The Hidden Perspective: The Military Conversations of 1906-1914 Hardcover – 15 Mar 2014
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'The history of the First World War has been exhaustively studied in relation to events of the fateful structure of the alliances. The area in between, the impact of the tactical management of diplomacy on the inevitability of war, has received inadequate attention. David Owen has filled that gap. He explains in lucid detail how Britain s abandonment of its splendid isolation in favor of entente with France and an understanding with Russia deprived the international system of any flexibility. Britain, heretofore the balancer of the balance of power, transformed itself into a direct participant in the power politics of the Continent. This decision, taken essentially in secret by military staffs, was all the more fateful because it induced rigidity in two ways. In their strategic planning, France and Russia counted on British support; Germany half-convinced itself of British neutrality. In every previous conflict, the consciousness that Britain might intervene on either side had inspired caution in both. Now, Britain weakened its capacity to induce restraint by being taken for granted by one side even as the other discounted its deterrence. David Owen s book should be essential reading for contemporary statesmen; it is a story of how overreaction to immediate problems can lead to eventual disaster.' --Henry Kissinger
'Countless new books and articles are analysing the origins of the War and the military convulsions that followed. David Owen makes a powerful contribution in his new book, 'The Hidden Perspective: The Military Conversations of 1906-1914'. He looks through the keen operational eye of a former Foreign Secretary at the high-level manoeuvrings of London and other European capitals ... [arguing] that they took on a life and logic of their own, discouraging other political and military options that might have been far more effective - and far more wise. Readers of Diplomat will enjoy - and be startled by - many details Lord Owen gives us about diplomacy as practised a century and more ago.' --Charles Crawford, Diplomat Magazine
'Well-researched, well-written and thought-provoking' --The Wall Street Journal
About the Author
David Owen (Lord Owen) trained and practised as a medical doctor before being elected a Labour MP in his home city of Plymouth. He served as Foreign Secretary under James Callaghan from 1977 until 1979. He co-founded and went on to lead the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and is now a Crossbencher in the Lords. Among many books, he is the author of In Sickness and In Power - Illness in Heads of Government during the last 100 years, The Hubris Syndrome, Balkan Odyssey, and the autobiography Time to Declare.
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Top Customer Reviews
Lord Owen has written a fascinating and revealing account of how in 1905 the incoming Foreign Secretary Edward Grey shifted from the original purpose of the Entente towards a secret military agreement with France, built on the French and Foreign Office assumption of future German aggression in Europe. Eight years of military planning for potential British army deployment then followed, mostly in secret, tying Britain into a position where "friendship entails obligations", as Grey eventually said in the House of Commons in August 1914.
Combining detailed documentation with clear explanations and personal insights, Lord Owen reveals the process by which a group of pro-French officials at the Foreign Office nudged Grey and Prime Minister Campbell-Bannerman towards this secret understanding. To avoid political trouble neither the full Cabinet nor Parliament were consulted. The Crowe Memorandum of 1907, which embodied the "Foreign Office view" of officials (pro-French, anti-German) accepted by Grey is reproduced in full in an appendix.
We learn how the Military Conversations were, astonishingly, kept secret even from incoming Prime Minister Asquith for three years from 1908 until 1911, at which time three-quarters of the Cabinet voted against the Conversations. The German government had known about the secret agreement for years (via espionage).Read more ›
and English military departments during which England committed itself, in case
war was imminent, to supporting the French with a British Expeditionary Force on
the continent. These talks and commitments were kept secret from all but a few
ministers and, most irregularly, even from one Prime Minister. They also
precluded England from more balanced policies that might have avoided the
tragedy of WWI.
During the second Morocco crisis, the talks went further to consider the
dismemberment of the African Empire of England's oldest and most loyal ally,
Portugal, to placate Germany, again without disclosure to the Cabinet.
The occasionally exhaustive details are enlivened by Lord Owen's comments on how
similar mistakes have been made and opportunities missed in Britain's other
wars, from WWII to Iraq, as well as pertinent observations on democratic
governance. One wishes he could expand these nuggets of wisdom in a separate
chapter or, fingers-crossed, a separate book.
Lord Owen emphasises the importance of democratic cabinet accountability and full and accurate information. The Chilcot Inquiry comes to mind.
The book gives a highly critical account of the Military Conversations between Britain and France, between 1906 and 1914, approved by Grey, the Foreign Secretary, who hid them from his cabinet colleagues and circumvented "democratic cabinet accountability, the cornerstone of our democracy".
These Military Conversations (and the friendship with France) led Britain down the wrong path in 1914.
Notwithstanding the 5 star rating several of the author's key arguments are open to challenge.
(1) # The Military Conversations created an expectation in both Britain and France that if France was attacked by Germany, Britain would align itself with France and send a British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to the continent on the outbreak of hostilities to fight alongside the French army. And, this expectation was so strong it came to be seen in both Britain and France as an obligation.#
The Military Conversations started officially in January 1906 when France asked Britain if it would give France military support if Germany attacked France following a breakdown of the talks over Morocco then taking place.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I wasn't aware of foreign secretary Grey's influence.So the book is good from that point of view.
Otherwise I have issues with some comments made over the last 20 years by... Read more
I'm interested in Grey & how he got us into WW1. This book made some extremely persuasive points - not in Grey's favour! A local interest as Howick is nearby. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Lindsey Clare Gee-Turner
Not a helpful book. It purports to be a new look at the road to war but is Dr Owen's contribution to the "get Blair" cabal. Read morePublished 19 months ago by T
Excellent account of the secret negotiations between Britain and France. Britain's support to France up to the First World War was not necessarily contributive to preserving peace... Read morePublished 21 months ago by Jan Wammen
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