The Policy of Coercion
W. T. Stead (The Fornightly Review, Vol. 28, Issue 164, August, 1880, pp. 245-262)
The jubilee of Belgian independence occurs at an opportune moment.
No one can read Lord Dalling’s description of the difficulties surrounding the Belgian question fifty years ago without being impressed by the similarity between the dangers which Lord Palmerston averted and those which are now threatening Europe in another quarter. After describing the local questions requiring settlement, Lord Balling points out that all these local difficulties were aggravated by “the German sovereigns on one side, fearful of the extension of France and the expansion of French principles, and the French Government on the other, excited, jealous, ambitious, and under a new system which had as yet neither an ancient authority nor a newly-acquired prestige. Nor was this all; here was the Dutch nation, proud of its historical renown, smarting under its recent humiliation, governed by a sovereign obstinate in character, and rendered more so by the conviction that right was on his side—there the Belgians, inflated by their late triumph, believing that they had it in their power to create an European war if they thought proper, and disposed to use or abuse this power. To make the parallel still more curiously exact in its relation to this country, the Belgian question was raised when a Conservative Government was in office, and left for settlement to its Liberal successor. The Duke of Wellington first pooh-poohed it, predicting the speedy collapse of the Belgian insurrection against our ancient allies the Dutch, as confidently as another Conservative Minister, forty-five years later, predicted the suppression of the Slavonic rising against our ancient allies the Turks, and then—astounded and dismayed at the non-fulfilment of his predictions—pronounced it a “diablement mauvaise affaire,” and was filled with the dread of a general war. General war might have taken place had the Conservatives not opportunely been removed from office, and the Liberals been afforded an opportunity of settling the question on those popular principles which the Tories abhorred, by means of an alliance with the Power which the Tories detested, entered into for the purpose of enforcing the decision of that European concert, in the existence of which the Tories disbelieved. The complete success which crowned the policy of Lord Palmerston in dismembering the Netherlands’ to satisfy the national aspirations of the Belgians, has, at least, a happy augury as to the prospects of a similar policy in the hands of Mr. Gladstone for dismembering the wreck of the Ottoman Empire to secure the natural development of the races of the East. But if that success is to he attained, the means without which Lord Palmerston would have achieved nothing must not be neglected. The great lesson which is taught by the happy establishment of the Belgian kingdom, is that the Powers must not only agree to prescribe, but must unite to execute, the arrangements which they regard as indispensable to the general peace. In brief, the Belgian jubilee recalls the necessity and commemorates the success of a policy of coercion.
Upon the adoption of such a policy the peace of Europe once more depends. The condition of the Ottoman Empire is such that not even the most sanguine optimist can venture to hope that the demands of the Powers for the fulfilment of the obligations entered into at Berlin will be acceded to by the Sultan without the display, and probably the exercise of, force. Even if the Sultan were unexpectedly to abandon the attitude which he has hitherto maintained, it is doubtful whether the mischief he has already done in fomenting opposition to the decrees of the Congress could be undone by commands issued from Constantinople. The executive and military authority of the Sultan is in a condition of paralysis, more or less complete, and in some provinces, notably in Northern Albania it might be regarded as non-existent, were it not that the power of the Porte, absolutely impotent for good, still exercises a certain influence for evil, in inflaming the hostility of tribes which it cannot control, so that in these districts, so far as the Powers are concerned, the situation is rather worse than it would be if the Sultan’s government were overthrown altogether. Those who seriously consider the nature of the demands which are being and have still to be pressed upon the Porte, will find it difficult to avoid the conclusion that it would have been much better—better for Europe and better for the Turks—if the Russians, instead of making peace at San Stefano, had pressed on to Constantinople and finally extinguished the Ottoman Empire. The Duke of Wellington expressed a similar conviction after the signature of the Treaty of Adrianople. “There can be no doubt,” he wrote, “that it would have been more fortunate and better for the world if the Treaty of Peace had not been signed, and if the Russians had entered Constantinople, and if the Turkish Empire had been dissolved.”The sick man was so nigh unto death in the early months of 1878, that his extinction might have been almost painless. Instead of insisting upon the completion of the operation, the late Government took the lead in insisting upon his resuscitation. He was “consolidated,” and was to be regenerated, and some of his physicians assured him of a new lease of life or at least forty years. To perfect his recovery, they prescribed a regimen which, however necessary it may be for the completion of the cure, cannot appear to the patient as anything but a prolonged process of amputation and vivisection. It is a cruel kindness to restore a patient to life as a preliminary to dissection, but this was the course which found favour in the eyes of the late Government, and from which most of our present difficulties spring. The hunters who sold the skin before they killed the bear were wise men compared with the statesmen who insisted upon the restoration of the expiring Turk to some degree of vigour before they set about the distribution of his limbs. In consequence of that original mistake, the Powers have first to overcome the opposition of the Porte before attempting to deal with the resistance of the local population. By the law of its existence the Turkish Government struggles and must straggle against the execution of the Treaty of Berlin. The limit of its strength will be the limit of its resistance. All analogies based upon the submission of the Porte to the demands of Europe in the past are misleading. Europe never before made demands, the practical effect of which is the extinction of the executive authority of the Sultan throughout his dominions. As Count Andrassy remarked four years ago when contrasting the demand for the autonomy of Bulgaria with that for the autonomy of Bosnia and the Herzegovina, a man may consent to the amputation of a limb, but he is certain to resist the excision of his spine. The demand for the cession of Dulcigno to Montenegro, and of Southern Thessaly and Epirus to Greece, are mere bagatelles compared with the demand for the fulfilment of the twenty-third and sixty-first articles of the Treaty of Berlin. They concern mere strips of distant provinces, the fringes of the empire, whereas the twenty-third and sixty-first clauses deal with the whole body of dominions still subject to the Sultan. Mr. Goschen has already pressed significantly for the execution of the Armenian reforms, and Lord Edmund Fitzmaurice is busily engaged on the International Commission at Constantinople in drawing up schemes for the decentralization of the empire, and the establishment of provincial autonomy.
The establishment of autonomous governments more or less on the Eastern Roumelian model in all the provinces remaining to the Sultan in Europe, which Sir A. H. Layard and Sir H. D. Wolff declare to be indispensable, completely finishes the Sultan’s direct administrative authority on this side of the Bosphorus. The substitution of an overlordship over semi-autonomous provinces for the unlimited despotic authority he has hitherto possessed, will cost the Sultan more than the cession of Thessaly and Epirus, and there is no sign that as yet he has even contemplated such a sacrifice. In Asia, the realisation of the ameliorations and reforms which are demanded by the local wants of the provinces “inhabited by the Armenians”—an elastic phrase, which may be stretched to cover much more than Armenia proper—was promised “without any delay” two years ago. Nothing has yet been done. There, as elsewhere, the elimination of the executive power of the ruling Turks of Stamboul is the first condition of reform. Even Sir H. D. Wolff, by his references to the “complete decentralization of Turkey,” and the “appalling” state of the Government of Constantinople, seems to be pretty much of Mr. Carlyle’s opinion, that “the unspeakable Turk should be immediately struck out of the question,” for he has already seen in Eastern Roumelia that “improved management of these unhappy countries might begin on the morrow after this long-continued curse was withdrawn, and the ground left free for wise and honest human effort.” But not unnaturally the “unspeakable Turk”—by which, of course, is meant not “the peaceful Mongol inhabitant,” but the ruling Sultan or Pasha of Stamboul— does not see things in the same light, and before he is “struck out of the question,” the Powers will be obliged to resort to some more or less drastic method of coercion. If the Greek and Montenegrin questions stood by themselves, there might be some plausible pretext for ignoring the opposition of the Sultan and confining attention to that of overcoming the resistance of the local populations. But standing as they do, merely as the advance posts of other questions, all leading up to the great question, the elimination of the direct authority of the Government of Constantinople from its subject provinces, it is necessary to take into practical consideration the whole subject of coercion.
The admission by such eminent authorities on the Conservative side as Sir H. D. Wolff, to say nothing of Sir A. H. Layard, of the essential rottenness of the Government of Constantinople, and of the importance of severing all direct connection between the Sultan and the local administration of his dominions, clears the air considerably. When Lord Salisbury, in 1877, was confronted with the duty of coercing the Sultan he shrank back, lest by so doing he should overthrow” the only government which now keeps some thirty millions of people in some kind of order; ” but now that Lord Salisbury’s own Eastern Commissioner has proclaimed that the sine qua non of remedying existing disorders in Turkey is to free the provinces inhabited by the millions aforesaid from the direct administrative control of the appallingly corrupt Government at Constantinople, it is no longer an effective reply to the demand for coercion to say that coercion may be equivalent to extinction. On the contrary, there are many grounds for regarding such a consummation with satisfaction. No substituted government which owed its existence to the charter of the Powers would be either as weak, as vile, or as impracticable as the Porte. Of course there is the risk that the Powers might not be able to agree as to the substitute who should succeed Abdul Hamid as doorkeeper of the Bosphorus, but that risk, on the admission of the same eminent authorities, will have to be run in any case. If the Sultan is left to himself he will not reform, and if he does not reform his empire will collapse. The general overturn will compel Europe to address itself to the consideration of the question in the midst of the crash of arms and the roar of cannon. Great as are the difficulties in the way of agreement as to the adoption of a substitute for the Sultan, they are less now than they will be if the question is postponed until la culbute generate. That upset may occur at any moment. An assassin’s knife, the mutiny of a starving regiment, a sudden fit of insanity, or the success of a palace intrigue might fling the great city into the pool to-morrow, to be scrambled for by all Europe. The possibility of having to utter “the last word on the Eastern Question,” if things are left to take their course, is so great that the added risk from coercion hardly signifies. In any case, Europe would do well to set about trying to pronounce that “last word” betimes. The suggestion that the new Emperor of Byzantium should be the son of the Queen of England, and the son-in-law of the Emperor of Russia, is at present the only practical contribution to the discussion of a question which coercion may precipitate or postpone, but which, failing coercion, will certainly present itself for an early settlement, possibly when this country is least prepared to give it adequate consideration, or to make its influence felt in the councils of Europe. Against the risk of killing the patient whom we seek to cure by a resort to coercive treatment, must be placed the consideration that we can choose our own time for running that risk, whereas, if he is left alone, he may drop off when his decease is least expected, and nothing is ready. If the sick man should die under coercion, his executors will be there in force to maintain order pending the distribution of his effects and the establishment of his heir. Should he perish unexpectedly, anarchy might ensue, and in that anarchy one or two ambitious Powers on the spot might find an opportunity which it is the object of English policy to prevent. So far as the ownership of Constantinople is concerned, a policy of laisses faire is surrounded by even greater perils than a policy of coercion.
We have purposely stated the worst contingency first. But we do not thereby imply a belief that coercion must necessarily destroy the Turkish Government. On the contrary, it is, perhaps, a more serious objection to a policy of coercion that it would tend to prolong the existence of the sovereignty of the Sultan. The Turkish Government, as the present system of organized plunder and oppression is termed by courtesy, is doomed. The Berlin Treaty, thanks almost exclusively to the provisions which it took over from the Treaty of San Stefano, will, if vigorously executed, root out the direct administrative authority of the Government of Constantinople from Europe, and from the provinces inhabited by the Armenians in Asia. In place of Turkey in Europe there will be a congeries of local self-governing States, paying tribute to the Sultan, and recognising his sovereignty, but as free from any interference from him or from the pashas at Stamboul as Eastern Roumelia is at present. This arrangement, although an immense improvement upon the status quo, will be rendered very difficult to work for lack of a willing instrument of the Powers at Constantinople. The Sultan may sanction Albanian and Macedonian autonomy, as he has sanctioned that of Eastern Roumelia, but, as in Eastern Roumelia, so elsewhere he will do all he can to thwart the intention of the Powers, and his overlordship, instead of being, as it might be in European hands, a source of security, tranquillity, and order, will be just the reverse. Nothing but the danger of a difference amongst the Powers as to his successor would justify an attempt to govern the Ottoman Empire through such an instrument. The difficulties of governing an empire by a committee of the representatives of six foreign Powers are enormous, even if they work through a willing instrument; they become well-nigh insuperable when their wishes have to be executed by an Asiatic Mussulman who bitterly resents his altered position. Nevertheless, although it would be like ploughing with dogs, it is the only solution short of changing the dynasty, and if the Sultan submits to the demands of Europe, the experiment must be tried. If he can be induced to recognise his altered position, which, under the Berlin Treaty, is practically that of a viceregent under the tutelage of Europe —possessing nominally the full attributes of sovereignty, but under treaty engagements to all the Powers to permit their superintendence of a system of administration established by them in all his provinces —the Ottoman Empire may continue to exist for many years.
But the prolongation of the Sultan’s sovereignty can only be purchased at the price of his independence, and if the Turkish Empire is not to perish, the Turks must do as they are told. Of this the Sultan has not seen the necessity. He signed the Berlin Treaty without fully realising the change it made in his position. It is now time that he should be taught. Nothing but a demonstration that the Powers were prepared, if needs be, to take the law into their own hands, will have the slightest effect upon the Sultan. Only the revelation of a Divine decree incarnate in the shape of irresistible strength arrayed against him will suffice to convince him that Fate has spoken, and that henceforth he reigns in Constantinople on the conditions defined in the Treaty of Berlin, that is to say, as a sovereign whose executive authority is not only rigidly limited in his provinces, but is also subject to the supervision and control of the Powers. Even that might not succeed, but everything short of that is certain to fail. Sir A. H. Layard has placed on record this deliberate conclusion at which he arrived at after the experience of two painful years, that ” if we are in earnest in wishing to save this country, but at the same time so that its populations may be justly and impartially governed, we must be prepared to go farther than mere menaces.” In other words, if anything is to be done the Turks must be coerced.
Before considering the nature and degree of coercion necessary, it is necessary to bear in mind the nature and degree of the submission required. If, for instance, the cession of Dulcigno were the only matter in dispute, a local application of coercive force would suffice, without exercising any pressure at Constantinople. If even the cession to Greece exhausted the demands of the Powers, local coercive measures, by cutting off supplies sent from Salonica by a judicious use of the fleet, and, if needs be, by landing a small body of troops, after the Syrian precedent of 1840, would suffice to help Greece to her own. But these questions are of comparatively minor importance, which might be settled to-morrow without removing the root of the evil—the indisposition of the Sultan to recognise the conditions to which he has pledged himself, and under which he can alone be permitted to continue to exercise his sovereignty. After local coercive measures had suppressed manifestations of hostility to the decisions of Europe at two remote points on the frontier of the Empire, the primary object of the powers, the recognition of the hopelessness of evading the provisions of the Treaty or of resisting the will of the Powers, at the centre of authority, would still remain unattained. However cautiously the essential truth may be draped by diplomatic phraseology, the central necessity of the situation is that the Sultan should learn once for all that the will of Europe, which in this case is simply that the Sultan shall fulfil his treaty engagements, must be obeyed. To bring that home to the mind of the Sultan, coercive measures can most effectively be directed against the city which is the seat of his government and the heart of his empire. Local applications may secure the cession of a province, nothing but force directed against the capital will effect the reconstruction of Turkish administration decreed in the 23rd and 61st articles of the Treaty of Berlin.
Whatever may be thought of its policy, there can be no doubt of the efficacy of a naval demonstration in the Bosphorus. Mr. Gladstone was inclined, in 1876, to rely upon the establishment of a naval cordon between the European and Asiatic shores of the Ottoman Empire. That is merely one of the forms of the naval demonstration which would suffice to bring the Sultan to understand his impotence in presence of united Europe. The efficacy of such a demonstration was recognised in the discussions which preceded the assembling of the Constantinople Conference. Count Andrassy may be regarded as the original author of the proposal to coerce the Turks by a naval demonstration at Constantinople. On the 12th September, 1876, he told Sir Andrew Buchanan that he wished to impose the armistice and conditions of peace on the Porte. “I asked him how he could impose them if the Porte refused, and he answered, by imposing force, which could easily be done by a naval demonstration at Constantinople. An occupation of Turkish territory would lead to war, the limits of which could not be foreseen, but conditions dictated by a combined fleet at Constantinople would be accepted.”
The Italian Government at a somewhat later date appears to have been of the same opinion, for while protesting against a military occupation of Turkish territory, it was not prepared to admit that the Turks would be at liberty to reject the demands of Europe. In the debates on coercion at the beginning of 1877, the ministerial argument against a naval demonstration was not that it would not be effective in destroying the opposition of the Porte, but that it might destroy the Porte itself. Lord Salisbury dwelt largely upon the dangers of a bombardment of Constantinople, but, apart from the probability, almost amounting to a certainty, that the Sultan would be unable to hold his own in the capital if it were seriously menaced with bombardment, the whole course of history is against the supposition that the Turkish Government would risk an attack. As Mr. Gladstone pointed out three years ago, no Power in Europe is so amenable to pressure when it is directed against their capital. Almost every nation in Europe has prolonged its resistance after its capital bus been cither captured or besieged; whereas the Turks have invariably capitulated before their enemies were within striking-distance of Constantinople. The resistance which might be made at the Dardanelles has never deterred England from forcing the passage single-handed, and the allied fleets would hardly be prevented from executing the mandate of Europe because of the threats of the Porte. Two members of the present Government— the Prime Minister and the Lord Privy Seal—expressed themselves very unequivocally on the subject of coercion, when in opposition, and there is no reason to believe that they have changed their opinions in office. In the spring of the present year Mr. Gladstone, speaking at a small place in Midlothian, explained his view of coercion more clearly than he thought it wise to do in the debate upon his Resolutions.
Speaking of the demand for the establishment of the autonomy of Bulgaria, Bosnia, and the Herzegovina, which, he contended, would have been conceded by the Turks if Europe had said, “You must,” Mr. Gladstone said:—
“There are those who say that the Turk would have resisted, and would have raised a most bloody war. That is nonsense; that is pure nonsense. And I will tell you why I say so. Because there is not a case upon record in which, united Europe having made up its mind to tell the Sultan of Turkey what must be done, the Sultan of Turkey has not had the good sense to do it. Why, gentlemen, just see what power, what command, we had over the condition of Turkey. In the first place Turkey was an empire dependent for—I think I may safely say—three-fourths at the very least of her soldiery upon Asia. We had only to say, ‘No troops, no guns, no munitions of war, shall pass by sea between Asia and Europe,’ in order to reduce the Turkish Government to terms—if, indeed, she had ever carried it to that length, which she never would have done. Well, you tell me, ‘Oh, but the Turks had a very good fleet, and could have made resistance by sea.’ Yes, she had a good fleet; but how was that fleet navigated? Who were her enginemen? Who were the men that worked the machinery of her ships? They were Englishmen and Scotchmen, and the Queen had only to issue the proclamation requiring all these Englishmen and Scotchmen to quit their employment, in order to bring every one of them out of the Turkish fleet, and to leave the Turkish fleet waterlogged upon the sea. Therefore, gentlemen, the fact is this: never were such means of peaceful and bloodless coercion so fully and indisputably in the hands of any Power, or collection of Powers, as were then in the bauds of the European Powers, applicable against Turkey, had Turkey been obstinately determined to resist.”
The Duke of Argyll, in February, 1877, replying to the Marquis of Salisbury’s assertion that coercion of the Turks meant the bombardment of Constantinople, said:—
“I have thought out all the possible meanings of the word ‘coercion,’ and I dissent from the dogma of my noble friend that it means nothing but the bombardment of Constantinople. I have a distinct and clear opinion that if Europe had been really united, if you had brought Europe, as you might have done, abreast of you for the purpose of imposing your will on Turkey—there were more meanings than one of ‘coercion,’ more modes than two or three or six by which you might have brought Turkey to her knees, and avoided the whole of this terrible danger to Europe.”
If that was the case when the Turks were in full possession of their territory, the task of bringing Turkey to her knees now that her resources have been shattered and her arsenals emptied by a disastrous war, ought to present no insuperable difficulties to the European Powers.
The common cry in reply to demonstrations of the necessity for coercion is that coercion is equivalent to war. It may therefore be well to point out that although coercion may involve the adoption of measures almost tantamount to acts of war, coercion is not only theoretically distinct from war, but has repeatedly been exercised in the past, without involving those who engaged in it in actual warfare. The exercise of coercion by the European concert is an international act of police, an exercise of force for the attainment of a special and limited object altogether distinct from a state of war in which the whole resources of the belligerents are exerted for the purpose of mutual destruction. This distinction will be perceived more clearly by referring to some of the instances in which coercion was employed in the course of the present century.
The first of these, the coercion of the Turks by England, Russia, and France in 1827-9, is full of lessons for statesmen of to-day. When the Greek war began, the English Government was as much opposed to the coercion of the Turks as Lord Beaconsfield in 1877. The policy of leaving them to fight it out among themselves, which is popular in certain quarters, was persevered in for six years with terrible results. The struggle degenerated into a war of extermination. Its horrors the Powers witnessed with stoical indifference. Not sympathy with suffering humanity, nor even an enthusiasm on behalf of classical Greece, led to the Protocol of 1826 and the Treaty of 1827, so much as a dread of the extension of Russian influence and an anxiety to prevent a general war. It was declared to be “no longer possible to admit that the fate of Greece concerned exclusively the Ottoman Porte,” and England, France, and Russia agreed to “offer” the Porte their mediation, and to “demand an immediate armistice.” To the Treaty of London, embodying this agreement, there was appended an “additional and secret article,” whereby the contracting Powers bound themselves, if the armistice was not granted in a month, “to exert all the means which circumstances may suggest to their prudence” to prevent “in so far as may be in their power all collision between the contending parties” by conjointly employing “all their means in the accomplishment of the object thereof, without, however, taking any part in the hostilities between the two contending parties.” Orders were to be issued to the admirals in accordance with this agreement, and, finally, if, “contrary to all expectation,” these measures failed to accomplish their object, the Powers would “discuss and determine the ulterior measures to which it may become necessary to resort.” Although for a long time the Austrian ambassador in London had been furnished with full powers to sign this Treaty, Austria at the last moment declined to accede to it, and Prussia followed her example. The Greeks accepted the armistice. The Turks refused it. The stipulated interval having elapsed, the admirals of the allied fleets received instructions to compel a cessation of hostilities. France proposed a blockade of the Dardanelles, Russia an occupation of the Principalities. Lord Palmerston strongly urged upon the English Cabinet that eight thousand English troops should be dispatched to clear the Morea of the Turko-Egyptian forces, and if necessary they should act together with a French contingent. All these proposals were rejected, and the Powers contented themselves with attempting, through their fleets on the coast of the Morea, to induce the Turks to suspend hostilities. When entering the harbour of Navarino, in order to seek an interview with Ibrahim Pasha to induce him to cease burning and slaying on the mainland, fire was opened upon them by the Turko-Egyptian fleet. It was returned with interest, and before night the Turkish fleet was partially destroyed. But as the allies were not at war with the Turks no captures were made, and when Turkish resistance was crushed the Turks were left in undisturbed possession of the remnant of their fleet.
Notwithstanding this unforeseen and unexpected incident of Navarino, the allied Powers continued to be at peace with the Porte. Their ambassadors were not withdrawn from Constantinople until a later period, and the English Ministry refused to sanction a vote of thanks to Sir E. Codrington “because when the attack took place England was at peace, as she is still at peace, with the Ottoman Power.” The Duke of Wellington was very emphatic in his assurances that the use of force was not contemplated by the Government, whereupon Sir James Mackintosh pointedly remarked that if such were the case, it was strange that the Treaty should direct that instructions should be sent to the admirals, for “admirals can only negotiate effectively with their great guns. That was the only kind of representation that could have any effect upon the understanding of our ancient allies the Turks.”
The Duke of Wellington’s views as to the sinfulness of coercion underwent a rapid change, when the declaration of war by Russia on her own account, on grounds that had nothing to do with Greece, led Metternich to press for an immediate pacification of the Morea. It is noteworthy, as illustrating the distinction between coercion and war, that when Russia went to war with Turkey on the Danube and in Armenia, she waived her belligerent rights in the Mediterranean in order to continue her concerted coercive action with her allies under the Treaty of London, who were still at peace with the Porte. The blockade of the Morea was continued by the allied fleets, but the war still continuing, it was determined to clear out the Turks by a French army. 18,000 French soldiers were embarked on board English and French transports, and escorted by the English fleet they arrived in the Levant, to find that the blockade had succeeded in compelling Ibrahim Pasha to promise to return to Egypt. He was sailing off with an army of 21,000 men when the French arrived in the bay. Only 8,000 Turks remained in garrisons in the Morea. The reduction of these garrisons was accomplished in six weeks. The castle of the Morea alone made any resistance. At other fortresses the Turkish governors replied, “The Porte is not at war with the French or the English, no act of hostility will be committed, but the place will not be given up.” The French then took down the gates, or made a breach in the walls, and took the garrison prisoners without firing a shot. After the Morea was cleared the army of occupation proposed to complete the clearance of Greek territory, but they were arrested by the jealousy of the English Government. But even after the Morea was freed from Turkish occupation, and the Turkish fleet had been destroyed, Lord Palmerston frankly declared that he heartily wished Russia success in her war with the Turks, as that was “the only chance of making a good settlement of the Greek State.” Russia was successful, and Lord Palmerston’s expectations were fulfilled. What the most stringent measures of local coercion failed to effect was secured when pressure was applied at the capital, and the Treaty of Adrianople effected what the battle of Xavarino and the occupation of the Morea had left undone.
The establishment of the Greek State had hardly become a matter of history when the revolt of the Belgians against the Dutch gave rise to another act of collective European coercion which has been fraught with the happiest results to the tranquillity of the Continent. The Powers in Conference decreed the establishment of the Belgian kingdom on a basis of eighteen articles, embodied in the Protocol of June 27, 1831. Holland rejected these articles, and on the 4th of August threw an army of 50,000 men into Belgium. The Belgian army fled, and Leopold was surrounded at Louvain. The Powers had not pledged themselves in any way to enforce the stipulations of their Protocol. Fortunately the French immediately intervened, an army crossed the frontier, and its advance saved Lou-vain. The situation between England and France became somewhat strained, but the immediate danger was averted. The Dutch retreated. An armistice was agreed upon, and the French army shortly afterwards evacuated Belgium. The Powers were thus left face to face with the situation. England and the Northern Powers were jealous of France, which was believed to aim at the partition of Belgium; but it was wisely determined to act throughout as if France were really in good faith desirous of acting in concert with the Powers to secure the independence of Belgium. Another Conference was held and twenty-four articles were drawn up on the 14th of October as the new basis for Belgian independence. The most significant clause in the new treaty was that which declared to Holland and Belgium simultaneously that the five Powers guaranteed the execution of these articles as containing their irrevocable decisions, and that they were determined to obtain, by force if necessary, the complete acquiescence of both parties. Lord Grey told Baron Stockmar that the Conference not only had the means at its disposal to enforce its decisions, but that it would use them if the occasion should require it. He also warned him that if Belgium refused to fulfil the conditions imposed upon her by the Conference, “we shall occupy her territory with an army of execution composed of French, Prussians, and English.” Belgium, however, submitted, and a treaty was signed on the 10th of November, guaranteeing to her the execution of the twenty-four articles if Holland proved recalcitrant. The question arose as to the means to be employed to compel the Dutch to obey the mandate of Europe. Prussia declared her readiness to admit three coercive measures. 1. The remission of payments which Belgium is bound to make to Holland. 2. Coercive measures against the Dutch mercantile marine. 3. Blockade of the French ports; but she protested strongly against the entrance of a French army into Belgium: “If the French march in, the Prussians will march down the right bank of the Meuse.” The English showed little sympathy with the Belgians. “I am convinced,” wrote Stockmar, “that the Ministry would be left in the lurch by the House of Commons if they were to call upon it to make a sacrifice in favour of Belgium. If Grey and Palmeraton thought they would be supported in their measures by Parliament, they would to-morrow blockade the Dutch ports.” Lord Palmerston, however, who was in no way daunted by the alleged unpopularity of coercion,” declared in the most positive manner that the Ministry were in a position to believe that they ought to take such measures in the interests of England, and that they would therefore employ them, whether it was popular or not.” The Dutch offered to negotiate. Belgium refused. For four months matters remained in a dead-lock. At last Belgium offered to negotiate, when it was found that the Dutch were obstinately determined to resist the Belgian claims. Upon this the eventual employment of coercive measures against Holland was in principle admitted on all sides, by all the Powers. The Eastern Powers, however, would not participate in measures of material force, but only in coercive measures of a pecuniary kind. Although passive, they were not hostile to more active measures by others, and after a delay of some weeks, partially due to the reluctance of William IV. to assent to the attack upon Antwerp by a French army, England and France concerted measures of coercion against the Dutch. A treaty was signed on October 22nd, 1832. On the 2nd of November the King of Holland was summoned to evacuate Belgian territory within ten days. He refused. On the 5th an embargo was laid upon Dutch ships in English and French harbours, and cruisers were commissioned to seize Dutch shipping on the high seas. On the 15th, Belgian territory still not being evacuated, the French army crossed the frontier. Four days Later the siege of Antwerp began. On December 23rd that fortress capitulated. In May, 1833, a convention was concluded which secured to Belgium an armistice, and the enjoyment of a very favourable status quo until Holland would accept the Twenty-four Articles, which she did five years later. Belgium reluctantly gave up the advantageous pro-visorium which Dutch obstinacy had secured her. “She struggled violently against it, but was forced to give in owing to the unanimity of the great Powers,” and thus at last the Belgian Question ceased to distract the attention of Europe.
The third instance of concerted coercion was that afforded by the operations of England, Russia, Austria, and Turkey against Mehemet Ali in 1840. In the case of Belgium, coercion was successfully applied by two Powers acting with the passive consent of the other. The coercion of Mehemet Ali was undertaken against the protest of France, and without the express sanction of Prussia. When it was undertaken Europe was filled with doleful predictions of disastrous consequences certain to ensue if coercion were attempted. Russia was to seize Constantinople, if, indeed, Ibrahim Pasha did not forestall her in overthrowing the Ottoman Empire, while all the population of Syria would rise as one man to resist the intervention of the infidel. These predictions were emphasised by the fact that Mehemet Ali, one of the ablest men of his age, had an army of eighty thousand seasoned warriors encamped in Syria, while both the Turkish and Egyptian fleets were under his command. So critical was the state of things in the West that Sir Charles Napier was warned before he began the blockade that war with France might be expected any moment. Nevertheless, Lord Palmerston persevered. Entrusting the duty of defending Constantinople to Russia, he sent the English fleet to blockade, in concert with a few Turkish and Austrian warships, the whole coast of Egypt and Syria. Mehemet Ali was given twenty days to submit, and at the expiry of that time the blockade was enforced. During that blockade, the relations between the English commanders off Alexandria and the Egyptian Pashas were characterized by the utmost courtesy and good feeling. On the Syrian coast sterner work was afoot. Sir Charles Napier battered down one seaboard fortress after another, and landing with a force of 6,000 Turks, 1,300 marines, 200 artillerymen, engineers, &c., and one or two hundred Austrians, he roused the mountaineers against Mehemet Ali, and in a very short time succeeded in compelling the acceptance of the terms of the Allies. No enterprise could have been more hazardous, but none was ever more completely crowned by success.
It is not usual to point to the war between Russia and Turkey in 1853, as a signal illustration of the success of coercive action as distinct from war; but that is because the war occasioned by the invasion of the Crimea obscures the earlier phases of the conflict. Nothing is more striking in the History by Mr. Kinglake than the clearness with which he points out that the object of the Powers, the repression of Russian aggression upon Turkey, was finally attained by the coercive action of Austria before a single shot had been fired against Sebastopol. All the Powers acted together against Russia, and but for the spirit of adventure on the part of England and dynastic necessities on the part of France, the peace of Europe would have been restored, when Austria, with the support of Prussia and the German states, compelled and coerced Russia to evacuate the Principalities.
The last instance of concerted coercion to which reference need be made is that of the Lebanon. In I860, at a time when England, full of suspicion of the designs of the French Emperor, was forming her volunteers on every village green to resist invasion, the English Government did not find it impossible to join in a concert of the Powers for coercive measures for the pacification of the Lebanon. A protocol was signed defining the conditions under which the intervention of a European force ought to take place. The Sultan on being informed that the European force would be sent whether he consented or not, prudently resolved to accept the assistance of the twelve thousand men, which the Powers declared were necessary to restore order. Napoleon promised to furnish six thousand to proceed without delay; “the other six thousand to be furnished by such one of the Powers as on further consultation shall appear to be expedient.” An English squadron was sent to the coast of Syria “with power to land marines if necessary,” and a Russian naval force was ordered to co-operate with the British squadron in protecting the Christians. The intervention was signally successful, and, although much anxiety was experienced as to the prolongation of the French occupation till the latter end of 1861, the Syrian expedition returned as soon as its work was effectively accomplished.
In none of these five instances did coercive measures result in “lighting up the flames of a general war,” although in nearly every case the danger of such a result appeared much greater than that which faces Europe to-day. In every case coercion succeeded in attaining its objects, although, in the case of Greece, a hesitation to carry it out to its logical conclusion deprived it of its full result. In no case did any practical difficulty arise from the co-operation of the armed forces of the allied Powers. Neither did the Powers applying coercion in any case conclude by turning their arms against each other.
The chief difficulty in the way of coercion by concerted Europe now, arises from the moral certainty that at least one Power out of the six will have reasons of its own for refusing to take part in the naval and military operations. But experience shows that this difficulty is not insuperable. Coercion by united Europe does not necessarily imply that all the Powers should actually be represented in the force entrusted with the execution of a European mandate. It is of course most desirable that all the Powers should jointly execute the mandate which they have jointly signed, but it would be a dangerous mistake to abandon all hope of coercive measures should one, two, or even three Powers prefer to play a passive part. Three powers held aloof when Holland was coerced. Two powers were passive when Greece was established. Only two powers were actively engaged in the coercion of Mehemet Ali France alone landed troops in the Lebanon, and Austria single-handed undertook to rid the Principalities of the Russian invaders. Although joint coercion by all the Powers is infinitely preferable to single-handed coercion by one, even single-handed coercion if undertaken in the name of Europe is infinitely preferable to the war to which it will probably be the only alternative.
No, not the only alternative. An alternative even more bloody and terrible lies immediately before Europe, if the coercion of the Turks is not vigorously taken in hand by the Powers. Should the great Powers definitely refuse to act, their refusal would immediately bring the small Powers on to the field. If the Ottoman Government is not placed under control by a demonstration of irresistible force, it will have to face an explosion of all the elements of disorder within its frontiers. The Hellenes, whom Europe has decreed shall be freed, will rise in insurrection. The Greek Government will put its armies in motion to occupy the territory staked out at Berlin, which it has been invited by the Powers to accept. The Montenegrins, thrown upon their own resources, betrayed by Europe, at whose bidding they abandoned Dulcigno, and by whom they are now denied their lawful equivalent, will endeavour to gain it by the sword. If the English plenipotentiaries at Berlin had not created the fatal mistake of partitioning Bulgaria, the Porte might, in its supreme hour of distress and peril, have counted at least upon Bulgarian quiescence when engaged in a war with the Greeks.
The division of Bulgaria rendered that impossible. The Bulgarians in re-enslaved Macedonia will rise in arms, and appeal to their brethren in Eastern Roumelia and Bulgaria to assist them in recovering liberties lost at Berlin. A dread of the restoration of the Balkan garrisons will stimulate the Bulgarians of Eastern Roumelia to lend a willing ear to the cry from Macedonia. The vials of wrath will once more be emptied upon the miserable peninsula, and Europe will see with horror, on a large scale, the renewal of the frightful orgies of slaughter which followed the retreat of General Gourko from the valley of the Tundja. Bulgarian, Turk, Pomak, Albanian, Circassian, and Greek will close in death grapple, and from Bourgas to Durazzo, from the Balkans to the mountains of Thessaly, there would hardly be a village or a valley that would not be blasted by the simoom of universal war. Norwould the struggle be confined to Europe. “In Syria,” says Sir A. H. Layard, “detestation of Constantinople rule, and a determination to cast it off, appears to form a bond of union between the (Arab) Mussulmans and the Christians. The state of Arabia, according to all accounts, is very critical, and a formidable insurrection against the Turkish Government may at any moment break out.” A general uprising of all the populations of the Empire, followed by desperate attempts at repression by massacre, provoking in their turn the most ruthless refusals—such is the inevitable alternative of leaving the Turkish Government to go its own way uncontrolled and uncoerced.
Nor is this all. When blood has been poured out like water in every province of the Ottoman Empire, when a war of extermination with all its frightful accompaniments of lust and torture has raged for weeks or months, it will be discovered that all this massacre has been but the thinning of the pawns in order that the pieces may come into action. The internecine war will provoke European intervention, whether the Turks win or lose. If they conquered, Europe will not again witness with indifference the desolation of the Morea or the bombardment of Athens. Neither will Russia tolerate the re-establishment of the Turkish gallows in the streets of Philippopolis or the reappearance of Bashi Bazouks on the heights of the Skipka. If, on the other hand, the Turks go down before the onslaught of their foes, the whole of their dominions in Europe and Asia, with Constantinople as first prize, will be thrown into the field to be scrambled for; nor would the scramble be confined to the races who are natural heirs of the Sick Man. If the Turk is not coerced, neither the peace of Europe nor the Ottoman Empire is worth six months’ purchase from the date on which the definite refusal to coerce is pronounced by the Powers.
With such a prospect plainly revealed before us—and no one who is conversant with the events of the last four years, and is familiar with the present state of the Ottoman Empire as delineated in the farewell dispatch of Sir A. H. Layard, will deny its substantial accuracy—the duty of Europe is plain. Every danger which can be alleged as standing in the way of concerted action now will be aggravated by delay. It may be difficult for a man sweeping down the rapids to save his life, but it will be impossible when he is plunged over the falls. In the East there is still a chance of peace, but its price is the coercion of the Turk. In the naval demonstration at Constantinople—the only measure which will be efficacious in convincing the Sultan of his true position—it would be well for all the Powers to unite. England’s naval strength would alone be amply sufficient for the purpose; but, as Lord Palmerston remarked nearly fifty years ago, when discussing the contingency of having to blockade the Scheldt, should Belgium reject the arrangement sanctioned by the Powers, “the moral effect of a combination of the fleets of all the Powers might prevent the necessity for land operations.” The risk of coercion is minimized by concert. The more irresistible the force employed, the more remote is the danger of resistance, and the greater the security for the peaceful acceptance of the mandate of Europe.
There are some excellent men who deprecate a policy of coercion on the ground that it is a policy of intervention involving at least the possibility of an appeal to the sword. These objections might have some weight if they had been able to prevent the intervention of England in 1878; or they could undertake to prevent that intervention when the general overturn takes place, which non-intervention would inevitably bring about in a very short time. As the policy of England two years ago is chiefly responsible for the perpetuation of the existence of the Eastern Frankenstein which troubles Europe to-day, Englishmen are not at liberty to adopt a policy of non-intervention when they are summoned to remedy, as far as possible, the fatal consequences of their past intervention. Neither can the non-interventionists undertake to prevent the participation of England in the war which the adoption of their policy would precipitate. By preventing a pacific, limited, and concerted intervention now, they render inevitable a warlike, unlimited, and isolated intervention, in far more dangerous circumstances, hereafter. Afraid of wetting their feet by crossing a pool, they cling to their sandhill till they are overwhelmed by the rising tide. The objection to the appeal to the sword which is threatened in a policy of coercion, carried to its logical conclusion, would resolve society into anarchy. But that the magistrate beareth not the sword in vain social order would be impossible. The sword in the hands of soldiers, summoned after due reading of the Riot Act, is a potent instrument of the law for the maintenance of peace. The application of coercive measures by the European concert is the nearest approximation, in international affairs, to the lawful exercise of force, with which every one is familiar in the administration of municipal justice. The European concert, that voluntary association of sovereign States for dealing collectively with one of the most difficult of political problems, contains within itself the germ of a federated Europe. In a rude but practical way it supplies an international tribunal with sufficient force at its command to render impossible any appeal from its decisions. Should it exercise the power to enforce the decree which it has had the wisdom to pronounce, it will not merely prevent war in the East, but it will offer to Europe a prospect at no very distant future of escape from the crushing armaments which are inevitable in the present state of international anarchy. But if that bright hope is to be realised, the European concert must not be a mere concert in counsel, but a concert in action ; it cannot be tolerated as a concert in impotence. The earnest advocates of peace principles, so far from shrinking from coercion by united Europe, should rather hail it as a widening of the area of political action, an extension of the boundaries of the law, and a mighty stride towards the realisation of their sublime ideal— the federation of the world.