How successful was Bismarck’s foreign Policy?
Many believed that Bismarck’s foreign policy failed or did nothing, but Bismarck was actually successful
in achieving the aims of the Foreign policy and he succeeded after many alliances, conflicts and a treaty.
He used the Dreikaiserbund, Congress of Berlin, Dual alliances, Triple alliances and the Reinsurance
Treaty to his advantage. “In the years between 1870 and 1890 it was German foreign policy that
dominated the international scene.”-J. Joll
Bismarck’s aim of the foreign policy was to maintain peace. After the Franco-Prussian war, France had
always wanted to take revenge on Prussia, and Bismarck saw that as the most important threat. The
core of his policy was to isolate France (preventing possible allies), to avoid unnecessary conflicts and to
keep the relation between Austria and Russia peaceful. He was determined to avoid France becoming
powerful, so he tried to stay on good terms with Russia and Austria. Bismarck faced many problems, but
he also was good at solving them. His foreign affairs were stronger than his domestic matters. Germany
was the greatest military power in Europe and Austria and Russia wanted an alliance with it.
This ‘friendship’ started with the Dreikaiserbund which was the league of three emperors including
Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia. This measure was taken more for defensive measures and
guaranteed that the others would help if either country got attacked by a fourth power. Bismarck’s
three main motives for the Dreikaiserbund are: it represented conservative beliefs against nationalism
and socialism. It guarantees that neither Austria-Hungary nor Russia was going to ally with France. It also
prevented conflict between Austria-Hungary and Russia in the Eastern question.
In 1878 the Congress (the most important meeting of the powers since 1856) happened in Berlin, it
became a sign of Germany’s new power and Bismarck’s prestige.“At critical moments, only Bismarck’s
intervention saved the day.”-Booklet on Bismarck’s Germany. Bismarck’s desire for peacekeeping was
achieved, but Russia, feeling betrayed, blamed Bismarck for not getting all of Bulgaria. Alexander II
defined the Congress as ‘a coalition of the European powers against Russia under the leadership of
Later on, Bismarck made an alliance with Austria. This alliance was called the “Dual Alliance.” This was a
secret alliance that made sure that if Russia would ever intervene in a war either of them is involved in,
than the other will support them. This was the “cornerstone of German foreign policy”-W. Carr.It
became an example to other European countries to create treaties and eventually divide Europe into
pact and counter-pact. There were two main advantages to the Dual alliance: Germany had support if
Russia was to attack and it attracted Russia to become closer to Germany.
Russia finally gave in and there was a new Dreikaiserbund formed between Germany, Russia and
Austria. Then Bismarck convinced Russia to sign the Three Emperors’ Alliance which was a secret treaty
that would last three years. They agreed that if either power were at war, the others would remain
neutral and that the entrance of the Black Sea would be closed to foreign war ships. This agreement
benefited Bismarck and he enjoyed it.
In 1885-6 a crisis in Bulgaria destroyed the triple Alliance. Austria and Russia were in dispute and
Bismarck refused to take sides. Diplomatic precautions were even needed to safeguard Germany.
Despite the tension, Bismarck convinced Austria to consult Italy on all matters affecting the Balkans, the
Adriatic and the Aegean. In 1887, with Bismarck’s support, Britain, Austria, and Italy signed the first
Mediterranean Agreement which committed them to the status quo of the Eastern Mediterranean
which was an anti-Russian action.
Finally, things were looking good for Bismarck. France avoided Russia and conservatives won the upper
hand in St. Petersburg and Tsar Alexander III signed the Reinsurance Treaty. The treaty did not interfere
with the Dual Alliance. In the end, the Bulgarian crisis broke down.
All in all German foreign policy balanced the Great powers of Europe and served an important role in
doing so. Bismarck succeeded in strengthening Germany and it is proved by the unification of Germany
and his alliances. He analyzed the situations looking at who would ally with who, who was a threat, etc.
and he used that to his advantage. So to conclude, Bismarck’s foreign policy did indeed succeed in the
Our textbook- Europe 1871-1890
The booklet “Bismarck’s Germany: 1871-1890”