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Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Cast - France
Cast - Italy
Cast - Others


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The political and military entente culminated in the Prinetti-Barrère Accord was the high-point of Delcassian diplomacy in Italy. Although Delcassé did not fall from power until June 1905, the neutralization of Italy in 1902 resolved decades of Franco-Italian antagonism, prepared the Mediterranean for Delcassé's colonialist dream of occupying Morocco, and altered the meaning and import of the anti-French Triple Alliance.

In 1898 France and Italy were still diplomatically and economically estranged. Feeble attempts to resolve outstanding problems had been made in 1896 by the Marquis Visconti Venosta. But until Barrère and then Delcassé assumed their respective positions in Rome and Paris, reconciliation of interests had eluded both nations. Four years later, however, Franco-Italian relations were more cordial and cooperative than they had been since the Risorgimento created Italy in 1861.

Principally because of the efforts of the French ambassador in Rome, there was by 1902 little more to be accomplished by French diplomats in Italy. Short of a formalized alliance with Italy—an arrangement he never espoused—Barrère recognized that the Prinetti-Barrère Accord was all that could be expected from the Italians. As he explained to Delcassé in May 1904,

I believe that we have nothing precise to ask of the king [of Italy] and his government. We have regulated our affairs with Italy in such a way that, unless looking for the advantages and inconveniences of a written and formal alliance, which still does not involve respect for written texts, we have nothing to ask of them. Italy has given us full liberty of action in Morocco, just as we have expressed our eventual disinterest regarding Tripolitania. She has given us further written guarantees which touch upon her participation in the Triple Alliance and which profoundly modify its original character…. Henceforth, and for a long while, it is becoming impossible for any government to deviate from the path which our diplomacy has traced with a firm and sure hand. The most impenitent adversaries of French influence will be constrained to follow it…. By the consent of everyone—artisans, those indifferent, or adversaries—Italy is ceasing to be a military force at the disposal of the Germanic Powers. If a struggle broke out tomorrow between France and Germany, even if the latter were not the aggressor, no government would have the force, even though it had the resolution, to oblige Italy to join her forces to those of our adversary. It is one of those indisputable facts about which the will of a statesman and international pacts can do nothing. 1

As it pertained to Delcassé’s colonial aspirations the Franco-Italian entente was the first substantial step toward the eventual acquisition of Morocco. Since his journalistic years, Delcassé had favored French imperial expansion in North Africa. Having gained a free hand from the Italians, the French soon negotiated similar agreements with Spain in 1903 and Great Britain in 1904 which further preempted hostile responses from European Powers once the French felt ready to move into North African kingdom.

Only the Germans, self-appointed protectors of Islam, were excluded from the anticipatory formal arrangements negotiated by the French. This shortcoming, however, proved fatal for Delcassé'. German protests at being excluded from the Moroccan preparations led to a crisis in 1905 which toppled Delcassé from power, threatened the European peace, and previewed the diplomatic cleavage of Europe in 1914.

Barrère had always cautioned Delcassé against his colonial aspirations. Barrère felt that the continental balance of power was more important to France than was an additional slice of African territory. Nevertheless, he dutifully fulfilled the dictates of his superior in Paris. Moreover, it was Barrère’s skill and foresight in carrying out these directives that separated the question of Italy's pre-eminence in Tripolitania (granted in 1900) from that of a free hand in the territory (granted in 1902). Delcassé had been prepared in 1900 to afford both concessions simultaneously. Barrère kept the free hand in reserve and later bargained it to Italy for a concession dearer to his personal desires: the military neutralization of Italy toward France.

As Delcassé’s diplomacy sought to alter the colonial status quo in North Africa, it was simultaneously rearranging the diplomatic balance of power in Europe. It was not an unconscious effort by the French. Barrère well understood the grande diplomatie being practiced by the French. He noted this in 1903 when he remarked: "we are remaking Europe; and unless there are great mistakes, we are going to have a situation of which we could scarcely have dreamed."2

The Franco-Italian entente was, again, a significant step toward the diplomatic rearrangement of the Great Powers. It was augmented by the strengthening of the Franco-Russian Alliance, and by the entente cordiale which brought resolution and co-operation to French relations with Great Britain. Moreover, the French role in settling Anglo-Russian tensions emanating from the Dogger Bank incident in 1904 clearly illustrated the potential reconciliation of London and St. Petersburg and the possible formation of a Franco-Russian-British bloc to which Italy might gravitate.

Ironically, this four-Power arrangement was first manifest in 1906. The Algeciras Conference was a public trial of the achievements of Delcassian diplomacy. Called to abate the threat of a Franco-German war which resulted from the Moroccan crisis, the Conference became a testimony to the diplomatic revolution spurred by Delcassian diplomacy.

Had such a conclave been held in 1898, France would have been diplomatically isolated save, perhaps, for the weak support she could have expected from her Russian ally. In 1906, however, the solid diplomatic backing given France by Italy, England, and Russia clearly demonstrated that the French were no longer without friends. It was, moreover, from this public demonstration that Bulow turned to Austria-Hungary as ''Germany's sole dependable ally"3 and a frustrated Kaiser Wilhelm II lamented as a new anti-German balance of power.4

Following the conclusion of the Prinetti-Barrère Accord, Barrère's task in Rome was a conservative one. No longer representing a hostile Power, Barrère concentrated his energies upon the maintenance of Franco-Italian friendship and understanding. He later referred to this period after 1902 as one of "developing" the achievements of his first four years in Italy, and of "rendering tighter and more solid the relations between the two countries."5

There were, nevertheless, several achievements during this period. In October 1903 and April 1904, principally through the persuasive efforts by Barrère, the French and Italian heads of state conducted an exchange of visits. More symbolic than political, this highest-level exchange was a major demonstration of cordiality and the mutuality of interests between the Latin states. President Loubet’s voyage to Rome was especially significant since he was a Roman Catholic leader of a Roman Catholic nation. The visit successfully dispelled any lingering Italian fear of French ultramontanism, and it led directly to a rupture in Franco-Vatican relations.

Barrère also was instrumental in negotiating a series of treaties and agreements which helped to rectify several minor areas of Franco-Italian misunderstanding. In December 1903, in the spirit of the Hague Conference, a Franco-Italian Arbitration Treaty was concluded. In 1904, a Labor Treaty was signed to protect the health and rights of Italian laborers in France. Barrère also worked with the Italian foreign ministry to resolve differences over the rights of Italian consulates in those areas of the Holy Land under the French religious protection. He successfully pressured Rome for a more co-operative attitude toward France on the part of Italian consular officials in Africa and Asia.

Barrère also played a role in establishing an initial accord that led in 1906 to an Anglo-Franco-Italian agreement on the future disposition of Abyssinia. Finally, the French ambassador exercised an influence in the determination by the Italian parliament in 1905 to postpone further development of military and naval defensive preparations along the French border, and to concentrate instead on refurbishing defensive installations along the Austrian frontier and on the western bank of the Adriatic.

The French "policy of conciliation and appeasement"6 practiced in Italy between 1898 and 1902 enabled France to realize the minimal program suggested by Barrère a decade earlier. Barrère’s maximum program—the detachment of Italy from the Triple Alliance—was not achieved until the Great War began in 1914. Nevertheless, there was a possibility during the Delcassian era to move demonstrably toward the total removal of Italy from the Triplice. In February 1904, in the midst of the Macedonian crisis and in the first weeks of the Russo-Japanese War, the Italian foreign minister, Tomasso Tittoni, suggested "the extension of the Franco-Italian entente by the establishment of a common line to follow in the event that the Near East and the Balkan peninsula might shortly become a theater [of war], and that the Russo-Japanese conflict might realize unfortunate probabilities."7

Tittoni, who made similar overtures to the British, was seeking an agreement among the Western democracies to maintain the status quo in the Balkans, to check the threat of Austrian expansion there should the Russians become preoccupied in the Far East, and to gain for Italy a meaningful voice in Balkan affairs.

The British favored Tittoni's designs.8 Fearful of a Balkan war between Bulgaria and Turkey, resentful of the Austro-Russian hegemony in southeastern Europe which was augmented by the Mürsteg reform program, and fearful of further Germanic expansion toward Turkey, the British desired a European conference to deal with the Macedonian tensions. They saw a Western entente as a device to bring pressure upon Russia and Austria to relax their political monopoly in the Balkans. Moreover, such a development would afford the British a greater voice in determining the disposition of the eastern Mediterranean. Barrère was enthusiastic about the Italian proposal. He told Delcassé' that it was now dependent upon France to accept the offer, and by so doing "at this psychological hour, to separate Italy from Germany definitively."9

Delcassé was more cautious. Although he admitted that "there could be a real interest in conferring with Italy on Macedonian affairs,"10 and that "we would be happy to see the support of our two cabinets fortifying Russia in case Austria would try to exercise a preponderant influence in the Balkans."11

Delcassé was obliged to consult first with his ally in St. Petersburg. The Franco-Russian Alliance had always been the pivot point of Delcassian diplomacy. The Russian consultation Delcassé required in 1904, moreover, was fully compatible with an earlier declaration to Russia that "we will second with all our power all Russian and Austrian initiatives in order to bring peace to the Balkans.12

The Russians, however, were not anxious to disturb the Balkan status quo while they were engaged in hostilities with Japan. The Russian foreign minister Count Vladimir Lamsdorff rejected the Italian proposal. He sounded almost sarcastic when he informed Delcassé that if Russia needed support from the Western Powers at a later date, she would notify the French.13

Although the Russian position pleased the French ambassador in St. Petersburg,14 it angered Barrère. He wondered if the Russians had misunderstood the rights of the European concert; he also wondered if there might exist a secret Austro-Russian entente in the Balkans.15

Barrère’s attitude was not motivated by a personal desire to destroy the Triple Alliance.16 One month later he told Delcassé' that the announcement of the entente cordiale with England was enough "to capsize what remains of the old Triplicien boat."17

Instead, Barrère’s attitude seems to have emanated from frustration with the myopia of the Russian diplomats. Barrère foresaw the eventual alignment of France, Russia, England, and Italy against the might of the Germanic empires. But the conservative leadership in St. Petersburg continued to trust in the Austrians in matters of the Balkan peninsula.

In 1897 Austria and Russia asserted their right to oversee changes in the Balkan peninsula. And in 1904 while at war against Japan in the Far East, St. Petersburg was not willing to upset this hegemony. Moreover, as long as moderate leaders like Goluchowski remained in office in Vienna, the Russian faith in this policy was secure. The Russians would not be convinced of Barrère’s perspective until Austria betrayed that trust and unilaterally annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1907. This Bosnian crisis changed the Russian point of view. The Raccogini Agreement negotiated between Russia and Italy in 1909—an agreement which established a Russo-Italian commitment to the status quo in the Balkans—was the vindication of Barrère’s diplomatic foresight.

Earlier, Russian discouragement of the Italian proposal had ended the possibility of French agreement in a three-Power Balkan understanding. However, in February 1905 the Italians again raised the question of a political extension of the Franco-Italian entente. Fearful of Austrian expansion in the Balkans, and apprehensive of a possible Austrian preventative military move in Italy,18 governmental leaders in Rome approached Barrère about a possible British-French-Italian agreement to guarantee the Mediterranean and Adriatic status quo,19 Such an understanding would have linked the three Western Powers without intimidating the Russians in the Balkans.

Delcassé was interested in the proposal.20 With the outbreak of the Moroccan crisis, however, French diplomatic efforts were suddenly and dramatically shifted toward their German problem. The Mediterranean-Adriatic entente remained an undeveloped idea.

The success of a diplomat is always circumscribed by what is politically possible. The proposals in 1904 and 1905 for the extension of the Franco-Italian entente clearly illustrate the limits to which the French could go if they wanted to maintain the solidity of the Franco-Russian Alliance. Barrère did not believe that the Alliance would have been jeopardized by the establishment of a Western entente; the leadership in Paris, however, was not as bold as the ambassador to Italy.

Delcassé had always given primacy to the Franco-Russian Alliance. In 1901, when serious hints of a Franco-German rapprochement were being circulated in Berlin and Paris, Delcassé abandoned this flirtation when the Russian foreign minister informed him that if the Alsace-Lorraine question were to disappear, "the object of our alliance would disappear by the same fact."21 Although the Russians approved of the Franco-Italian entente of 1902,22 they were not interested in inviting Italy into the already-crowded Balkan peninsula.

Nevertheless, by 1905 Delcassé had come to agree with Barrère that Russia was the key to an alignment of the Western Powers, and that eventually Russia would see it in her interest to support an extension of the Franco-Italian entente. Following the Russo-Japanese war, "Russia will have to determine her policy," Delcassé wrote in 1905. "We ought to direct her attention toward Europe, because she cannot exist there alone…. Thus, it would be an entente of France, Russia, England, and Italy. But for that, Italy has to divorce Germany cleanly."23 These words by the French foreign minister were premature, yet prophetic. The estrangement happened in 1902. The divorce came in 1914. The four-power entente à quatre followed a year later.

As well as a study of ambassadorial talent within the range of political possibilities existing in Franco-Italian relations from 1898 to 1902, this examination has attempted to look at the efficiency of diplomacy in general. Working only with the classical tools of Old Diplomacy—truthfulness, precision, calm, patience, good-temperedness, modesty, and loyalty, and secrecy—Barrère realized a significant diplomatic victory in Italy. He planted reasonableness and trust where there had been misunderstanding. In the modern world, where diplomacy has given way to brinkmanship, sloganeering, myopic ideologies, and preemptive wars, the achievements of Barrère through rational and patient maneuvering present an example worthy of emulation.

War is not the last resort of diplomacy; it is, rather, its negation. Generals, not foreign ministers and ambassadors, dominate the machinations of international relations once warfare commences. In place of the civilized methods of diplomacy, these new leaders advocate the brutalizing activities of combat.

Barrère did not want war; although he once had pessimistically envisioned war as the most likely method of regaining the lost provinces, he hoped that the discord in Franco-German relations could be rectified through diplomacy. In 1900 Barrère had expressed a personal preference to be assigned to the French embassy in Berlin following the completion of his labors in Rome. That assignment was never made.

In 1904, Paul Cambon writing of the insoluble Franco-German question, remarked, "The day when a good understanding is established between France and Russia and England, with Italy as an eventual supporter, we will be ready to talk to Germany."24 Barrère undoubtedly supported this position. He understood that war represented the failure of diplomacy, and he was above all a master diplomat. In light of his success in Italy, one can only wonder, had he been posted to Berlin, if Barrère’s talents would have been equally accomplished in resolving French differences with the Germans.

End Notes

1    Barrère to Delcassé, 10 May 1904; DDF, II, v, #117.

2    Barrère to Delcassé, 31 May 1903; MAE, Delcassé' MSS, I. The phrase "remaking Europe" originated with Rudini who told Barrère that "French policy practiced here [Rome] and in London is in the process of remaking Europe." See Barrère to Delcassé, 31 May 1903; MAE. Italie, NS 18.

3    Eber Malcolm Carroll, Germany and the Great Powers, 1866-1914 (New York, 1938), p. 552.

4    Supra, Introduction, note 6.

5    Supra, Chapter I, note 121.

6    Barrère’s phrase, in Barrère to Delcassé, 30 November 1902; MAE. Delcassé MSS, I. NS 19.

7    Barrère to Delcassé, 10 February 1904; MAE, Italie, 280

8    Torre, op. cit., pp. 216-219. In the midst of negotiating the entente cordiale, the British informed the Paris of their disposition in favor of Tittoni's ideas: Lansdowne to Monson, 20 February 1904; BD, V, #24. Cambon to Delcassé, 18 February 1904; DDF. II, iv, #288.

9    Barrère to Delcassé, 22 February 1904; DDF, II, iv, #304.

10    Delcassé to Barrère, 17 February 1904; DDF, II, iv, #283.

11    Delcassé to Barrère, 20 February 1904; DDF, II, iv, #296.

12    Delcassé to Bompard, 13 August 1903; DDF, II, iii, p.537, note 2.

13    Bompard to Delcassé, 3 March 1904; DDF, II, iv, #330.

14    Bompard to Delcassé, 6 March 1904; DDF, II, iv, #334. Maurice Bompard had contended earlier that any French agreement to support the Italians in the Balkans would destroy the Franco-Russian Alliance and lead directly to the reconstitution of the Three Emperors League: Bompard to Delcassé, 3 June 1903; DDF, II, iii, #278. Overly cautious, Bompard felt that if the Triple Alliance were to be broken, the French had to be assured of both Italian and Austrian sympathy: Bompard to Delcassé, 3 June 1904; DDF. II, v, #190. Interestingly, Holstein partially shared Bompard’s viewpoint; he felt "the Franco-Russian Alliance would break up easily" if the Franco-Italian bloc interfered in Balkan affairs: Annotation by Holstein to Metternich to Bülow, 26 February 1904; GP, XVIII, ii, #7395.

15    Barrère to Delcassé, 4 March 1904; DDF, II, iv, p. 437n.

16    Tommasini, op. cit., I, pp.313-314.

17    Barrère to Delcassé, 31 March 1904; MAE, Delcassé MSS, I.

18    Barrère to Delcassé", 3 February 1905; DDF, II, vi, #70.

19    Barrère to Delcassé, 17 February and 20 February 1905; DDF, II, vi, #99 and #110.

20    Delcassé to Barrère, 19 February 1905; DDF, II, vi, #106.

21    Montebello to Delcassé, 15 March 1900; MAE, Allemagne, NS 26.

22    Lamsdorff personally informed Delcassé that: "Far from seeing your rapprochement with England and Italy with disfavor, the Emperor is sincerely happy about it." Note in Delcassé’s hand, 28 October 1903; MAE, Delcassé MSS, XI. It is published as a Departmental note in DDF, II, iv, #45.

23    Annotation by Delcassé on Barrère to Delcassé, 20 February 1905; DDF, II, vi, #109.

24    Cambon to son, 13 May 1904; in Paul Cambon, op. cit., II, p. 140.

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