REVIEW of REVIEW

Lloyd George Was Mistaken

Contention That Freedom of Straits of Vital Economic Importance Not Accurate

J. ELLIS BARKER January 15 1923
REVIEW of REVIEW

Lloyd George Was Mistaken

Contention That Freedom of Straits of Vital Economic Importance Not Accurate

J. ELLIS BARKER January 15 1923

Lloyd George Was Mistaken

Contention That Freedom of Straits of Vital Economic Importance Not Accurate

J. ELLIS BARKER

THAT Lloyd George was undoubtedly under a misapprehension when he proclaimed that the freedom of the Straits that separate Europe from Asia and unite the Mediterranean and the Black Sea was vital to Great Britain and the Empire, as well as to the powers at large, is the emphatic claim of J. Ellis Barker, writing for the Nineteenth Century. Mr. Barker concedes that Mr. Lloyd George was probably honestly mistaken. After dealing with the expremier’s utterances oh the subject, in which he intimated Britain was prepared to go to war to emphasize-her claims, Mr. Barker says:—

The freedom of the Straits, economically considered, means the freedom of shipping and of commerce from interference and blockade. The commercial freedom of the Straits is no doubt in the interest of British trade and shipping, but it is certainly not of vital interest to them. Before the war, it is true, England occupied the first position in the Black 'Sea trade, but she occupied a similarly great position in many parts of the world owing to the preponderance cf the British merchant marine. The British Black Sea trade was, rightly considered, a minor part of Britain’s world trade. Its importance was very small if compared with the Empire trade.

While the freedom of the Straits is only of slight economic importance to Great Britain and the Empire, it is of supreme importance to the States around the Black Sea and to the Danubian States. The Northern portions of Russia are cold and largely barren. The bulk of Russia’s crops and of Russia’s live stock, and the bulk of Russia’s coal, iron, oil, and manufactured goods of every kind is produced in the centre and especially in the south of the country. The bulk of Russia’s foreign trade naturally flows to the ports of the Black Sea which are open to navigation all the year round, while her Baltic harbors are ice-locked during the winter. The central and southern territories of Russia are drained by a number of gigantic rivers, such as the Volga, the Dnieper, and the Don, which flow into the Black Sea and the Caspian. A river fleet of millions of tons carries on a vast trade between the Black Sea and the interior. The Russian railways in the centre and in the south were designed to carry the trade of the country towards the Black Sea. While only a very small percentage of England’s foreign trade goes by way of-the Straits, Russia depends on the freedom of the Straits for the bulk of her foreign commerce. It is, therefore, clear that Russia is vitally interested in the freedom of commerce and navigation through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. Bulgaria and the nominally independent Republics which have arisen around the Black Sea after the Russian revolution are also vitally interested in the freedom of the Straits. Their trade, as that of Russia, can be strangulated by the Power which controls the Narrows.

After stressing the importance of the Straits to the Black Sea states and indicating that Britain’s attitude practically forced Turkey and Russia into united opposition in what they conceived to be their mutual interests, Mr. Barker points out that many high British authorities among them the late Field Marshall Sir Henry Wilson, have “expressed the opinion that the Straits are of minor, but that the Suez Canal is of vital, importance to Great Britain and the Empire.” He continues:—

The problem of the Straits is obviously not vital to Great Britain, the Empire and the nation at large, but it is vital to the Black Sea States. All the Black Sea States, Rumania excepted, wish that the Straits should be closed to foreign warships while all without exception wish that they should be open to commerce and navigation. England’s insistence on the freedom of the Straits to both commerce and warships would bring about

dangerous complications not only with the united Russians, Turks and Bulgarians, but would have, in addition, very dangerous consequences in Palestine, Mesopotamia, India, and elsewhere.

If England wishes to make her influence felt in the Black Sea she should strive to dissolve the present Russo-Turkish union which is purely anti-British, and as Russia may in the end prove by far the greater danger, England will probably be wise to return to her traditional policy of supporting Turkey. Sentimental considerations should not count in foreign-political matters. Now Russia will undoubtedly regain her strength earlier or later and resume her advance towards India and Constantinople. If Turkey feels certain of adequate support she will quickly make herself independent of Russia—she is not enamoured of Bolshevism—and, in case of a dangerous struggle

the friendly Turks would no doubt open the Straits to British warships. If, on the other hand, Turkey should remain estranged and in fear of this country because its capital is controlled by British guns, Turko-Russian intimacy would become stronger and stronger, and at the critical moment Great Britain and the Empire might find themselves at war with a great Russo-Mohammedan combination which would undoubtedly be reinforced by the Central European Powers. In such an event the freedom of the Straits to British warships would be of comparatively little assistance. Moreover, that freedom might be destroyed overnight by a Russo-Turkish surprise attack. A long and tortuous channel with a strong current running from the Black Sea towards the Mediterranean can easily be blocked by floating mines. Indeed the Straits might prove a trap to the British fleet.