(National Review, November, 1901)
November, 1901 British Foreign Policy by A.B.C., etc.
The events which have occurred in South Africa during the last few years cannot fail to produce consequences deeper and more far-reaching than the most penetrating observer of contemporary politics could have contemplated at the moment a too famous Raid provoked a no less famous telegram. The effect of these events upon British methods of conducting the national business and upon our political system, are purely domestic questions which need not be discussed here. Suffice it to say that one of the obvious lessons of the crisis is the necessity of revising the relations of various Departments of Government to one another, with the object of obtaining greater efficiency and of abolishing the fatal influence of the Treasury, which, by its illegitimate interference with naval and military projects, leads to wasteful, because untimely, outlay. It is patent to every thinking Englishman that the financial affairs of our Empire must be worked on more methodical lines; but if we spend our money more wisely than under the present anti-efficient and anti-economical regime, it is by no means certain that the taxpayer will be called upon to spend more, either upon our Army or even our Navy; he will undoubtedly be ready and willing and able to spend whatever the national necessity may demand. Great Britain does not require an immense army of the approved Continental type, but she does require a splendidly equipped and highly trained force, ready for transportation at short notice to any part of her over-sea Empire which may be menaced. The British Navy should be increased so as to enable us to meet a three Powers at sea in superior numbers. The naval policy and avowed hostility of Germany, to which even the British official world can no longer remain blind, will force us to keep on a war-footing in the North Sea a fleet as powerful and efficient as the Mediterranean or Channel Squadrons. Here, again, the money required will be forthcoming; but while some of us believe that our present annual expenditure of sixty millions sterling on national defence would, in provident and efficient hands, supply us not only with the Army, but also with the Navy we need — others are certain of it. The lesson which foreign countries may learn from our war in South Africa is one that in their own interest each of them would do well to take to heart. We desire to avoid swagger, which is said to be a British characteristic and is probably in varying forms a characteristic of every great nation which believes in itself and its future; but to all interested in understanding the real strength of this nation the Boer War should serve as a useful warning. The prolonged and exasperating struggle has once more exhibited in an impressive manner the political stability of British institutions and the steadfast character of the British race. Reflecting men can see that the living generation of Englishmen have in no way degenerated from their forbears of a hundred years ago. In the earlier period there were two men who appreciated the inherent strength of this country: one was William Pitt, while the other was Napoleon Bonaparte. Pitt knew the meaning of Trafalgar. The conversation which he had in his last days with the young general who was rapidly rising to fame and who was destined to become the great Duke of Wellington, shows that his prescient intellect grasped the fact that, in spite of Austerlitz, if England were only true to herself, Nelson’s victory must inevitably drive Napoleon to a policy which would so exasperate other nations that they would ultimately turn upon him — Spain giving the signal.
His vision was fulfilled; England remained true to herself and the steadfastness of her people extorted a remarkable tribute from Napoleon to his victorious enemies before the close of his life at St. Helena: „Had I been in 1815 the choice of the English as I was of the French, I might have lost the battle of Waterloo without losing a vote in the Legislature or a soldier from my ranks.’ During the last two years it has been abundantly demonstrated that the Englishmen of to-day have the same grit as their grandfathers and the quiet, self-possessed manner in which they have faced the ignorant execration and the political animosity of the civilised world is calculated to cause unfriendly communities to pause. They have with quiet resolution supported the Ministry — whose half-hearted measures have not always made support easy — simply because it was carrying on a war and thousands and tens of thousands of men in England} who have all their lives been bitter opponents of the political party now in power, have acted with the single object of strengthening the hands of the Government. There have been hours of difficulty and even of danger, when more than one foreign Power desired and tentatively sought, to form a coalition against this country. It was the temper of the people of the British Empire backed by the Navy that stunned into sobriety the zealous malignity of those who were willing to wound, but afraid to strike. The details of these sinister intrigues are not only familiar to the British Foreign Office, but their existence is known to the intelligent public; and we must admit at the outset that such short-sighted and fatuous cabals have not rendered easier the task of those who believe that the interests of England lie in the direction of improved relations with certain foreign Powers with whom at present British relations are only „friendly’ in the strictly diplomatic sense. The efforts of certain European Powers — because neither Japan nor the United States has at any time been remotely implicated in these intrigues, which, in passing, we may say have never received the slightest encouragement from either the Austrian Sovereign or the Italian Government — have forced the conviction upon the British people that their national policy demands more serious attention than it has yet received. Englishmen are fully aware that the real origin of the war in South Africa was the want of a clear and definite policy in that part of the world; and our main difficulties in other places are due to the same cause.