Formation of the Triple Entente

The Triple Entente encouraged Great Britain and Russia to set aside their differences and come together as allies with France to counter Germany and the Triple Alliance.

Summary of Event

The mutual desire of Great Britain and Russia to settle their imperialistic rivalry in southern Asia can be traced to developments in international affairs of interest to both parties during 1904 and 1905: the rapprochement between Great Britain and France, the latter an ally of Russia; the deterioration of Anglo-German relations, underscored by the first Moroccan crisis and the growth of the German navy; and Germany’s efforts to establish an alliance with Russia. Triple Entente
Diplomacy;Great Britain
[kw]Formation of the Triple Entente (Aug. 31, 1907)
[kw]Triple Entente, Formation of the (Aug. 31, 1907)
[kw]Entente, Formation of the Triple (Aug. 31, 1907)
Triple Entente
Diplomacy;Great Britain
[g]England;Aug. 31, 1907: Formation of the Triple Entente[01940]
[g]France;Aug. 31, 1907: Formation of the Triple Entente[01940]
[g]Germany;Aug. 31, 1907: Formation of the Triple Entente[01940]
[g]Russia;Aug. 31, 1907: Formation of the Triple Entente[01940]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;Aug. 31, 1907: Formation of the Triple Entente[01940]
Edward VII
Izvolsky, Aleksandr Petrovich
Grey, Sir Edward
Hardinge, Sir Charles
Nicolson, Arthur

Great Britain’s pursuit of an entente with Russia dated from April, 1904, when conversations took place between King Edward VII and Aleksandr Petrovich Izvolsky, then Russia’s envoy to Denmark. The British government had been an ally of Japan since 1902 and was concluding the Entente Cordiale Entente Cordiale (1904) with France. Although Russia had been at war with Japan since February, 1904, their agreement called for mutual aid only if one of the signatories was at war with two other powers. Consequently, Great Britain did not enter the conflict and was free to pursue its aim of rapprochement with Russia.

Among leading British officials who sought accord with Russia were Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary since 1905, and Sir Charles Hardinge, the permanent undersecretary at the Foreign Office who had been ambassador to Russia from 1904 to 1906. Both these statesmen earnestly desired to settle Great Britain’s outstanding differences with Russia in Persia and regarding India. They feared that continuing disagreement over these problems might cause Russia to accept the serious bids being made by Germany for a general alliance, especially since the signing of the Björkö Treaty Björkö Treaty (1905) in July, 1905, by William II, William II emperor of Germany, and Nicholas II, Nicholas II czar of Russia, on each other’s yachts had provided for mutual aid in case of attack by another European power. Germany had been prevented from extending the terms of the pact only by opposition from the Russian Foreign Office and the refusal of the French government to go along with such an agreement after the German emperor had precipitated the first Moroccan crisis.

Grey and Hardinge were also aware of the expansion of the German navy, and in 1907 their attempts to reach agreement with Russia were aided by Sir Arthur Nicolson, who had succeeded Hardinge as British ambassador to the Russian court at St. Petersburg. Nicolson worked tirelessly to draft an agreement acceptable to the Russian government, which had been represented since May, 1906, by Izvolsky as minister of foreign affairs.

Izvolsky had for some years been a leading proponent in Russia of rapprochement with Great Britain. He believed that an Anglo-Russian entente would accomplish at least four things for Russia, some of which complemented the thinking in London. First, Russia could effect a genuine reconciliation with Japan, which in August, 1905, had renewed its alliance with Great Britain, thereby underscoring the Russian defeat in the Far East. Second, Izvolsky believed, an Anglo-Russian entente would strengthen the Russian alliance with France and complement the Entente Cordiale of 1904. Third, it was as much in Russia’s interest as in Great Britain’s to bring about settlement of major differences over Persia (now Iran), India, and other sensitive areas in Asia. Finally, elimination of these sources of friction with Great Britain would in turn eliminate the need for an alliance with Germany, which would in any case be incompatible with the Franco-Russian alliance. Altogether, once its eastern and southern flanks were protected, Russia could once again assert itself in the Near East, where, with the assistance of Great Britain and France, it could thwart Austrian ambitions in the Balkans, oppose those of Germany in Turkey, and eventually open the Dardanelles to Russian warships. Indeed, the question of these straits was uppermost in Izvolsky’s mind when he agreed to negotiate an entente with Great Britain.

Negotiations began in June, 1906, but dragged on until August, 1907, slowed by the air of mutual suspicion that prevailed between the two countries. Nicholas II, an autocratic czar, could not accept British Liberalism or the outcry raised by the British Liberal press against Russian pogroms and the suspension of the Duma. The talks moved forward slowly. Izvolsky pressed for the Dardanelles to be opened to Russian warships; from Grey he won the dubious and negative concession that in the future Great Britain would not oppose Russia on this issue.

Grey, Hardinge, and Nicolson managed in turn to win more realistic concessions from Izvolsky. First, he accepted London’s demand for the partition of Persia into British and Russian spheres of influence, despite Russia’s earlier insistence on retaining domination over the whole of Persia in order to obtain access to the Persian Gulf. Second, the British government insisted that Russia should simultaneously negotiate a reconciliation with Japan, and on July 30, 1907, Russia signed a treaty with Japan under which both powers agreed to respect the status quo and the rights of each other in the Far East. A month later, on August 31, Izvolsky and Nicolson signed the convention that established the Anglo-Russian entente.


The entente dealt exclusively with conflicting Anglo-Russian interests in the Middle East, specifically Afghanistan, Tibet, and Persia. By securing the Russian promise that each should respect the territorial integrity of Tibet (under Chinese sovereignty) and Afghanistan, Great Britain gained the assurance that these two viable buffer states would safeguard India from any future Russian advance. Even more important was the agreement of both parties to recognize the “independence” and “integrity” of Persia while proceeding to divide it into three spheres of influence. Russia received the northern zone, which was the largest but did not include the Persian Gulf, declared to be a neutral zone. The British received a desert wasteland in the south that contained roads leading to India. Nothing in the agreement bound the parties to mutual military obligations of the type that existed between France and Russia in the event of attack by an aggressor. Nevertheless, the Anglo-Russian agreement completed a network of treaties that bound together Great Britain, France, and Russia in what the press in these countries began to call the Triple Entente.

An entente in the sense of close cooperation and understanding on a wide range of issues it was certainly not. Great Britain’s commitments to France and Russia were limited, and the agreement was confined geographically to Asia. Although of somewhat questionable value to Great Britain, the agreement did eliminate some of the causes of friction between the two countries. What happened between 1908 and 1914, against the background of recurring crises in Morocco and the Balkans, was gradual solidification of cooperation among Great Britain, France, and Russia in opposition to the Triple Alliance Triple Alliance of Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary. The members of the Triple Entente began to coordinate their military and naval preparedness in anticipation of a clash with the Central Powers, preparations that served them well when they entered World War I as allies in 1914. Triple Entente
Diplomacy;Great Britain

Further Reading

  • Gilbert, Felix, and David Clay Large. The End of the European Era: 1890 to the Present. 5th ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002. A both broad and detailed account of the destruction of European centrality and its impact on the twentieth century.
  • Joll, James. The Origins of the First World War. 2d ed. New York: Longman, 2000. A general examination of the causes of World War I, emphasizing the international system, strategic planning and the arms race, domestic politics, international economics, and imperial rivalries.
  • Kennedy, Paul M. “The Coming of a Bipolar World and the Crisis of the ’Middle Powers’: Part One, 1885-1918.” In The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. New York: Random House, 1987. Places the Triple Entente in its historical context. Focuses on the impact on the Great Powers of the interaction between economics and strategy.
  • Lee, Dwight E. Europe’s Crucial Years: The Diplomatic Background of World War I, 1902-1914. Hanover, N.H.: Clark University Press, 1974. Suggests that each state acted in desperation to defend its own presumed interests.
  • Lieven, D. C. B. Russia and the Origins of the First World War. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983. Argues that the failure of Russian deterrence policy was the result of the czarist government’s structure and the pressure of internal political factions.
  • Massie, Robert K. “The Anglo-Russian Entente and the Bosnian Crisis.” In Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War. 1991. Reprint. New York: Vintage Books, 2003. Describes the shift in British diplomacy from splendid isolation to the Triple Entente. Emphasizes prominent personalities and the importance of growing German naval power.
  • Schmitt, Bernadotte E. Triple Alliance and Triple Entente. New York: Howard Fertig, 1971. A detailed description of the background, substance, and results of the Triple Entente. An informative basic summary.
  • Steiner, Zara S., and Keith Neilson. Britain and the Origins of the First World War. 2d ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. A thorough analysis and investigation of the influences of external and diplomatic factors as well as domestic politics in largely determining British foreign policy leading to war.

Entente Cordiale

Tangier Crisis

Outbreak of World War I