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By Ray Rimell

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7 The question of Belgian neutrality was discussed the following year and a warning given that the French should not violate it. This warning led to the French Plan XVII’s failure to undertake offensive action in the one area where it might have interfered with the German advance. On the other side of the balance sheet, it should be admitted that without the violation of Belgian neutrality it may not have been possible to persuade the British cabinet to opt for war at all. The naval talks began slightly later.

The fact that the strategic shift to operations in the eastern Mediterranean coincided with political mistrust of the only close working ministerial relationship meant that a solution had to be found to the problem of coordination of Allied policy. Moreover, the increasing size of the BEF meant that the military partnership was changing. The original six-division BEF may not have grown to equal the French armies, but its subordination to Joffre was now patently impossible and its political masters wanted a greater, and more formal, say in its deployment.

The French had no such organisation in their own political system. There are no minutes of the meetings of the Conseil des ministres. Indeed, note-taking at the meetings was strictly discouraged. Britain, on the other hand, enjoyed the organisational capabilities of Maurice Hankey. If there was to be any efficient Franco-British secretariat, it would have to be based on the British model. Although the two premiers did not meet in conference until after mid1915, the war ministers cooperated more practically at the level of grand strategy.

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