Background: During the 19th century the great powers of Europe colonized, and informally dominated, large portions areas of Asia, Africa, and (to a lesser extent) Central and South America. Often, as expressed in phrases like "The Scramble for Africa", colonization was a competitive process, with different nations pursuing their own interests in the same region of the world.

During the 18th century and earlier, this competition sometimes involved war between European nations, both at home and abroad. But so far as I'm aware, this tendency to open warfare declined after the Napoleonic Wars, with the exception of the Crimean War, which I understand was caused in part by fears of Russian colonial expansion. Even then, the western European nations that were involved all fought on the same side.

But the competition for the wealth of the third world must have continued, even if some, like Bismarck, thought that the expenses far outweighed the gains.

The Question: During the 19th century, how did the European nations arbitrate the process of colonization among themselves? How did they censure nations that violated agreements, or skirted the line? What was their course of action if one colonial power pursued a course that threatened to destabilize a region? Or, as with the Belgian Congo, exact an unacceptable human toll?

An Extra Note: I'm mostly interested in the core of Western Europe (France, Germany, Britain, the Dutch, etc.), but the question definitely isn't confined to that. Thanks for your time.

1 Answer 1


It was kind of a hit or miss affair, but there were a number of confrontations that were peacefully resolved.

One was the Fashoda Incident, in which French from Chad and British from Egypt both claimed Sudan (the headwaters of the Nile). The French on the spot yielded to superior British forces, but the matter wasn't resolved until the French government agreed to back down.

Then there was the Algeciras Conference, that avoided war between Germany and France over Morocco. Germany tried to prevent France's creeping takeover of the country by appealing to America's President Theodore Roosevelt (a recent Nobel Peace Prize winner) to broker a compromise. The final result was that France established a sphere of influence in Morocco that fell a bit short of its earlier goods, so Germany got only part of what she hoped for.

It wasn't always a peaceful affair. The Boer War in South Africa took place between Dutch settlers and the British colonists. Fortunately, it didn't become a wider war because countries like France, the Netherlands and Germany didn't intervene to protect the Boers, even though they were drawn ethnically from these countries.

Still, the Concert of Europe established after the Napoleonic wars inspired the Europeans to dodge a number of bullets until they couldn't dodge the ones the really counted, the shots at Sarajevo that started World War I.

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    Also, the Great Game is another example of a semi-peaceful competition. There are other wars over colonies involving non-European colonial powers, such as Spanish-American war and, a bit outside of the 19th century, the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05. Aug 9, 2017 at 22:03

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