entente cordiale

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Triple Alliance and Triple Entente

Triple Alliance and Triple Entente (äntäntˈ), two international combinations of states that dominated the diplomatic history of Western Europe from 1882 until they came into armed conflict in World War I.

Formation of the Triple Alliance

In 1871 two new major states of Europe had been formed—the German Empire and the kingdom of Italy. The new German Empire, under the hand of Otto von Bismarck, was steered carefully, always with an eye upon France, for the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) had left France thirsting for revenge and for recovery of the lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.

Germany had allied itself with Russia and Austria-Hungary in the Three Emperors' League, but Austria-Hungary and Russia were not the best of friends, partly because they were at odds over the Balkans and partly because Russia represented the Pan-Slavic movement, whose program threatened the very existence of Austria-Hungary. The Treaty of San Stefano (1878), following the Russo-Turkish War, furthered the cause of Pan-Slavism through the creation of a large Bulgarian state and offended Austria-Hungary as well as Great Britain. A European conference (1878; see Berlin, Congress of), called to revise the treaty, caused a sharp decline in the friendship between Russia on the one hand and Austria-Hungary and Germany on the other; Bismarck formed (1879) a secret defensive alliance—the Dual Alliance—with Austria-Hungary.

In 1882 Italy, angry at France chiefly because France had forestalled an Italian advance by occupying Tunis, signed another secret treaty, which bound it with Germany and Austria-Hungary. Thus was the Triple Alliance formed. It was periodically renewed until 1913. In 1882 Serbia joined the alliance, in effect, through a treaty with Austria-Hungary. Romania joined the group in 1883, and a powerful Central European bloc was created. Italy was from the first not so solidly bound to either of its allies as Germany and Austria-Hungary were to each other. Italy was in fact a rival of Austria-Hungary in the Balkans and particularly for control of the Adriatic; moreover, there remained unsettled territorial problems (see irredentism). The Triple Alliance, however, turned diplomatic history into new channels.

Formation of the Triple Entente

The Three Emperors' League died a slow death, but in 1890 its day was over: Germany refused to renew its reinsurance treaty with Russia, and Russia in consequence sought a rapprochement with France. At the same time France, face to face with an increasingly powerful Germany and a hostile Central European combination, felt great need of an ally, and French diplomats began to make overtures to Russia for an agreement to counterbalance the Triple Alliance. French capital aided Russian projects, especially the Trans-Siberian RR, and friendly diplomatic visits were exchanged. In 1891 there was a definite understanding between the powers; this was strengthened by a military convention in 1893, and by 1894 the Dual Alliance between Russia and France was in existence. It was publicly acknowledged in 1895.

Meanwhile, the fall of Bismarck, after the accession of William II to the throne of the German Empire, was followed by the appearance of more adventurous foreign policies. Germany committed itself to colonial and commercial expansion. The German plan for a Baghdad Railway was viewed with alarm by the powers with interests in the Middle East. The German commercial rivalry with Great Britain not only brought direct trouble but nourished German desire for sea power and a large navy.

Great Britain, long in “splendid isolation” from the other European nations, was being propelled by its interests to make some move toward protective international alliance. There had been some efforts to achieve a Franco-German rapprochement, but these ultimately had no effect. In 1898 Théophile Delcassé took control of French foreign policy; he was opposed to Germany and hoped for a rapprochement with Great Britain, his object being the isolation of Germany. Friendship between Britain and France did not seem possible because of their traditional enmity and, more important, their colonial quarrels in Africa. Moreover, Great Britain and Germany were traditional friends, and the two countries were bound by dynastic and cultural ties. There had been and continued to be active expressions of Anglo-German amity, but Delcassé's diplomacy, aided by the accession (1901) of Francophile Edward VII to the British throne, ultimately bore fruit. Although Great Britain and France had been on the verge of war over the Fashoda Incident in 1898, the matter was settled and the way opened for further agreements between the two powers. Though there was no alliance, the Entente Cordiale—a friendly understanding—was arrived at in 1904.

Colonial rivalries between Russia and Britain had in the late 19th cent. made those powers hostile; the field of contest was Asia—Turkish affairs, Persia, Afghanistan, China, and India. But after the defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, and particularly after Sir Edward Grey gained influence in the British foreign office, Britain came to favor a friendly settlement. This was finally achieved in the Anglo-Russian entente of 1907. That agreement created the international group opposing the Triple Alliance—France, Great Britain, and Russia had formed the Triple Entente.

The Rising Storm

The two principal problems that caused outright conflict involved Morocco and the Balkans. The militarism of the chief countries of Europe was prompted by a growing sense of international hysteria, which was, in turn, increased by military preparations. The crisis in Morocco in 1905 almost precipitated war. More serious still were the Balkan crises brought about by the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary in 1908, the Italo-Turkish War (1911–12), and the Balkan Wars (1912–13). The trouble between Austria and Serbia reached a peak after the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand in 1914, and World War I resulted.

Italy's interests had long been more or less divorced from those of the Triple Alliance; as early as 1902 a Franco-Italian accord on North Africa had been reached in a secret treaty. With the outbreak of the war, both Italy and Romania refused to join the Central Powers. The Triple Alliance formally came to an end in 1914 when Italy issued a declaration of neutrality. After much secret negotiation, Italy in 1915 joined the Allies, and the next year Romania did likewise. Germany and Austria-Hungary gained new support in the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) and Bulgaria. The war ushered in a new diplomatic period, with new diplomatic alignments, and both the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente receded into history.


See B. E. Schmitt, The Coming of the War, 1914 (1930, repr. 1966); W. L. Langer, European Alliances and Alignments, 1871–1890 (2d ed. 1950, repr. 1964) and The Diplomacy of Imperialism, 1890–1902 (2d ed. 1951, repr. 1965); L. Albertini, The Origins of the War of 1914, Vol. I (tr. 1952); A. J. P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848–1918 (1954, repr. 1971); S. B. Fay, The Origins of the World War (2d ed. 1966).

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Entente Cordiale

agreement between Great Britain and France to settle their disagreements over colonies as diplomatic partners. [Eur. Hist.: WB, 21: 367]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

entente cordiale

1. a friendly understanding between political powers: less formal than an alliance
2. the understanding reached by France and Britain in April 1904, which settled outstanding colonial disputes
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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