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The Reinsurance Treaty of June 18, 1887 was an attempt by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to continue to ally with Russia after the League of the Three Emperors had broken down in the aftermath of the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War.
Facing the competition between Russia and Austria–Hungary on the Balkans, Bismarck felt that this agreement was essential to prevent a Russian convergence toward France and to continue the diplomatic isolation of the French so ensuring German security against a threatening two-front war. He thereby hazarded the expansion of the Russian sphere of influence toward the Mediterranean and diplomatic tensions with Vienna.
The secret treaty signed by Bismarck and the Russian Foreign Minister Nikolay Girs was split in two parts:
- Germany and Russia both agreed to observe benevolent neutrality should the other be involved in a war with a third country. Should Germany attack France or Russia attack Austria-Hungary, this provision would not apply. In those cases, the distinguished bilateral alliances could come into effect. The reinsurance treaty only applied when France or Austria-Hungary were aggressors.
- In the most secret completion protocol Germany declared herself neutral in the event of a Russian intervention in the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles.
As part of Bismarck's system of "periphery diversion" the treaty was highly dependent on his personal reputation. After the dismissal of Bismarck, his successor Leo von Caprivi felt unable to obtain success in keeping this policy, while the German Foreign Office under Friedrich von Holstein had already prepared a renunciation toward the Dual Alliance with Austria–Hungary.
When in 1890 Russia asked for a renewal of the treaty, Germany refused persistently. Kaiser Wilhelm II believed his own personal relationship with Tsar Alexander III would be sufficient to ensure further genial diplomatic ties and felt that maintaining a close bond with Russia would act to the detriment of his aims to attract Britain into the German sphere. Like the ongoing Austro-Russian conflict, the Anglo-Russian relations too were strained at this point due to the gaining influence of Russia in the Balkans and their aims to open up the Straits of the Dardanelles which would threaten British colonial interests in the Middle East. However, having become alarmed at its growing isolation, Saint Petersburg, as Bismarck had feared, entered into the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892 thus bringing to an end the French isolation. According to professor Bury, the dismissal of chancellor Bismarck, the erratic temper of emperor William II, and the uncertain policy of the men who succeeded Bismarck (partly out of consideration for England they failed to renew the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia but did renew the Triple Alliance), were joint causes of the inauguration of a period of fundamental change.
In 1896 the treaty was exposed by a German newspaper, the Hamburger Nachrichten, which caused an outcry in Germany and Austria-Hungary.
The failure of this treaty is seen as one of the factors contributing to World War I, due to Germany's increasing sense of diplomatic isolation.
- Bury, J.P.T. (1968). The New Cambridge Modern History vol. XII. The Shifting Balance of World Forces 1898-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 112.