Tangier Crisis Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The German emperor’s visit to Tangier, where he gave a speech challenging French control of Morocco, set off an international crisis. The controversy was only partially resolved at the 1906 Algeciras Conference, and Germany initiated a second international crisis over Morocco in July, 1911.

Summary of Event

When German emperor William II decided to interrupt a restful Mediterranean cruise on his imperial yacht and head toward Tangier, his decision signified much more than a change in vacation plans. Germany’s chancellor, Bernhard von Bülow, had decided that the time was right to block French colonial and diplomatic ambitions, which Germany found disturbing. France’s nationalistic and longtime foreign minister, Théophile Delcassé, had recently crafted an agreement of friendly accommodations with Great Britain (the Entente Cordiale of 1904) Entente Cordiale (1904) and was preparing to detach Italy from the German sphere. The Franco-Russian Alliance was in its tenth year, and Russia was distracted by upheaval caused by the disastrous Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). In the meantime, Germany was already finalizing the Schlieffen Plan Schlieffen Plan of 1905, which called for a six-week campaign against France. The Germans considered the plan infallible, because if a short preventive war were to be fought against France, Russia would be helpless to intervene. Consequently, Bülow believed that Germany had everything to gain by having the emperor dock at Tangier on March 31, 1905, to deliver a speech declaring German support of Moroccan territorial integrity and an open door policy for German commercial interests in Morocco. Tangier crisis Algeciras Conference [kw]Tangier Crisis (Mar. 31, 1905) Tangier crisis Algeciras Conference [g]Africa;Mar. 31, 1905: Tangier Crisis[01280] [g]Morocco;Mar. 31, 1905: Tangier Crisis[01280] [g]Spain;Mar. 31, 1905: Tangier Crisis[01280] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Mar. 31, 1905: Tangier Crisis[01280] [c]Colonialism and occupation;Mar. 31, 1905: Tangier Crisis[01280] [c]Government and politics;Mar. 31, 1905: Tangier Crisis[01280] William II Delcassé, Théophile Bülow, Bernhard von {ayn}Az{imacr}z, {ayn}Abd al- Grey, Sir Edward Rouvier, Maurice

Emperor William II of Germany.

(Library of Congress)

Delcassé had been careful to get many of his diplomatic ducks in order before moving to bring Morocco into the French sphere. In June, 1904, he created a financial crisis in Morocco by lending large sums to SultanՙAbd al-ՙAzīz, a compulsive gambler and lavish spender, and then committing him to place a large munitions order from Cruezot, the major French munitions manufacturer. The sultan soon defaulted on the loan payments, which were backed by 60 percent of Moroccan customs revenues. By the imperial standards of the time, France had an overriding interest in restructuring Moroccan finances. In April, 1904, France had agreed to support British interests in Egypt in return for English support of French interests in Morocco, and in October a secret agreement was made with Spain over Morocco.

Delcassé remained calm during the brewing crisis. He firmly believed that Germany was being obstructionist to produce discord in the Anglo-French entente and to project its own image as a leading world power. Above all else, he believed that Germany was bluffing. Throughout 1904, the French minister to Morocco, Saint-René Taillandier, had sent him information pointing to the fact that Germany had no real political designs on Morocco. However, many of France’s more influential ambassadors, and most of Premier Maurice Rouvier’s other cabinet ministers, did not share in this certainty. Rouvier was suspicious of Delcassé’s judgment, since the foreign minister had not foreseen the disastrous defeats that Russia would suffer at the hands of both the Japanese army and naval forces and the resulting losses that would be suffered by French banks. Rouvier preferred to take the safer path and come to an accommodation with Germany.

Throughout April and May of 1904, the crisis in Morocco became a major issue in French, German, and (to a lesser extent) English newspapers. In an age of mass literacy, the nationalist “yellow presses” increased their circulation with sensationalist reporting. In late April, Germany called for an international conference to settle the Moroccan crisis, and the French refused to attend. Tensions reached a height as France canceled all military leaves (on June 18) and Germany threatened to conclude a defensive alliance with Morocco (on June 22). At the height of the crisis, Delcassé was called to explain his policy before the French legislature. He continued to advocate a strong stand, assuring the legislature that Germany was merely testing the diplomatic waters.

Fearful of a war for which they were ill prepared, cabinet members voted against Delcassé’s position and forced him to resign. Rouvier soon agreed to an international conference, which was to be held at Algeciras, Spain, at the start of the new year. The dismissal of Delcassé and the French acquiescence made it appear that Germany had won a major diplomatic victory and that France had accepted a bitter humiliation. French public opinion was enraged at the sacrifice of Delcassé to appease Germany, and French concessions seemed even more misguided when the threat of war did not disappear. Preceding the opening of the Algeciras Conference, Germany summoned its reserves, and France responded by moving a significant number of its troops to the German border.

The Algeciras Conference was attended by seven European powers and the United States. While Russian support of France was expected, Germany was surprised to see strong support of the French position by the new Liberal government in Britain and by Italy, Spain, and the United States. In the three months of negotiations that followed, support of Germany was given only by Austria-Hungary. France’s special rights in Morocco, including the right to reorganize the Moroccan financial system, were given international recognition. France and Spain were given the right to organize the Moroccan police, but their power was subject to supervision by a Swiss inspector general. Recognition of Morocco as a politically independent country and protection of general German economic rights in North Africa did little to detract from the evident reality that an internationally isolated Germany had been handed a serious policy defeat.


Instead of weakening the recent Anglo-French entente, the German policy gamble over Morocco served only to strengthen it. Staff talks about military cooperation between the English and the French began during the crisis and continued thereafter. The crisis also provided France with the opportunity to work out its differences with Great Britain and Russia, and it accelerated resolution between competing spheres of influence in Tibet, Afghanistan, and Persia (now Iran), leading to the formation of the Triple Entente in August, 1907. Supported only by Austria-Hungary, Germany appeared isolated. As a consequence, the German government realized that it could no longer trust international conferences to settle disputes in the country’s interests. The period of peace established by the 1815 Congress of Vienna, in which European national borders were reestablished, was dealt a serious blow by the Algeciras Conference of 1906. Another major conference would not occur until after World War I.

While the dismissal of Delcassé was a source of short-term humiliation for France, the leader’s departure served only to harden the country’s resolve to invest in Russia’s industrial-military recovery and to strengthen its own military. Germany’s response was to heighten its military response by affirming its commitment to the Schlieffen Plan and producing super-battleships to rival England’s dreadnoughts. The Germans’ use of a military solution is evident in their precipitation of a second Moroccan crisis in July, 1911, when the German gunboat Panther docked in Agadir, Morocco, on the pretext of protecting German business interests during a native uprising. Conflict was avoided only by France’s willingness to give Germany parts of the French Congo and to internationalize Tangier. After the Tangier crisis of 1905, Europe became increasingly divided into two heavily armed camps. International conferences lost their popularity as methods for settling disputes, and international anarchy reigned supreme. Tangier crisis Algeciras Conference

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hayne, M. B. The French Foreign Office and the Origins of the First World War, 1898-1914. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1993. A brilliant study of French foreign policy based on extensive archival research. Extensive footnotes, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lafore, Laurence. The Long Fuse: An Interpretation of the Origins of World War I. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 1997. A readable short analysis of the major issues and crises that led to the outbreak of World War I. Footnotes, index, and annotated bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lerman, Katharine A. The Chancellor as Courtier: Bernhard von Bülow and the Governance of Germany, 1900-1909. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. A study of German policy under Chancellor von Bülow, including unpublished archival sources. Chapter 4 is on the Tangier crisis of 1905-1906. Illustrations, index, and select bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mombauer, Annika. The Origins of the First World War: Controversies and Consensus. New York: Longman, 2002. An interpretive study of the policies and crises preceding and leading to World War I. Footnotes, index, and annotated bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Williamson, Samuel R. The Politics of Grand Strategy: Britain and France Prepare for War, 1904-1914. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969. The standard study of British and French diplomacy in the decade preceding the Great War. Footnotes, index, and bibliography.

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Categories: History