One topic that often receives little attention in American history courses are the crises that preceded the First World War but were resolved. The most important of these crises was the Agadir Crisis of 1911 which saw France and Germany clash over France’s Moroccan expansion. That crisis, though, was only the last of multiple Moroccan Crises, the first of which occurred in 1905. The First Moroccan Crisis was an event that started on March 1st of 1905 with Kaiser Wilhelm the Second’s visit to the city of Tangier in Morocco. The Kaiser’s visit was in response to France’s proposing a series of reforms to the Sultan of Morocco that Germany viewed as conflicting with Morocco’s sovereignty and French expansionism in the region. The Kaiser toured the city of Tangier and spoke with the Sultan, and declared that he supported Moroccan sovereignty. Subsequently, the Sultan rejected France’s proposed reforms and called for an international conference of all the major powers to meet to advise him on necessary reforms. The French Foreign Minister, Theodolphile Declasse, rejected the proposal for a multinational conference and the two nations began pursuing militarily. The German Chancellor, Gerhard von Bulow, also threatened war. The leaders of both nations, the Kaiser and French Premier Maurice Rouvier, however, did not want war and so the real possibility of one breaking out was not high. On July 1st, at the behest of Rouvier, the French acceded to the convening of an international conference. There were still instances of military posturing shortly before the conference as Germany called up its reserves on December 30th and France moved troops to the border on the 3rd of January. The Algeciras conference was held from January 16th to April 7th of 1906. Germany, however, found it had little support among the 13 nations present. Only Austria supported Germany against France, Britain, Russia, Italy, and Spain. The Germans were forced to sign a compromise on March 31st to prevent their humiliation. Peace, at least, was preserved for a time.
The First Moroccan Crisis, and the subsequent crises that occurred before 1914, only further shows the inevitability of the First World War. That Germany and France could come as close as they did, with the nation’s mobilizing troops and moving them to the border, to war over proposed reforms to Morocco is telling. While war did not break out as a result of this crisis, the conflicting colonial ambitions and nationalistic tendencies that caused the crisis in the first place did not go away. Rather, they would result in crisis after crisis until finally war broke out over an assassination in the Balkans. The lesson to be learned from the First Moroccan Crisis and all of the other crises that led up to WWI is to not be exultant when two nations reach an agreement or stave off conflict, rather efforts to preserve peace must not be halted until the underlying causes of international tension are resolved.
One thought on “March 31st in German History: The First Moroccan Crisis”
This is an excellent short essay that suggests a segue to the growing US vs. China tensions. One may observe that there are nowmany geographical areas of conflict, each one more dangerous than the Moroccan rivalry. Both countries now possess many tools that could cause great harm to the other and, of course, to the whole earth.