."18 Barrère was later convinced that the Foreign Minister meant to have Italy withdraw from the Triple Alliance.19
Although Italian leadership hoped Barrère would be helpful in negotiating a commercial agreement, Hanotaux was reluctant to give his ambassador the authority to conduct conversations in Rome. Moreover, Barrère’s appointment was not necessarily to the liking of Hanotaux. When Count Tornielli, the Italian Ambassador to France, complained that the choice of Barrère was "made behind my back,"20 the new ambassador had actually been sent to Rome at the request of President Felix Faure.21 Earlier Hanotaux also assured the Italian ambassador that even with Barrère in Rome, the center of commercial talks would remain in Paris.22
However, Barrère was irrepressible. He was determined to become the spokesman for France in the commercial negotiations. On 11 February he telegraphed the Quai d’Orsay requesting information on the status of the talks. He noted that because of Tornielli’s well-known ill will toward France, it would be better to continue negotiations in Rome where "they are generally more moderate and conciliatory…than at the Italian embassy in Paris."23
Nevertheless, Hanotaux continued to isolate Barrère from the commercial talks until the new ambassador wrote angrily in April that silence in Paris was doing damage to his diplomatic credit as "the ambassador who negotiated the Franco-Swiss treaty." In that dispatch, Barrère asserted that he was not seeking "to displace from here the natural center" of the negotiations." He implored Hanotaux to give him "a decisive and manifest mark of your confidence" since it would do "great damage for my credit to remain outside the conversations, especially after the significant overture by Luzzatti of which I have been the object."24
The terse note to Hanotaux was a bold gesture by Barrère. It demonstrated his determination, and it achieved its purpose. Throughout the spring, Barrère and Luzzatti officially discussed commercial matters in Rome. By mid-June, the ambassador was able to write of progress in the "commercial negotiations, the technical examination of which is already so advanced."25
And by the end of that month, in spite of a three-week ministerial crisis that toppled two Italian governments, Luzzatti rejoiced that "we have nearly reached agreement with Barrère." 26
No definitive treaty seems to have been possible as long as Méline was the French prime minister. A staunch protectionist, Méline represented a trend of thinking which in Europe had created numerous tariff walls to protect national industries during the last third of the nineteenth century. More than any other factor it was Méline’s influence that accounted for Hanotaux's reticence to press for the conclusion of a commercial accord.27
Barrère opposed protectionism. He felt it to be divisive internationally, and an impediment to his diplomatic efforts.28 He had to wait for the Méline government to fall before he could reach definitive terms with the Italians. On 23 June, following a French general election in which protectionists lost much of their parliamentary strength, a new Radical cabinet under Henri Brisson brought a relaxed attitude toward tariffs to the government and Théophile Delcassé to the Quai d’Orsay.
With Delcassé now his chief, Barrère assumed an even greater control over commercial negotiations in Rome. Throughout the French and Italian ministerial crises that spring, Barrère was the only link of continuity in the conversations. In Rome he was preoccupied with convincing the new government of Luigi Pelloux that continuing the bilateral talks would be useful. As he remarked, "My goal was to lead the new Cabinet into accepting what had been done, into understanding the importance of this confidential negotiation, and into asking the former Minister of the Treasury [Luzzatti] to agree to undertake the continuance of the talks."29
To Delcassé in Paris, the ambassador emphasized that a rapidly-concluded commercial accord "can become the point of departure for Italy of a new policy, for whatever may be the economic importance of a commercial accord to us, the political importance of such an operation very much surpasses it.30 To make his point better understood in Paris, Barrère returned quickly to France to consult with the new Minister of Foreign Affairs. 31
Persuading the Pelloux cabinet that Luzzatti be sent to Paris as special negotiator was a master stroke. Umberto favored the idea;32 and Barrère reported that Pelloux and the new foreign minister, Admiral Felice Napoleone Canevaro, were "desirous of establishing full solidarity between their views and those of their predecessors, and acting according to my indirect suggestions, asked Luzzatti to undertake the mission."33
Barrère was pleased with his accomplishment for two reasons. In the first place, to the French ambassador, the former Minister of the Treasury was definitely not one of those Italian statesmen "with whom all arrangements of this sort would be morally impossible." Second, Luzzatti reiterated privately that he wished the tariff arrangement to become "a turning point in the relations of Italy with your country." As the influential Italian legislator expressed it,
Rudini, Visconti, and I wanted to reconstitute the former amity between Italy and France, an enterprise incompatible with a Germanophile policy and a blind adhesion to the various views of England. Thus, I will agree to negotiate only if on this level the general and particular ideas of the Cabinet conform to mine.34
Barrère’s 1899 summer vacation began on 9 July and lasted for four months. Much of that time he spent in Paris overseeing the conclusion of the commercial conversations. He consulted with Delcassé about the timing of Luzzatti’s arrival in Paris. He returned to Rome at least once during this four-month period to consult Luzzatti on commercial matters.35 Despite the fact that some Italians complained about his extended absence,36 Barrère remained in Paris during the conclusive negotiations with Luzzatti in October. Here, Barrère personally assisted the French economic team. 37
The secrecy that had surrounded the negotiations in Rome continued during Luzzatti’s stay in the French capital. He arrived on 8 October on the pretext of attending a banker's congress; instead, Luzzatti came with carte blanche from the Pelloux government to finalize a commercial settlement.38 Although his ambassador, Count Tornielli, assured Luzzatti that “I do not believe we will succeed, but I want to show France that we were willing to negotiate,”39 talks between Luzzatti and the French representatives40 began on 12 October. They reached fruition thirteen days later.41Finalized versions were signed by Delcassé and Tornielli and made public on 21 November.
By the terms of the commercial accord, the French ceded their minimum tariff to a series of Italian products. Especially important was the inclusion of Italian wines within this group. The Italians, reciprocally, granted most-favored-nation status to specified French exports.42 The accord also had a stimulating effect upon financial relations between France and Italy, as new Italian issues were soon allowed on the Bourse and French banks began investing capital in the kingdom.43
More important, however, were the immediate political effects of the accord. Italian public opinion reacted to the announcement warmly. The monarchist newspaper Fanfulla remarked that "the date of 21 November will be remembered in the annals of human concord. It will be the latest and happy result of this Franco-Italian alliance that should never be interrupted." L’Italie contended that the accord "had an immense importance which will be appreciated by all intelligent and sensible men of both nations." And Popolo Romano claimed that the "tariff peace ought to lead to financial peace and should re-establish…the former exchange of business from which both could benefit."44
Barrère was extremely pleased with the reception of the accord in Italy. He wrote enthusiastically that "The sensation produced by the news of the accord surpasses my hopes. Throughout Italy it is provoking manifestations made all the more lively because the event was absolutely unexpected. There are only Crispi and his friends who are upset.”45
He also stressed the fact that the accord was unexpected in Italy. No one believed it possible, Barrère wrote, "even in governmental circles. It was considered impossible that France should relax her unfriendly attitude toward Italy and end the period of enmity."46 The most immediate consequence of this "bolt from the blue," as Barrère described it, was that while France was now in the midst of a diplomatic standoff with Great Britain over the Fashoda incident, "we have just rendered impossible the participation of Italy in a maritime war."47
Italian domestic opposition to the accord was insignificant. Some supports of Francesco Crispi and Sidney Sonnino, plus a few politicians supportive of northern industrial interests opposed the final ratification on November 25.48 The greatest source of displeasure, however, came from Austria-Hungary and Germany. Although the Italian foreign minister readily explained to Vienna and Berlin that the accord did not signify a change in Italy’s political orientation,49 the Central Powers were not pleased to see Italy approaching France without their knowledge.50 Bernhard von Bülow, the German foreign minister, voiced this distrust when he spoke to the Italian ambassador in terms of marital infidelity.
Germany is like that husband who loves, esteems and has faith in his beautiful wife. He willingly sees her courted, and does not take umbrage if she also dances with others. But he becomes jealous and suspicious if he perceives such a flirt accentuated too much.51
If the commercial accord of 1899 was a major step toward regularizing economic relations with Italy, it was not an end in and of itself. This was made clear to Barrère a week before the commercial agreement was publicly revealed. First, a standoff between French and Italian military units in East Africa threatened to destroy any improvement Franco-Italian relations. Second, while seeking to settle this colonial crisis the delays and lack of co-operation Barrère encountered at the Quai d'Orsay compelled him to exercise a degree of forcefulness seldom exhibited in French ambassadors. As with the commercial accord, the eventual resolution of this problem would bring France and Italy another step closer to political understanding.
The point of confrontation was the Ras Doumeira promontory near Raheita on the western shore of the Gulf of Aden. By terms of a treaty signed in 1882, Ras Doumeira had been recognized as the southern limit of the Italian colony of Eritrea.52 By coincidence, a treaty signed in 1862 with local residents also recognized this cape as the northern frontier of the French possession of Obock (French Somaliland).53 The Italians and the French, however, had never delineated a mutually-respected boundary between their adjoining East African territories, Thus, a minor crisis was precipitated on 14 November 1898 when a small band of French naval personnel disembarked from the cruiser Scorpion and approached the Italian fort near Raheita Bay.54
In Rome and Asmara, the Eritrean capital, Italian officials exhibited disproportionate excitement over the landing. Their reactions may have been prompted by its remarkable coincidence with the Fashoda affair in which two months earlier French and British military forces faced one another in a major colonial showdown in Sudan. Ferdinando Martini, the Commissioner for Eritrea, telegraphed the Consulta that he feared that those who had disembarked meant "to occupy Raheita."55 His estimate, however, was made not from a realistic assessment of what he observed in Raheita, but from an erroneous report from Cairo which claimed there was "much activity in Djibouti: French warships sailing; this could hint at a move by the French toward Raheita."56
Admiral Canevaro reacted emotionally, but with caution. He wired Martini that he did not feel an armed landing would occur; but he insisted that if it did, the Italian garrison "will resist as it can for the honor of the flag."57 Canevaro repeated this theme to a group of governmental supporters when he declared that "Our policy will be good-natured as always, but never feeble."58
Canevaro telegraphed his embassies in Paris and London: the former to obtain an explanation from the French government, the latter to make certain of "the assistance of England on the diplomatic level, and if [complications] occur, on another level."59 In Paris, Delcassé calmly informed Tornielli that he was ignorant of the landing.60 He played down the incident, feeling it to be of "a simply local character and incapable of producing any effect upon the relations of the two countries."61 Recalling that earlier colonial boundary discussions had been inconclusive, Delcassé remarked that the Ras Doumeira had been tacitly accepted by France as the dividing line between Obock and Eritrea. He also expressed his desire to see the matter resolved.62 Lord Salisbury in London was equally calm when he informed the Italian ambassador that "this very night I will telegraph [British ambassador to France Edward] Monson to make it known in Paris that we would not be indifferent to a transformation of things in Raheita; for the moment, I think that is enough."63
In contrast to Delcassé’s discounting of the incident, Barrère recognized the potential damage inherent in the colonial confrontation. This was happening one week before France and Italy signed the monumental commercial agreement for which Barrère had fought. Moreover, the Italian legislature would still have to ratify any such accord. Barrère’s concern with rectifying the East African situation would be constant until it was resolved by a delimitation treaty fourteen months later. On 17 November, Barrère explained to Delcassé his concern that the colonial confrontation was embarrassing France; he cited Canevaro’s desire to have border limitation talks before the incident became uncontrollable.64
Two days later, responding to reports of more French landings north of Raheita, Barrère insisted to the Quai d’Orsay that "it is important that our officers abstain from furnishing new fuel to a polemic which is being produced at a most inopportune time."65 And on 20 November, one day before the signing of the commercial accord, Barrère reiterated his dissatisfaction with the reaction of the French government to the confrontation in East Africa. "I cannot insist too much on the absolute necessity of arresting this affair,” he informed Delcassé, “and on the inopportunity which it has at this moment from the point of view of what we are doing with this country on the economic level, and from those of our relations with England.…"66
Although the rising tensions in the Rahetian incident dissipated on 21 November, negotiations looking toward eventual boundary settlement in East Africa lasted for another two months. Immediate pressure from the affair was eased on the evening of 20 November 1898 when Delcassé, after prodding from Barrère and consultations with the Minister of Colonies, announced a withdrawal of the unwelcomed French sailors from Raheita. In doing so, Delcassé declared the incident closed and stated that "we remain ready to take up again the task of delimitation."67
Under questioning in the Chamber of Deputies the following day, Canevaro followed Delcassé’s lead and declared that "there was no such thing as a Raheitan question, the right of Italy to the locality not having been questioned by anyone." He continued, "We remain, as heretofore, in possession of the coast as far as Ras Doumeira. The northern slope of that promontory belongs to us, and the southern slope to France. A special commission will take advantage of this occasion to delimit the frontier more satisfactorily in order to avoid such incidents."68 There is little doubt that like Barrère, the Italians were also eager to enter boundary discussions for as late as 20 November, Canevaro had felt it "urgent" to settle the issue.69
The crisis abated, Barrère prodded Paris for a quick and definitive resolution. Instead, he was met with more stalling. That was because Delcassé sought the advice of too many bureaucrats. Perhaps because he feared for his cabinet position in a time of political instability, the foreign minister consulted with his colleagues to an extent he would never do again in his seven years at the Quai d'Orsay.
Working closely with the Minister of Colonies, and occasionally with the Minister of the Navy, Delcassé was victimized by the functionary laxity of the other ministries. Such delay prolonged the boundary negotiations. It also roused Barrère to anger several times as he pushed Delcassé toward completing the negotiations. Because he felt the discussions to be "a question that is in the domain of Foreign Affairs," Barrère saw no need for other cabinet offices to be involved.70 Although it is not possible to measure Barrère’s quantitative influence of the final outcome, it is certain that his continual insistence to Delcassé helped in obtaining a successful agreement with Italy.
Negotiations, however, were slow. Not until 4 January 1899 did the Direction Politique give Delcassé its detailed historical report on Franco-Italian contacts in the Raheita area.71 A week earlier Delcassé informed Barrère that the Colonial Ministry had been asked to study the question before negotiations commenced.72 When the ambassador complained about the lack of haste, Delcassé recommended patience and added that he also intended to consult with the French minister in Abyssinia.73
By February, Barrère’s frustration with Paris was evident. In a sharply-worded telegram to Delcassé he lamented the apparent cessation of negotiations caused by excessive bureaucratic exposure.
It is not possible to adjourn preliminary talks on the delimitation of our respective borders in Raheita. You have authorized me to make arrangements in this regard at the time when the incident [threatened] to compromise the commercial accord. Since then, Admiral Canevaro has asked me three times when I will be ready to negotiate. An adjournment would provoke mistrusts. Our military representatives are present on those borders. I estimate that regard for our new relations with Italy commands us to finish it up.74
More succinctly, Barrère remarked later that "I cannot meet Canevaro without him asking if I am ready to talk, and I am embarrassed to go to the Consulta."75
Still, actual talks between Barrère and the Italian representative, General Luchino dal Verme, did not begin until mid-February when the ambassador finally received instruction to proceed with negotiations.76 By July, however, no conclusion had been reached. A change of cabinets in Rome returned Visconti Venosta to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This change of administrators also slowed the negotiations.
So, too, did points of contention raised within the talks, namely, the disposition of several offshore islands. As well, Delcassé’s decision to involve the Minister of Colonies, Antoine-Florent Guillain, continued to hinder a rapid resolution. Guillain favored awarding nearby Doumeira Island to France. The Italians opposed ceding this largest of the offshore areas. They feared the island could be converted into a military base strategically set near the Suez Canal and the Horn of Africa. The colonial minister was so determined, he advocated breaking off the negotiations if the French did not have their way with Doumeira.77
Barrère was convinced of the unthreatening nature of Italian imperialism in East Africa. He informed Delcassé that
Her Red Sea policy has been profoundly modified; the occupation of Eritrea is reduced to its simplest expression; after the military disasters and the cession of Kassala to the English, Italian policy visibly renounces its dream of expansion. In the future she will consider her possessions on the Somali coast as only a sterile colony and a dependency conserved as a point of honor which could be an object for exchange.78
Barrère was angered by Guillain’s stubborn attitude on the matter of Doumeira Island. He criticized the Minister's motives and suggested that Guillain explain his reasons since "he has given nothing other than his desire to possess it." The ambassador continued dismissively and impatiently. "I understand the price attached by the Department [sic.] of Colonies to having Doumeira Island. I will do my best to assure us of it. But I ask again to be placed in a position to discuss the question definitively, and without another delay."79 The colonial minister met Barrère’s criticism by announcing his intention of sending an investigatory expedition to Raheita to discover reasons why Doumeira should become French. 80
Barrère and dal Verme had reached agreement on the mainland frontier. In fact, the Italians conceded the center of the Ras Doumeira promontory rather than the customary southern extremity as the boundary line. But talks stalled in July when interference from the minister of colonies raised the question of offshore islands. The Italian negotiator rejected a French contention that the island held little military potential. Although he felt Italy would not fortify it, dal Verme did not trust the French. He also believed that the Italian concession on the mainland frontier required a French concession on the matter of Doumeira.81
Visconti Venosta offered an escape from the impasse when he recommended that the negotiators conclude a partial agreement and set aside the island question for future consideration.82 Delcassé, however, was hesitant to accept this proposal.83 After consulting with Guillain, he officially rejected the Italian compromise. 84
The final stage of negotiations over the Raheitan question began in late October following Barrère’s return to Rome following his summer vacation. During that respite Barrère consulted personally with Delcassé to clarify his position vis-à-vis the Quai d'Orsay. No record exists of this meeting, but Delcassé later noted that during the conference he gave Barrère his definitive views on the matter,85 and that these views were completely accepted by Guillain. 86
Barrère, who had favored the Visconti Venosta’s compromise of July, must have exercised a persuasive pressure for Delcassé to reach his "definitive views" because the terms of the final treaty of 24 January 1900 established a mainland frontier and called for the future regulation of the question of Doumeira Island. Furthermore, to these basic decisions the signatories added the pledge to leave the island unoccupied until its status was regulated and to oppose use of the island by a third Power.87
As a political problem the Raheitan question was not of major import. In retrospect, and even in the heat of confrontation, the possibility of hostilities between France and Italy over the East African area was negligible. Nevertheless, as an aspect of the persistent Franco-Italian mistrust and disharmony, the question was significant. The Tunis occupation in 1881, a colonial affair, had precipitated the original breach in friendship between France and Italy. At other points in Africa the two nations were rivals. Resolution of the Raheitan problem was the first colonial settlement between France and Italy during Delcassé’s tenure as foreign minister, and it set a precedent for future peaceful reconciliations. Barrère and Visconti Venosta drew inspiration from the settlement and felt that with this "misunderstanding definitively done away with," it was now time to continue in the same vein to effect a similar resolution of the questions of Tripolitania and Morocco.88
Resolving the East African problem was significant also as an illustration of Barrère’s determination to improve relations between France and Italy. Ever responsive to the Italian position, and seeking to appease the Italians on lesser issues so as to bind them on more important matters, Barrère was impatient with the dilatory response From Paris and angered by the interference of the colonial ministry. He pressed Delcassé to make his decisions within the Quai d'Orsay. He demanded the right to enter and conclude negotiations himself. He also travelled to Paris to implore the foreign minister to accept the compromise suggested by the Italians. Importantly for the general success of Delcassian diplomacy in Italy, when Barrère encountered a hesitant attitude toward his Italian goals, even in the French capital, he demonstrated that beneath the "velvet glove" there was strength that could also be applied, even at home.
Underlying the effectiveness of his deft diplomatic technique, Barrère possessed and exploited a keen comprehension of his hosts. The ambassador saw the Italians as proud, passionate, and determined people who desired the physical attributes promised by Great Power status. The duty of French policy in the peninsula, he argued, was to better relations with Italy by cautiously, yet continually, seeking ways to support the ambitious policies of the young Latin nation. Writing of what he called the "touchy and restless tendencies of the Italian soul," Barrère remarked in late 1901 that this inner spirit "needs to be reassured; and every time we have the chance to build confidence in it, that will be one more step toward the most complete rapprochement of the two countries."89
Barrère also recognized in Italian foreign policy that these tendencies resulted in unsteady direction and periodic change. He summarized this apparent ambivalence in mid-1900.
The state of the soul of this country has become curious in relation to its exterior interests: it is torn between its desires and its contradictory amities. It would like, indeed, to entertain good relations with France, but without embroiling itself with its German and English friends. It wants peace, and at the same time it caresses dreams of aggrandizement and expansion. It is torn between fear and hope, appetite and unsatisfied desires. Between its means and its ambitions there is always disproportion. Perhaps it is Italy’s normal and definitive state of being.90
Because he understood that the emotionality of Italian national life offered many possible paths for French diplomacy to exploit, Barrère was a circumspect diplomat in Rome. He did not readily lend his support to an effort unless it promised favorable results for France. He demonstrated this cautious approach to Franco-Italian relations during the abortive Italian attempt to gain a territorial concession from the Chinese government. Although the event did not directly involve the French, Barrère utilized the affair in 1899 to increase Italian trust in France and to divide further the weakening relationship between Italy and Great Britain.
Italian expansionists had been interested in China throughout the last decade of the nineteenth century. Although there was no sizable Italian business community in China,91 imperialistic desires were encouraged by rumors of the impending collapse of the Chinese Empire and by the successful seizures of territorial concessions by other European colonial powers: Kiao-Chau by the Germans, Port Arthur by the Russians, Kwangchow by the French, and Wei-Hai-Wei by the British. The acquisition of territory in the Far East would bring to Italy the glory and prestige of Great Power imperialism. It would also bring the military and economic benefits of possessing a naval base on the China Sea, and the commercial privileges inherent in occupying a portion of the Chinese mainland.92
Despite the humiliating lessons learned at Adowa three years earlier when Italian colonial troops were routed by Abyssinian soldiers, on 28 February 1899 the nationalistic Pelloux government (which included three Crispi loyalists as well as the bold Admiral Canevaro) presented the Chinese government with demands for the port of Sun Mun Bay and a large sphere of influence in Chekiang province.
In the months preceding this overture, Canevaro had been busy seeking the diplomatic support of Italy's closest friends. The Germans, however, were reluctant to welcome the Italians into the Far Eastern scramble. They avoided committing themselves to support Canevaro’s designs, either militarily or diplomatically.93 The British, however, were more amenable. Prime Minister Lord Salisbury specifically ruled out British support for the use of force by the Italians, but he did pledge to back Canevaro diplomatically "on the assumption that the Chinese Government was willing to make the concessions in question."94
The Italian demands of 28 February were supported by the dispatch of several warships to Chinese waters. On 10 March, following the unanticipated rejection of these demands by Chinese officials, the Italian minister in Peking delivered a four-day ultimatum. Although Canevaro later claimed that he had suppressed the ultimatum before it was delivered and that the minister in Peking had therefore been acting without authorization,95 the Italian gesture caused the Chinese to prepare for military resistance96 while the British disavowed the ultimatum.97 The government in Rome, however, did not want to provoke hostilities in the Far East; the naval show of strength and threat of troop landings at San Mun Bay were meant only to intimidate the Chinese.
In spite of having obtained the passive diplomatic support of all the European Powers with material interests in the Far East, the Italians were compelled to withdraw their demands and the ultimatum. Canevaro tried to save his governmental position by recalling his minister from Peking, but this gesture was more scapegoating than it was a reprimand of an errant subordinate. Canevaro’s reaction also misfired when the British representative who assumed responsibility for Italian interests in China promptly left the Chinese capital. Public and official opinion in Italy was angered,98 and Canevaro suffered the consequences of the fiasco. Although he was personally resentful of Salisbury's actions during the affair,99 the Italy foreign minister found little sympathy when he defended his own policies before the Chamber of Deputies. Before Canevaro could be ousted by Parliament, however, Prime Minister Pelloux resigned his government and formed a new cabinet. Canevaro was replaced at the Consulta by Visconti Venosta.
Despite the harmonious effect of the commercial accord on Franco-Italian relations, the Italians had not consulted Barrère or Delcassé on the Chinese question until after 28 February. But rumors of an impending Italian initiative had reached the French as early as November 1898.100 From the beginning, however, Barrère was not anxious to become involved in the affair. He felt that the attempt to expand into China was unnecessary, unwanted, and unprofitable for Italy. He did, however, recognize in the affair a potential for the indictment of England by Italian public opinion, much as had occurred following the disastrous Abyssinian policy of 1896. "Public opinion will see with mistrust," he wrote on 3 March, "this involvement in a land where Italy has no interests, and where she risks becoming the instrument of England."101
Therefore, when Delcassé officially informed Tornielli of his support for the Italian demands in China,102 Barrère approved the gesture. He did not urge, however, a stronger line of support. Instead, he applauded the further estrangement in Anglo-Italian relations created by China’s recalcitrance. Again he was cautious when approached by Canevaro's successor who sought to extricate Italy from the disaster without further humiliation. Barrère was quick to promise the backing of the French government for Visconti Venosta’s aspirations. Nevertheless, because he recognized that in the Italian mind the "disasters of the Red Sea are still too close for the colonial expansion party…to cause it to be forgotten,"103 Barrère cautiously promised only "all our good will" rather than "the good offices of the French government" which Visconti Venosta originally requested.104
Pro-French leaders in Italy as well as Barrère, himself, used the San Mun Bay incident to further stigmatize the bond between London and Rome. In truth it was unjustified to blame the British for Canevaro’s mistake; from the outset Salisbury had promised only diplomatic—and definitely not military—support for the Italian effort. Nevertheless, Francophile Deputies, angered by the appearance of secret Anglo-Italian diplomacy being conducted behind the back of France, blasted England for seeking only to keep France and Italy apart. They argued that the alignment with Great Britain was offering no positive assistance to Italy.105 Some leaders also assailed the British for using Italy as a pawn in their rivalry with Russia in the Orient. These critics felt that, as had been the case in East Africa, Italy had been again left to pull "the chestnuts from the fire for England."106 Barrère, eager to impress Visconti Venosta with French cooperativeness, suggested to Delcassé that the time was propitious to embarrass the British further. As he phrased it,
out of considerations of general policy we should lead in aiding the Marquis Visconti Venosta to leave with honor from the bad course in which his predecessor engaged Italy. It would not suit us to leave him here or elsewhere alone together with England. And if France can lend effective support, it will be to the detriment of the English prestige.107
Although Delcassé quickly agreed to lend French support for Italy’s desire to retreat from China gracefully while still maintaining a commercial establishment there,108 the Italian effort in China commenced by Canevaro was closed. In December 1899 Visconti Venosta admitted this to the Chamber.109 Ironically, the Italians did obtain a territorial concession in China following their role in the Expeditionary forces sent in 1900 to quell the Boxer Rebellion. Throughout the San Mun Bay incident the French lent their diplomatic support to the Italians. Dispatches in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs show that the French minister in Peking, Stephen Pichon, was ordered by Delcassé to accommodate the wishes of the Italian representative.
The British did not do more, but it was France that succeeded in appeasing the Italian government and escaping the wrath of disgruntled public opinion. The British received part of the blame and as a result suffered diminished influence in Italy. Had the French incautiously lent themselves more energetically to the Italian effort, they could have sacrificed much of the good-will nurtured since 1898. Conversely, had they done less, the French could have reaped part of the blame for the embarrassment of Italy.110 As it was, the prudent policy advocated by Barrère demonstrated the good faith of France without risking the loss of prestige.
Barrère had foreseen the unpopularity of Canevaro's policy. He had also anticipated the divisive effect that the imbroglio in China would have upon Anglo-Italian cooperation. Cautious French diplomacy in handling the China crisis produced favorable results immediately.
The diplomatic conduct of France during this incident added another demonstration of Franco-Italian cordiality that Barrère considered necessary for the eventual establishment of a rapprochement. Further, this achievement illustrated to Italian governmental leaders that the France was sincerely seeking to create a spirit of political understanding with Italy. Even Tornielli, who was no proponent of entente with Paris, commended the French for displaying the "friendliest" dispositions during the projected occupation in China. Writing in May 1899, the Italian ambassador informed Visconti Venosta that there emerges, "it appears to me, a deliberate purpose of the government of the Republic to give to its relations with Italy a character of intimate friendship which has not existed for 28 years. I see no sufficient reason not to believe in the sincerity of this new French policy."111
The emerging pattern of diplomatic co-cooperativeness that Barrère’s "velvet glove" diplomacy had done much to bring an enhanced degree of confidence to Franco-Italian relations. And the timing was most propitious for with the return of the sympathetic Visconti Venosta to the Consulta the important matter of Franco-Italian misunderstandings in the Mediterranean was revived.
1 The Times, London, 12 March 1899.
2 Feis, op. cit., p. 241.
3 Billot to Hanotaux, 31 May 1897; MAE, Hanotaux MSS, 17.
4 Billot to Hanotaux, 14 January 1897; ANF, F30, 309.
5 Cochery to Hanotaux, 11 May 1897; ANF, F30, 309.
6 Billot to Hanotaux, 20 October 1896; DDF, I, xiii, #3.
8 Billot to Hanotaux, 16 March 1897; DDF. I, xiii, #151,
10 Delcassé to Barrère, 23 July 1898, and Bompard to Delcassé, 21 November 1898; MAE; Correspondance commerciale, Italie, 43.
11 Deuxième Bureau report, 24 December 1897; AMA, Italie, carton 19, #8407.
12 Barrère to Hanotaux, 19 May 1898; MAE, Italie, NS 13,
13 Barrère to Delcassé, 10 January 1900; MAE. Italie, NS 15.
14 Barrère to Hanotaux, 14 February 1898; DDF, I, xiv, #52.
15 Barrère to Hanotaux, 12 February 1898; MAE, Italie, NS 13.
16 Barrère to Hanotaux, 14 February 1898; DDF, I, xiv, #52.
17 Barrère to Hanotaux, 22 February 1898; MAE, Italie, NS 32.
18 Barrère to Hanotaux, 12 February 1898; MAE, Italie, NS 13.
19 Barrère to Hanotaux, 11 June 1898; DDF. I, xiv, #219. Contrary to the assessment by Barrère, a report from Rome the same week claimed that rather than withdraw from the Alliance, Visconti Venosta "without pushing for a rupture with Austria and Germany, was sincerely convinced that the friendship of France was indispensable to Italy, and he tried his utmost to give the Triple Alliance an interpretation which, in stripping it of everything malevolent and aggressive it could have, would render it compatible with the reestablishment of cordial relations with France." Deuxième Bureau report, 17 June 1898; AMA Italie, carton 19, #1151.
20 Tornielli to Visconti Venosta, 24 March 1898; ACS, Visconti Venosta MSS, busta 7.
21 Tornielli to Visconti Venosta, 10 January 1898; DDI, III, ii, #341.
22 Ibid.; Tornielli to Visconti Venosta, 23 December 1897; DDI, III, ii, #324.
23 Barrère to Hanotaux, 11 February 1898; DDF, I, xiv, p. 93, note 2,
24 Barrère to Hanotaux, 12 April 1898; MAE; Hanotaux MSS, 17.
25 Barrère to Hanotaux, 11 June 1898; DDF, I, xiv, #219.
26 Luzzatti to Anonymous, 29 June 1898; cited in Luigi Luzzatti, Memorie tratte dal carteggio e di altri documenti (Bologna, 1931-1935), II, p. 542.
27 Andrew, op. cit., p. 82,
28 Barrère to Ribot, 4 May 1891; MAE, Bavière, 271. Here Barrère referred ominously to "the protectionist current which is threatening to triumph in France."
29 Barrère to Delcassé, 7 July 1898; MAE, Correspondance commerciale, Italie, 43,
30 Barrère to Delcassé, 10 July 1898; DDF, I, xiv, #253.
31 Barrère visited Delcassé sometime between 9 July (the beginning of his vacation) and 23 July (the date on which the French invited Italy to send an official negotiator to Paris); see Barrère to Blondel, 23 July 1898; MAE, Correspondance commerciale, Italie, 43.
32 Deuxième Bureau report, 8 August 1898; AMA, Italie, carton 19, #1350. According to this report, King Umberto had insisted to Pelloux not to give the portfolio of foreign affairs to someone who would oppose continuing the commercial talks with France.
33 Barrère to Delcassé, 10 July 1898; DDF, I, xiv, #253.
35 Barrère to Blondel, 23 July 1898; MAE, Correspondance commerciale, Italie, 43.
36 Luzzatti’s successor as Minister of the Treasury, Pietro Vachelli, was upset that Barrère "prolonged his stay in Paris in order to royally treat Rudini and Luzzatti who are no longer part of the government." See Deuxième Bureau report, 31 October 1898; AMA, Italie, carton 19, #1637.
37 Billot, II, p. 429.
38 Luzzatti, op. cit., p. 528.
39 Ibid., p. 529.
40 France was officially represented by Maurice Bompard, Director of Consulates and Commercial Affairs; Gabriel Chandèze, Director of Commerce in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry; and Georges Hilaire Bousquet, Councillor of State within the Direction Générale of Tariffs.
41 The complete text of the commercial accord may be found in MAE, Correspondance commerciale, Italie, 43.
42 For an itemized discussion of its terms, see: London, The Economist, 26 November 1898, pp. 1695-1696; 3 December 1898, p, 1726.
43 Pinon, op. cit., pp. 45-46.
44 Théry, op. cit., pp. 29-30.
45 Barrère to Delcassé, 23 November 1898; MAE, Correspondance commerciale, Italie, 43.
46 Barrère to Delcassé, 1 December 1898; DDF, I, xiv, #552.
47 Barrère to Delcassé, 23 November 1898; DDF, I, xiv, #535.
48 On these opposing the accord, see: Deuxième Bureau report, 25 November 1898; AMA, Italie, carton 19, #1751. The accord was accepted in the Italian Chamber by a vote of 226 to 34; the Italian Senate accepted it by a vote of 106 to 16.
49 Canevaro to Lanza and Nigra, 23 November 1898; DDI , III, iii, #121.
50 The Austrian ambassador to Italy, Baron Marius Pasetti, was angered by the secrecy of the negotiations; he figured that this was a suspicious way to act in front of an ally: see Barrère to Delcassé, 22 December 1898; MAE, Correspondance commerciale, Italie, 43.
51 Lanza to Canevaro, 24 December 1898; DDI, III, iii, #129. Barrère reported from "sure information" that several German bankers offered 50,000 francs to the editor of the influential Nuova Antologia if his journal would oppose the accord; also see Barrère to Delcassé, 26 November 1898; MAE, Correspondance commerciale, Italie, 43.
52 See Article III of Treaty of 9 December 1888 between the King of Italy and the Head of the Danakils; Sir E. Hertslet, The Map of Africa by Treaty (London, 1909), II, p. 453.
53 See Article II of Convention of 11 March 1862 between France and the Danakils for the cessation of Obock and its territories to France. Ibid., p. 628.
54 A dispatch from Reuters news agency claimed that the contingent was composed of one officer, two civil servants, six sailors, and two native askaris. The Times, 18 November 1898. According to the Italian Commissioner for Eritrea, one of those landing was a Mr. Adechant who was adjoined to the Governor of French Somalia; another was Hummed Scedaro, brother of the fugitive Sultan Hummed Dini: see Ferdinando Martini, Il diario eritreo (Florence, 1947), I, p. 266.
55 Martini to Canevaro, 15 November 1898; DDI, III, iii, p. 66, note 1.
56 Martini, op. cit., p. 266.
57 Ibid.; Canevaro to Martini, 15 November 1898; DDI, III, iii, p. 66, note 2.
58 Cited in The Times, 18 November 1898. The speech was delivered on 16 November.
59 Canevaro to de Renzis, 16 November 1898; DDI, III, iii, #112.
60 Delcassé probably knew nothing of the landing. It appears to have come from the initiative of either the Governor of French Somalia or the Ministry of Colonies. No adequate explanation of the reasons for the landing is to be found.
61 Martini, op. cit., p. 267.
62 Tornielli to Canevaro, 16 November 1898; DDI , III, iii, #113.
63 De Renzis to Canevaro, 16 November 1898; DDI, III, iii, #115.
64 Barrère to Delcassé, 17 November 1898, MAE, Afrique, NS 26.
65 Barrère to Delcassé, 19 November 1898; MAE, Afrique, NS 26.
66 Barrère to Delcassé, 20 November 1898; MAE, Afrique, NS 26.
67 Delcassé to Barrère, 20 November 1898; MAE, Afrique, NS 26.
68 Pall Mall Gazette, London, 22 November 1898.
69 Canevaro to Tornielli, 20 November 1898; DDI, III, iii, #118.
70 Barrère to Delcassé, 23 June 1899; MAE, Afrique, NS 27.
71 Note for the Minister, 4 January 1899; MAE, Afrique, NS 26.
72 Barrère to Delcassé, 22 January 1899; MAE, Afrique, NS 26.
73 Delcassé to Barrère, 30 January 1899; MAE, Afrique, NS 26.
74 Barrère to Delcassé, 5 February 1899; MAE, Afrique, NS 26.
75 Barrère to Delcassé, 15 February 1899; MAE, Afrique, NS 26.
77 Barrère to Delcassé, 14 June 1899; MAE, Afrique, NS 117
78 Barrère to Delcassé, 17 June 1899; MAE, Afrique, NS 8.
79 Barrère to Delcassé, 14 June 1899; MAE, Afrique, NS 27
80 Barrère to Delcassé, 23 June 1899; MAE, Afrique, NS 27
81 Visconti Venosta to Tornielli, 25 July 1899; DDI, III, iii, #310.
82 Barrère to Delcassé, 9 July 1899; MAE, Afrique, NS 27.
83 Delcassé to Barrère, 14 July 1899; MAE, Afrique, NS 27.
84 Delcassé to Barrère, 28 July 1898; MAE, Afrique, NS 27.
85 Delcassé to Barrère, 18 October 1898; MAE, Afrique, NS 27.
86 Guillain to Delcassé, 29 September 1898; MAE. Afrique, NS 27. Delcassé had also consulted with and received the approval of the Minister of the Navy: see Lockroy to Delcassé, 11 October 1898; MAE, Afrique, NS 27.
87 Hertslet, op. cit., p. 663.
88 Note from Barrère, 17 January 1898; DDF, I, xiv, #51.
89 Barrère to Delcassé, 20 November 1901; DDF, II, i, #525.
90 Barrère to Delcassé, 10 May 1900; MAE, Italie, NS 15.
91 As late as 1900 there were only nine Italian businesses and 133 Italian nationals in China. See Glanville, op. cit., 72.
92 Ibid., pp. 72-77; Seton-Watson, op. cit., p. 210.
93 Lanza to Canevaro, 13 January 1899; DDI, III, iii, #138.
94 De Renzis to Canevaro, 23 January and 15 February 1899; DDI., III, iii, #140 and #156; Canevaro to Currie, 6 February 1899; DDI. Ill, iii, #154; Salisbury to Currie, 15 February 1899; HP, I, #60.
95 Canevaro to Martino, 8 March 1899; DDI, III, iii, #181 and #184; Glanville, op, cit., p. 75.
96 A consular dispatch received in Paris described the Chinese military preparations in Chekiang, According to the writer, the Chinese had German Mauser and Werdel firearms, as well as two Skoda cannons ready to use against an Italian landing. See Consul General in Shanghai to Delcassé, 10 June 1899; MAE, Chine, Politique extérieure, Relations avec l’Italie 1898-1906, NS s.n; cf. Seton-Watson, op. cit., p. 210.
97 De Renzis to Canevaro, 16 March 1899; DDI, III, iii, #200.
98 The Times, 14 March 1899.
99 Giorgio Borsa, Italia e Cina nel secolo XIX (Milan, 1961), pp. 115-118
100 Consul General in Genoa to Delcassé, 8 November 1898; MAE, Chine, Politique extérieure, Relations avec l’Italia 1898-1906, NS s.n.
101 Barrère to Delcassé, 3 March 1899; MAE, Chine, Politique extérieure, Relations…NS s.n.
102 Barrère to Delcassé, 2 March 1899; MAE, Chine, Politique extérieure, Relations…NS s.n.
103 Delcassé to Barrère, 10 March 1899; MAE, Chine, Politique extérieure, Relations…NS s.n.
104 Barrère to Delcassé, 3 June 1899; MAE. Chine, Politique extérieure, Relations…NS s.n.
105 Glanville, op. cit., pp. 76-77.
106 Barrère to Delcassé, 10 March 1899; MAE, Chine, Politique extérieure, Relations… NS s.n.
107 Barrère to Delcassé, 10 June 1899; MAE, Chine, Politique extérieure, Relations… NS s.n.
108 Delcassé to Pichon, 15 June 1899, and Delcassé to Barrère, 3 July 1899; MAE, Chine, Politique extérieure, Relations…NS s.n.
109 Seton-Watson, op. cit., p. 211.
110 Early in the incident false rumors were published to the effect that the French minister in Peking was urging the Chinese government to resist Italian demands. Barrère had the reports suppressed in the Italian newspapers. Nevertheless, he urged Delcassé to deny them if they were published because "it would tend to give our policy the appearance of duplicity before the eyes of Italy which could produce a bad effect here. " Barrère to Delcassé, 7 March 1899; MAE, Chine Politique extérieure, Relations…NS, s.n.
111 Tornielli to Visconti Venosta, 24 May 1899; DDI, III, iii, #260.
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