THE FATEFUL ALLIANCE: France, Russia, and the Coming of the First World War by George F. Kennan
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THE FATEFUL ALLIANCE: France, Russia, and the Coming of the First World War

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The first volume of diplomat and historian Kennan's projected trilogy, The Decline of Bismarck's European Order (1979), ended with Bismarck's efforts to maintain German-Russian relations through secret neutrality pacts. Volume II begins with Bismarck's retirement in 1890 and concludes with the establishment of a new Franco-Russian alliance in 1894: an alliance pledging them to mutual aid against Germany. The third volume will take the story up to the outbreak of World War I, which the alliance made inevitable, and the collapse of the Russian dynasty. Thus, the present work--tracing the web of formal and informal contacts and negotiations that brought the alliance about--is the most concentrated part of the project. Among the central figures are Russian foreign minister Giers, who feared that a French alliance would unleash the anti-German nationalists who had the tsar's ear; Tsar Alexander III himself, who tended to blame the Germans for any setbacks to Russian foreign policy; French premier Freycinet, and foreign minister Ribot, who actively sought the alliance as an expression of France's resurgent military and political strength. The central symbolic event was a French navy visit to Kronstadt, the Russian fleet's home, which touched off two weeks of unprecedented festivities in St. Petersburg and cemented relations between the two military establishments. But by the time the alliance was formalized in 1894, it was outmoded: a response to the Europe of the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, not to current European conditions and interests. The most fateful of the agreement's articles pledged the signers to act in the event of mobilization by Germany or its ally, Austria-Hungary; and though no German threat was foreseeable when the alliance was struck, that article guaranteed the all-out war that the diplomats and military men expected in any case. Beyond the intrinsic interest of the story, which Kennan recounts expertly and gracefully, lies its lesson: the danger of military entanglements entered into without a clear sense of political purpose, a danger all the greater in the era of nationalism and, today, of potential total destruction. A trim masterwork of diplomatic history, with a not-so-hidden message.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1984
Publisher: Pantheon