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Empire. The Suez Canal is like the nerve at the back of the neck which connects the spine with the brain.
Those who believe in Napoleonic epigrams will find several remarkable epigrams relating to Egypt. The great Corsican said to Montholon, ‘Si j'étais resté en Egypte, je serais à présent empereur d'Orient. ... L'Orient n'attend qu'un homme.' He said to Las Cases, ‘ De l’Egypte j'aurais atteint Constantinople et les Indes ; j'eusse changé la face du monde.' He dictated to Gourgaud, 'Qui est maître de l'Egypte l'est de l'Inde.' The last maxim should be particularly interesting to Englishmen. How great a value Napoleon attached to Egypt will be seen from his ‘Memoirs 'dictated to Las Cases, Gourgaud, and Montholon at St. Helena, and from volumes xxix., xxx., and xxxi. of his . Correspondence.'
If we wish to compare the relative importance of Constantinople and of the Suez Canal, we need only assume that another Power possessed Egypt and Great Britain Constantinople. While Constantinople would be useless to Great Britain, the occupation of Egypt by a non-British Power would jeopardise Britain's position in India and her Eastern trade. Napoleon, with his keen eye for strategy, told O'Meara :
Egypt once in possession of the French, farewell India to the English. Turkey must soon fall, and it will be impossible to divide it without allotting some portion to France, which will be Egypt. But if you had kept Alexandria, you would have prevented the French from obtaining it, and of ultimately gaining possession of India, which will certainly follow their possession of Egypt.
In the sailing-ship era the position of Constantinople was far more important to England than it is at present. Then Russia, dominating Constantinople, might conceivably have sent a large fleet into the Mediterranean and have seized Malta, Egypt, and Gibraltar before England could have received any news of the sailing of the Russian armada.
With the advent of the electric cable, wireless telegraphy, and steam shipping, that danger has disappeared.
From the Russian point of view Constantinople is valuable partly for ideal, partly for strategical reasons, and partly because the Narrows are economically of the highest importance to Russia. Their closure destroys the most important part of Russia's sea trade.
The glamour of Constantinople and its incomparable position on the Golden Horn has fascinated men since the earliest times. Constantinople might become the third capital of Russia, and it would, for historical and religious reasons, be a capital worthy of that great Empire. From the strategical point of view Russia desires to possess Constantinople not for aggression, but for defence, for protecting the Black Sea shores. Whether, however, she would be wise in accepting Constantinople, even if it were offered to her by all Europe, seems somewhat doubtful. It is true that Constantinople dominates the Black Sea. At the same time Constantinople is dominated by the lands of the Balkan Peninsula. In Talleyrand's words : "Le centre de gravité du monde n'est ni sur l'Elbe, ni sur l'Adige, il est là-bas aux frontières de l'Europe, sur le Danube.' Similarly Marshal Marmont, Duke of Ragusa, one of Napoleon's best generals, said in his ‘Memoirs' that Wallachia, Macedonia, and Bulgaria were, in his opinion, the key of the Orient. He thought that the security of Europe was less threatened by Russia possessing Constantinople
, supposing the Austrians occupied the countries at the mouth of the Danube, than if Constantinople was held by French and English troops while the Russians were masters of the lower Danube. The reasoning of Talleyrand and Marmont seems faultless. It will probably be confirmed by the British strategists, who ought to be consulted by our statesmen on the strategical value of Constantinople. A demonstration of the Balkan States, especially if it were backed by their Central European supporters, against the 120 miles of the Enos-Midia line would obviously convert
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the Constantinople position from a strategical asset into a very serious strategical liability. It is true that in the event of a Russian attack upon India, England could no longer attack Russia in the Black Sea in conjunction with Turkey. However, as Constantinople is a far more valuable point to Russia than the Crimea or Odessa, and as the Balkan States themselves may desire to possess Constantinople, it is obvious that by occupying it Russia would not increase her power, but would merely expose herself to greater dangers than heretofore.
Various proposals have been made for dealing with Constantinople and the Straits after the expulsion of the Turks. Some have advocated that Constantinople should be given to Russia, some that the position should be given to some small Power, such as Bulgaria, or be divided between two or more Powers, one possessing the southern and the other the northern shore; others have recommended that that much coveted position should be neutralised in some form or other. The importance of Constantinople to Russia lies in this, that it is the door to her house, that he who holds Constantinople is able to attack Russia in the Black Sea. Consequently Russia and Russia's principal opponents would continue to strive for the possession of the Narrows, supposing they had been given to some small Power, to several Powers in joint occupation, or had been neutralised. The struggle for Constantinople can obviously end only when the town is possessed by a first-rate Power. That seems the only solution which promises finality, and the only Power which has a strong claim upon the possession of Constantinople is evidently Russia.
Until recently it seemed possible that Constantinople would become the capital of one of the Balkan States or of a Balkan Confederation. Many years ago Mazzini, addressing the awakening Balkan nations, admonished them : 'Stringetevi in una Confederazione e sia Constantinopoli la vostra città anfizionica, la città dei vostri poteri centrali, aperta a tutti, serva a nessuno.' The internecine
war of the Balkan States has destroyed, apparently for ever, the possibility that Constantinople will belong to the Balkan peoples, and perhaps it is better that it is so. Constantinople might have proved as fatal an acquisition to the Balkan peoples as it has proved to the Turks, and for all we know it may not prove a blessing to Russia.
Those who fear that Russia might become a danger to Europe in the future, and who would therefore like to see the status quo preserved both in Austria-Hungary and at Constantinople—at first sight Austria-Hungary, as at present constituted, appears to be an efficient counterpoise to Russia—seem very short-sighted. I think I have shown that Russia's acquisition of Constantinople, far from increasing Russia's military strength, would greatly increase her vulnerability. Hence the possession of Constantinople should make Russia more cautious and more peaceful. Similarly, the dissolution of Austria-Hungary into its component parts-an event which at present is contemplated with dread by those who fear Russia's power-would apparently not increase Russia's strength or the strength of Slavism, but would more likely be disadvantageous to both. The weakness of Austria-Hungary arises from its disunion. Owing to its disunion the country is militarily and economically weak. If Austria-Hungary should be replaced by a number of self-governing States these will develop much faster. Some of these States will be Slavonic, but it is not likely that they will become Russia's tools. Liberated nations, as Bismarck has told us, are not grateful, but exacting. The Balkan nations which Russia has freed from the Turkish yoke, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Roumania, have promptly asserted their independence from Russia, and have developed a strong individuality of their own. The Slavonic nationalities of Austria-Hungary also would probably assert their independence. For economic reasons the small and medium-sized nations in the Balkan Peninsula and within the limits of present-day Austria-Hungary would probably combine, and if they
were threatened from Russia they would naturally form a strong political union. A greater Austria-Hungary, a State on a federal basis, would arise in the place of the present State, and, strengthened by self-government, the power of that confederation would be far greater than that possessed by the Dual Monarchy.
Since the time when these pages were written the Russian autocracy has disappeared and has been replaced by the republic. Many of the Russian democratic leaders have proclaimed that they are opposed to the autocratic policy of conquest, that they do not wish to possess Constantinople. It remains to be seen whether the new leaders of Russia will abandon the century-old aim of their country. Not only the Russian sovereigns but the Russian people themselves have for centuries striven to control the Narrows which connect the Black Sea with the Mediterranean, guided not merely by ambition but by the conviction that Russia required an adequate outlet to the sea for economic reasons. The Russian sovereigns who tried to conquer Constantinople followed, therefore, not a personal but a national policy. When, at the beginning of the War, Russia's war aims were discussed in the Imperial Duma, practically all the speakers demanded the acquisition of Constantinople. The wealthiest districts of Russia lie in the south. The north is largely barren. The productions of Southern Russia go towards the Black Sea by the magnificent Russian rivers and by railways. The War has shown that the Power which controls the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles can blockade Russia, can strangulate the economic life of the country. That is a position which may appear undesirable even to the most enthusiastic Russian democrats and to the most convinced anti-annexationists. After all, a great nation requires adequate access to the sea.