‘A Test of Support’: British Policy Towards the Ottoman Empire, 1913–1914
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When considering British foreign policy at the beginning of the First World War, it is only on rare occasions that the Ottoman Empire comes to mind. Even more uncommon, is the idea that the events that led to the Ottoman’s joining the Central Powers resulted from policies developed under British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey’s Russia policy (began in 1905) and the machinations of First Sea Lord Winston Churchill. Grey’s belief that the Anglo-Russian Entente served as the cornerstone of his foreign relations pushed him to place peace with Russia above allegiances to Ottoman integrity, changing the decade’s old position of maintaining the Ottoman Empire as ‘an independent and vigorous’ power. Significantly, Churchill’s seemingly unrelated decision to withhold delivery of the dreadnoughts Reshadieh and Sultan Osman I in the early days of the First World War must be included among the insults that drove the Ottomans into the arms of the Triple Alliance. Internal issues such as the financial concerns, or capitulations, certainly played a role in stirring the masses toward anti-British, French, and Russian feelings. It is also certain that the age-old rivalry between Russia and the Ottomans for control of the Bosporus Straits was a major factor in Ottoman decision making. The effects of both are not in question here. What this paper argues is that the final decision to join the Central Powers resulted from the British Foreign Office’s Russia policy, and the neglect that came from it. It will also argue that Churchill’s decision to withhold the dreadnoughts sufficiently outraged Turkish leaders to leave neutrality behind.
I want to thank the Office of Research & Sponsored Programs at the University of Central Oklahoma for the grant that helped fund this research. I also need to thank my two Research Assistants Peter Sheetz and Olivia Hewitt for their hard work and time.
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