This quote from Lord Palmerston is definitely an accurate one in regards to his views on foreign policy. The quote perfectly sums up his views that the interests of Britain is the number one priority of its foreign policy, and that it will do anything to protect them. Factors of Palmerston’s foreign policy can also include the stemming of French and Russian foreign policy, upholding British Naval supremacy and supporting Liberal governments. However, the quote suggests that Palmerston was entirely pragmatic in his approach towards foreign policy, which although broadly correct was not entirely true.
The Eastern Question incident of 1831-41 summed up perfectly all of Palmerston’s foreign policy goals. It was imperative to Palmerston that the Britain’s trade with its empire was not disrupted by the likes of France, Russia or the Ottoman Empire. Britain had trade routes to India through Turkey and it was vital to that trade that they remained functional. Therefore when the issue of Mohammed Ali and Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt wanting more land from Sultan Mahmood II of Turkey came up in, Palmerston was quick and ready to do his utmost to protect the British trade route. Pasha’s forces had taken Syria by force and were threatening Constantinople. Sultan Mahmood has asked Russia under Tsar Nicholas I for help who dispatched armies and a naval fleet to support the sultan. Palmerston’s urgency to act was increased after the entry of Russia, as Palmerston was against Russian expansion, and this was definitely in his mind when dealing with the issue.
Initially Palmerston failed, as he could not convince Mahmood II to hand over Syria to Mohammed Ali. Palmerston’s fear of Russian expansion became a reality in 1833 with the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi. This was a big problem for Palmerston, and now Pasha and his forces were being supplied by French equipment, which helped them successfully defend Syria from the combined forces of the Russians and the Turks. After the death of Mahmood II in 1839, his 16 year-old son came to power, forcing Palmerston to draw up the London Agreement, 1840. This deemed that Mohammed Ali would be independent ruler of Egypt and that he would gain half of Syria. But Mohammed Ali rejected the deal and received military help from the French. With the prospect of French support for Mohammed Ali there was a clear prospect of a European war. Palmerston threatened the French with was and they subsequently backed down. Palmerston then sent a fleet to Alexandria; and UK and Austrian forces landed at Beirut.
This forced Mohammed Ali to accept terms lesser than those offered in the London Agreement, that forced him to return Syria to Turkey. Here Palmerston’s actions tie in perfectly with his quote. Palmerston protected British trade routes over to India that crossed through Turkey, so Britain’s interests were protected. This incident also strongly suggests that Britain had “no eternal allies” and “no perpetual enemies”. This is because Britain had sided with the Turks, an undemocratic nation that Britain would not usually associate itself with, just for the purpose of upholding British interests. Britain had also threatened France with war, a country that Britain would later side with in the Crimean War. British naval supremacy in the Mediterranean was also upheld with the UK’s fleets being ruthlessly effective. This incident shows Palmerston’s true pragmatic nature in dealing with foreign policy, Palmerston quite clearly did not take into consideration the principles of who his natural “allies” and “enemies” were, he merely thought about the best way to protect British interests and to stall Russian and French expansion. In this case Palmerston did all this successfully.
Palmerston also defended the trade interests of Britain and upheld its naval supremacy in the 1st Opium War with China, 1839-42. After disputes between the Chinese and the British East India Company resulted in the Chinese seizing and destroying ï¿½1 million worth of opium, Palmerston was quick to uphold the reputation of Britain as a force that shouldn’t be reckoned with. The Chinese rejected Palmerston’s request for compensation on the opium and his wish for BEIC merchants to be left alone. This forced Palmerston to defend British honour and win back the compensation, and exploit the situation in order to force additional trading concessions from the Chinese.
In 1839 the Chinese Navy was completely outclassed by that of the British. After this came about the Treaty of Nanking, where the UK gained trading rights, UK merchants gained immunity from Chinese law, Britain was awarded ï¿½6 million compensation and Hong Kong was leased to the UK until 1997. This incident shows Palmerston acting incredibly pragmatic under the guise of upholding British honour. Palmerston knew that Britain could stand to gain hugely form the 1st Opium War and gain hugely they did with ï¿½6 million pounds compensation and extra trading concessions. Palmerston also used the 1st Opium War as an opportunity to flex Britain’s naval muscle and emphasise its naval dominance, something that it clearly did when destroying the Chinese navy. Although the 1st Opium appeared to have occurred under the principle of defending British honour, it is clear that Palmerston was just being ruthlessly pragmatic in his actions as he saw an opportunity, which he knew Britain could exploit, and that’s what he did. This relates to Palmerston’s quote in the title as he is clearly defending the “eternal” interests of Britain in these actions.
In can be argued that Palmerston did have some principles when it came to Foreign Policy and that he wasn’t entirely pragmatic in his approach. Palmerston did posses some principles when it came to the protection of UK citizens abroad and when it came to the support of liberal governments.
Good examples of Palmerston supporting liberal governments can be found in Palmerston’s support for the Belgian revolution and his support for the more liberal governments of Spain and Portugal under their new monarchs. Palmerston wished to see both Portugal and Spain adopt a constitutional monarchy, which they would if Miguel I and Don Carlos hadn’t wanted power. Palmerston provided support to the young Queens of both Portugal and Spain and in the end stopped both Miguel I and Don Carlos taking the throne. This approach to Portugal especially, slightly contradicts Palmerston’s quote in the title of the essay. This is because Portugal has been near “eternal” allies to Britain, which must have been a factor to take into consideration when Palmerston pondered what to do about Portugal. Therefore it can be argued that Palmerston did feel he had some “allies” and that he did no always act entirely pragmatically.
On the other hand, when Palmerston supported the Belgian revolution it can be argued that Palmerston was doing so simply to keep the French out of Belgium and to stop French influence and expansion. Palmerston was successful in getting independence for Belgium but had to threaten France with war and Palmerston had the choice of who would be King of Belgium, and he subsequently chose a pro-British one. This incident goes hand-in-hand with Palmerston’s quote as his actions suggest that he was merely looking out for Britain’s interest in minimising French expansion, not supporting a liberal government.
Despite Palmerston’s clear-cut pragmatism, he did act of principle when it came to the Don Pacifico Affair and the incident at Kagoshima. Here Palmerston acted on the principle of protecting British nationals. The Don Pacifico involved a man who was technically British, but truly Portuguese. His home was vandalised in Athens and Palmerston decided to take action by blockading at Piraeus and seizing Greek ships. At Kagoshima a British national was accidentally killed in riot, Palmerston then took action by bombarding Kagoshima using Britain’s naval supremacy. These two examples show Palmerston abiding by his quote in the titles, and he is (despite their apparent insignificance) following British interests. However, these actions were clearly ones made on the principle of protecting British citizens abroad and his retaliatory decisions stand in contrast to his rational, pragmatic decisions.
In conclusion, Palmerston tended to abide by his own quote when it came to foreign policy decisions. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the decisions he made were pragmatic ones that gave the Britain the best deal. The decisions of Palmerston that were possibly principled ones (Don Pacifio, Kagoshima) tended to be more irrational that his pragmatic ones, although, overall Palmerston tended to stand by his quote in the title for the majority of his foreign policy decisions.