The Hidden Perspective: The Military Conversations of 1906-14

Posted on on 04 June 2014
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Author: David Owen
Publication Date: 18 March 2014

Publisher's description:

Within weeks of taking office in December 1905, Foreign Minister Edward Grey agreed to enter detailed talks with his French counterparts about sending a British Expeditionary Force to France in the event of a German attack. Neither the Cabinet nor Parliament was told.

Indeed, Grey only informed Asquith in 1911, three years after he became Prime Minister, but which time the 'hidden perspective' of the Foreign Office, whose attitude was described by German Ambassador Metternich as 'more French than French', was firmly established, and Britain all but obliged to stand by their side in the event of a war.

Following a Cabinet revolt after the details of the Military Conversations were revealed, Haldane, the Secretary for War, attempted to slow Germany's rapid naval expansion on a mission to Berlin, advocating a land deal in Africa as an incentive. These talks failed, with Britain backing off from the words 'benevolent neutrality'. But another mission to Germany was underway as late as July 1914.

In this scholarly and eloquent work, which builds on extensive primary sources, Lord Owen argues that the outbreak of war in 1914 was far from inevitable, and instead represented eight years of failed diplomacy. Britain was the only country with the political and military strength to force Germany and France to negotiate, and instead was stuck in the mud of the Continent. The need for transparent government is particularly relevant today as Sir John Chilcot prepares to publish his Iraq Inquiry.

David Owen (Lord Owen) served as Britain's Foreign Secretary under Prime Minister James Callaghan from 1977 until 1979, and as an EU peace negotiator in former Yugoslavia from 1992-1995. He is now an Independent Social Democrat in the House of Lords. 

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