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European military alliances prior to World War I.
The Triple Entente (from French ''entente'', IPA: /ɑ̃.tɑ̃t/, "agreement") was the name given to the loose alignment between the United Kingdom, France, and Russia after the signing of the Anglo-Russian Entente in 1907. The alignment of the three powers, supplemented by various agreements with Portugal, Japan, the United States, and Spain, constituted a powerful counterweight to the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, the third having concluded an additional secret agreement with France effectively nullifying their Alliance commitments.
Russia had been a member of the League of the Three Emperors with Austria-Hungary and Germany. After the League's collapse during the Alexander von Battenberg affair, however, it ended its alignment with the other Entente powers. France and UK continued to collaborate in ultimately unsuccessful attempts to uphold the postwar order during the 1920s and 1930s, until France's crushing June 1940 defeat in renewed conflict with Germany forced her into a separate armistice, leaving the UK alone in Europe to fend for themselves.
The Entente heralded the end of British neutrality in Europe. It was partly a response to growing German antagonism expressed in the creation of the Kaiserliche Marine battle fleet capable of threatening British naval supremacy.
Ironically, the Franco-Russian Alliance, which had seemed weak during Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, later appeared the more powerful alignment, when Russia unexpectedly and rapidly recovered from the defeat and from the Russian Revolution of 1905, and when the UK was added as a diplomatic partner.
This was not the first time Britain, France and Russia had co-operated diplomatically. They had done so before during the Greek War of Independence.
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
In the last decade of the nineteenth century, the UK seemed to have adopted a foreign policy of 'splendid isolation'. The UK's primary focus was its massive overseas empire. However, by the early 1900s the European theatre began to change dramatically. Some in Britain thought it was in need of allies. For most of the nineteenth century, the UK had regarded France and Russia as its two most dangerous rivals but with the apparent threat of German imperialism, British sentiments began to change.
The three main reasons were:
1. France and the UK had signed a number of 5 agreements regarding spheres of influence in North Africa in 1904. This became known as the Entente Cordiale. The Tangier Crisis, which followed, encouraged co-operation between the two countries, given their mutual fear of apparent German expansionism.
2. Russia was defeated in the Russo-Japanese War. This display of weakness resulted in less concern over Russian imperialism and encouraged Russia to secure its position elsewhere. France was already allied to Russia in the Dual Alliance.
3. The UK was very excited about the rising threat of German imperialism. Kaiser Wilhelm II had announced to the world his intentions to create a global German empire and to develop a strong navy. The UK, traditionally having control of the seas, saw this as a serious threat to its own empire and navy.
In 1907, the Anglo-Russian Entente was agreed, which attempted to resolve a series of long-running disputes over Persia, Afghanistan and Tibet, as well as helping to address British fears about German expansion in the Near East.
French Third Republic
The Second French Empire had fought Prussia and its allies in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, resulting in a defeat for France and the establishment of a new republic. The Germans had forced France to sign a treaty in 1871 (The Treaty of Frankfurt), which signed over the industrialized region of Alsace-Lorraine to the new unified German state. Ever since, relations had been at an all time low. France, worried about the escalating military development of Germany, began building up its own war industries and army as a deterrent to German aggression. As another measure, France developed a strong bond with Russia by joining the Franco-Russian Alliance, which was designed to create a strong counter to the Triple Alliance. France's main concerns were to protect against an attack from Germany, and to reincorporate the lost territories of Alsace-Lorraine.
Empire of Russia
Russia possessed by far the largest manpower reserves of all the six European powers, but was also the most backward economically. Russia shared France's worries about Germany. After the Germans started to reorganize the Turkish army, Russia feared that they would come to control the Dardanelles, a vital trade artery which accounted for two fifths of Russia's exports.
This was also coupled with Russia's long history of rivalry with Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary had recently annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, angering Russia immensely. Russia had considered itself the leader of the Slavic world and viewed the invasion as another step towards annexing Serbia and Montenegro. To counteract Austria-Hungary's aggression into the Balkans, Russia signed an agreement with Serbia to aid it militarily in the face of Austro-Hungarian invasion.
The Tsar had also recently fought a grueling war with Japan in 1905, resulting in Russia's transformation into a constitutional monarchy. To counter his enemies militarily and politically, he sought to revive the Franco-Russian Alliance. Although it was perceived as useless during the Russo-Japanese War, in the European theatre it was invaluable. Russia would also sign the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 with Britain to counter act the threat of the Triple Alliance.
The Franco-Russian Alliance, along with the Anglo-Russian Entente and the Entente Cordiale, formed the Triple Entente between the British Empire, France and Russia. This was an effective deterrent to the Triple Alliance and also a plan by the French to encircle Germany.