World History 2 170 - 11.1.3 Colonies and Conflict

The view that imperial strength should be devoted to colony building was still very much in place in the late 1800s. Still industrializing, and having unified as a country only in 1871, Germany soon felt the pressure to build an overseas empire, just as the other industrializing nations of the world—Britain, France, Belgium, the United States, Russia, and Japan—did. But there were limited locales it could target.

Germany began to look to the Pacific as a place where it could establish itself as a colonial power. The United States, Britain, France, Japan, and the Netherlands already held extensive territory in the Pacific. Germany soon claimed part of New Guinea, part of the Solomon Islands, and the Marshall Islands. In 1899, Germany’s growing power in the Pacific led to the partitioning of the Samoan Islands with the United States. Germany also gained some of the smaller island groups—Palau, Caroline Islands, and Mariana Islands—by the beginning of the twentieth century. In addition, it planned to join the “Scramble for Africa” in which European nations were engaging to shore up their colonial holdings on the African continent.

When Germany went in search of African colonies, there was not much left. Britain, France, Belgium, and Portugal had already seized control of most of the continent and did not welcome the claims of yet another European nation. Germany took a portion of East Africa and Southwest Africa, which had a large border with the British colonies. Togoland and the Cameroons also became part of the German colonial empire (Figure 11.5).

A map of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia is shown. In Europe, Germany and part of Poland is shaded red, indicating Germany. The following areas are shaded orange, indicating German colonies:  in Africa: Togo in West Africa, a region including Cameroon, Namibia, a region including Tanzania; In Asia, a peninsula in China; in Southeast Asia: multiple islands in the Pacific and part of Papua New Guinea.
Figure 11.5 This map shows the regions around the world that Germany had claimed as colonies by the beginning of World War I. (credit: modification of work “BlankMap-World” by CIA World Factbook/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

In 1905, Germany clashed with both France and Britain in North Africa. Kaiser Wilhelm II arrived in Morocco that year and made a speech in which he threw his full support behind its being an independent state led by the sultan. He also voiced his expectation that Germany would enjoy the same benefits of trade in the region that France and England did. Wilhelm hoped to divide Britain and France by thus claiming a place for Germany in North Africa equivalent to that held by other European nations. Instead, in response to this First Moroccan Crisis, Britain and France established stronger bonds of friendship.

A few years later, another crisis erupted over Morocco, though this one was more media driven and involved more national posturing. The Second Moroccan Crisis started in 1911. France and Germany had been negotiating over what say Germany would have in rail lines under construction in Morocco and over some territory in the French Congo that Germany wanted. Britain and France had earlier become alarmed by Germany’s plans to build another railroad in concert with the Ottoman Empire that would link Berlin to Baghdad. This railway would provide Germany with more direct access to both Persian Gulf oil and its African colonies. Moving oil and other goods by rail would also make Germany less vulnerable to potential British naval attacks.

In May 1911, France, fearing rebellion in Morocco, sent troops to the city of Fez. In July of that year, Germany sent a gunboat to Agadir, a Moroccan port on the Atlantic, to ensure that it would be compensated for any loss of control over Moroccan territory that resulted from French intervention. Germany also undoubtedly intended to frighten Britain and force it to back out of its alliance with France. Soon British politicians and the media seized on the opportunity to attack Germany for its demands. The British said they were not yet sending in the Royal Navy but would be monitoring the situation. In the end, France and Germany held successful negotiations over the issues, with Germany receiving territory in the French Congo in exchange for acknowledging French dominance in Morocco, but the international effect of the crisis was broader. Britain was reinforced in its view that Germany posed a threat to its own colonial ambitions. On the German side, the military leadership gained greater political influence in the capital in Berlin.

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The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax