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,
, 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 .(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 effort. 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 Russians. 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.