The Causes of the Crimean War


The Crimean War, which occurred from 1853 to 1856, was a
typical conflict in many ways. Typical in that many shots
were fired, men injured and lives lost. Also typical is
that the underlying causes of this war are not easily
adduced. The overt events which precipitated the Crimean
War are easily identifiable. However, traditional
alliances, diplomatic manoeuvring, and imperial aspirations
are much more difficult to ascertain.
 In an attempt to explore the causes of the Crimean War,
one must examine the state at which the European powers,
namely Russia, France, Great Britain, Austria and the
Ottoman Empire, were in at the turn of the 19th. Century.
This requires at least a cursory glance at the political,
social, and diplomatic situation in the aforementioned
European powers.
 In the early 19th. Century, after years of revolution and
warfare, a common sentiment existed among the European
leaders. They had become convinced that the main focus or
goal of diplomacy and foreign relations was to maintain
international peace and stability. The European powers
agreed to cooperate in the quashing of any rebellion and
they agreed to settle differences through negotiation and
compromise. Due to the fact that the majority of European
leaders attempted to act together toward a common end the
relationship became known as the Concert of Europe.(Rich
N., 1985, p.1)
 For many years the Concert of Europe proved to be quite
reliable when used as a tool to work out European
differences. However, diplomacy broke down over a
developing crisis in the Near East and the ensuing conflict
became known as the Crimean War. Each of the participating
countries had particular reasons for becoming involved in
the conflict . Nonetheless, it was simple to see that for
the Western powers it was an overwhelming fear of
Russia.(Rich N, 1985, p.2)
 Throughout history, Russia had been feared by many nations
as European politicians had nervously watched as Russia
steadily increased it's frontiers in every direction.
Russia and Turkey had been involved in intermittent
conflicts for over two hundred years as Russia tried to
exert more control over the Balkans. Despite Russia's
aggression toward Turkey the smaller European states
remained convinced that they were safe from any Russian
encroachment because of Russia's economic and technical
backwardness. However, most nations realized that if
Russian economic power increased it would be much harder to
keep the giant at bay because it would have an enormous
supply of resources at it's command.(Rich N, 1985, p.4)
 After the widespread European revolutions of 1848, Russia
was the only great power of Europe that had not had an
overthrow or restructuring of their government. In fact,
Russia had come to the aid of Austria during revolution and
had also supported suppression of revolution elsewhere as
in Wallacia and Moldavia; territories which they
occupied.(Saab A., 1977, pp.8-9) This strength, or
appearance of strength, however, proved to be a liability
as it made European countries even more fearful of the
Russian menace.(Goldfrank D., 1994, pp.48-49) Even the
leaders of Great Britain feared that Russia would gain
control of the Ottoman Empire and threaten their overland
routes to India. 

 The desire to halt Russian expansion and to eliminate a
Russian threat to the Ottoman Empire and other European
states prodded the Turks to action. Plainly the Turks,
along with other European statesmen, wanted relations with
Russia to sour so as to cause a conflict which would spell
the end of the Russian expansion and threat. The Turks
believed in the necessity of a war and they saw reason to
believe that they would have the support of other European
powers. As Rich puts it, "the temptation was great to take
advantage of this singular opportunity to provoke a renewal
of war with Russia in order to roll back the Russian
menace."(Rich N., 1985, p.5)
 Turkish hopes were first aroused by the French. As
traditional ally of the Ottoman Empire prior to the 19th.
Century, France now sought to restore its ties with Turkey
and Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III) spearheaded the
 Throughout history the Napoleonic name had been synonymous
with glory and empire and Napoleon III longed to leave his
mark on the record books. Napoleon III believed that his
regime was obliged to fulfill the popular expectations
associated with the Bonaparte name and to restore France to
a position of dominance in Europe.(Rich N., 1985, p.6)
 In an effort to achieve his goal, Napoleon III developed a
three part foreign policy. Napoleon III realized that he
must ensure that better relations with Britain were
attained and he also felt that he must exploit the
potential power of the nationalistic cause. Finally,
Napoleon III sought to disrupt the international order that
had been established after the Napoleonic Wars to prevent
French aggression yet which still remained an obstacle to
the realization of French European dominance. As Russia was
the foremost keeper of this International Order, Napoleon
III sought to weaken Russia's ability to defend the order
and thus he instigated a conflict with Russia in the Near
East in the spring of 1850. (Rich N., 1985, p.7) 

 Napoleon's challenge to Russia did nothing to ease British
fears of Tsar Nicholas. In fact, the British were more
apprehensive about Napoleon III's imperial aspirations.
British statesmen believed that they could defend their
interests in the Near East more easily and effectively by
preserving the Ottoman Empire. However, anti-Russian forces
were present in the British government.
 Two men who played a critical role in influencing the
course of British policy were Viscount Palmerston and
Stratford Canning. Palmerston and Canning were both very
nationalistic and they embodied all the virtues that were
thought of as typically English: courage, good nature,
generosity and a certain distrust for foreigners.(Rich N.,
1985, p.9) 

 Palmerston was a former secretary of war and had
frequently held the position of foreign secretary. In 1852
he was appointed as home secretary and became known as "the
most English" of all ministers. It is quite apparent that
Palmerston saw the Russian foreign policies as a major
threat to Britain's interests. (Rich N., 1985, p.9) 

 Canning was a cousin of former prime minister George
Canning and he served as a diplomat for twelve years.
Because Canning had spent numerous years as a statesmen in
Constantinople he regarded the Near East as a sort of
second home. Although Canning was enamoured with his former
workplace, there is no doubt that he, like Palmerston,
wanted Russian power kept in check. (Rich N., 1985, p.9)
 Unlike Napoleon III, Palmerston and Canning did not desire
to break up the existing international order. They believed
that the only way to end the Russian threat would be to
eliminate the Russian menace through a full scale war: No
longer could Palmerston and Canning rely on their
diplomatic training. (Rich N., 1985, p.10)
 Throughout the Crimean crisis one European state, namely
Austria, worked persistently to avoid war, however, their
efforts were not entirely motivated by humanitarian
concerns. In fact, the Austrians were more worried about
how much they had to lose if the existing international
order were changed by a major European conflict.
 Despite having been defeated militarily during the
Napoleonic Wars, the Austrians were still strong due to the
skill of its diplomats. The most notable of these diplomats
was Prince Metternich. Because Austria lacked the economic
resources of France or the wealth of manpower as did
Russia, they relied on such aforementioned diplomats.
 Metternich, upon hearing of the initial Crimean crisis,
warned his government to strive for preservation of peace.
Once the conflict had escalated Metternich stressed that
peace could once again be reached through a series of
international conferences, preferably in Vienna. Metternich
stated, "we are called to the task of restoring peace but
we must never let ourselves be used as the shock troops of
East against West."(Rich N., 1985, p.13) Despite these
warnings, the foreign minister Count Boul advocated
participation in the Crimean War on the side of the British
and French thus making it easier to crush the Russian
menace, however, this course of action was prevented when
the Emperor decided instead to send ultimata to the
 The Russian political situation did nothing to make the
Crimean conflict any easier to resolve. Nicholas I was a
simple and straightforward military man who believed that
the state should be organized and administered like a well
drilled army. He was easily influenced by his advisors and
he insisted on conducting many of his own diplomatic
missions. His confidence, however, sometimes complicated
international problems and use of "personal diplomacy" and
exaggerated sense of pride and honour made him believe that
he could trust fellow monarchs as much as he believed they
trusted him. (Rich N., 1985, p.15)
 Despite Nicholas I's irregular diplomatic behaviour he had
a stabilizing influence at his side in the person of Count
Nesselrode, the Russian foreign minister. Nesselrode was
much like Metternich in that he viewed political problems
in a European perspective, however, he was not allowed a
free hand in foreign affairs as the major decisions were
all handled by the tsar.
 In 1828, during a war with Turkey, a commission headed by
Nesselrode recommended that Russia make peace and that they
observe a policy of restraint in the Near East. The tsar
accepted this advice and for the two decades preceding the
Crimean conflict Russia refrained from further advances
into the Ottoman Empire.
 A new conflict was about to be born when France demanded
that it be given control over the Holy Places - the place
of the birth and death of Christ. When the Ottoman Empire
made concessions to France concerning the control of the
Holy Places it directly conflicted with previous Russian
concessions and this caused the tsar to submit demands to
the Ottoman government and thus showing his aggressive
intentions which Nesselrode had worked so hard to cover up.
 It is plain to see that a common sentiment existed before
the Crimean War: the West was fully engrossed in
Russophobia while Russia was flirting with European
dominance. Simply put, the conflict can be boiled down to a
battle between two nations - France and Russia. As
mentioned, the French subscribed to Russophobia and it was
Napoleon III's ambition, diplomatic skill, and
opportunistic behaviour that enabled him to haul Russia
into a conflict. On the other hand Russia's intent on
dominating the Balkans was deep-rooted and irrepressible.


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