Page images

reached such a pitch that the boundaries and territorial designations of peoples will cease to have any meaning. If then mankind shall not have grouped itself into other divisions than the national, war must terminate, because the varying inequalities which have been shown to be the cause of war will be at an end.

Yet unless human nature shall have been radically modified in the course of evolution, unless it shall have attained a moral strength and stature unknown at present, it appears certain that the attainment of this much desired universal peace will be as the signal for the beginning of universal decay. The existing law that that section of the human race which is most morally sound, and therefore most vigorous, shall have dominion over weaker portions of mankind will cease to operate, because, by the hypothesis, all racial diversities will have disappeared.

Failing, therefore, fresh sources of moral energy, uniformity seemingly must involve stagnancy, and stagnancy is too soon followed by corruption.

But for us, the striving dwellers in a vigorous and moving present, such speculations can have after all but an academic interest. Not for us is it to pause in our national race, or to fall, like laggards or cowards, aside from the battle.

In a former article in this Review, it was permitted me to argue that the maintenance and the increase of the naval and military forces of the British people were not only vital necessities but binding moral duties of the highest kind, because to us had been given by our history a work and a mission perhaps the loftiest ever assigned to a people.


2 : The Ethics of Empire,' April 1897.




The navy is our first line of defence, and behind it, according to the popular formula, are the army and reserves, the fixed land fortifications, and submarine mine fields. All this is admitted, and for ten years past we have been strengthening and reorganising the naval and military forces. The work was needed, urgently needed, in the interests of the mother country and her wide-scattered colonies and dependencies. The navy has been doubled in strength, and its efficiency greatly increased; something has been done to improve the land forces, and the Empire's distant fortresses of the seas-her coaling stations and naval bases—have been rendered better able to fulfil their functions. There the work of setting the Imperial defences in order has stopped.

The war authorities have overlooked the cable as a weapon of defence. In these days of rapid movements that precede the actual declaration of war, the cable has an important part to perform. The submarine cables are the nerves of the Empire, annihilating distance and binding the mother country and her children together in face of foes as nothing else can. We need go no further back than the recent hostilities between Spain and America to find illustrations of the cable's use as an instrument of war. With efficient cable communication those who may be called upon to direct the defence of the Empire against the attacks of open enemies or covert foes wearing the velvet glove until the strategical moment comes for striking swiftly and stronglywill be able to deal with any developments. With the cable the naval and military headquarters in London will be able to fight with the navy in the Channel or the Mediterranean, or both, while at the same time placing India, Canada, Australia, or South Africa, as the case may be, in a condition of defence. If the cables remain the real nerves of the Empire passing from armed station to armed station, a complete circle, there is no cause to fear that any outpost will be surprised and humiliated beyond hope of immediate redress. We have been on the threshold of war more than once lately, but since the telegraph and submarine cable were invented we have not known what aid they might be in waging actual hostilities against one of the Great Powers.

If war should come, are the cables that link all the colonies and dependencies to the mother country secure from attack? It will be admitted that since the cable is such an important defensive auxiliary, it is desirable that it shall pass over no foreign territory where it could be cut, nor under any narrow seas from which it could be readily raised by an enemy's telegraph ship. Do the present cable lines fulfil these primary conditions ?

Canada is now inseparably and directly linked by trans-Atlantic cable with the mother country.

South Africa has two means of communication. From Cornwall cables run out to Lisbon (Portugal), where they radiate east and west. Some lines run along the bed of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea to Aden. At Aden they bifurcate, some messages going to Bombay, Madras, Hongkong, Australia, and New Zealand, while others run in a southerly direction to Zanzibar, Mozambique (Portugal), and Delagoa Bay(Portugal), and thence on to Durban and Cape Colony. The eastern cable dips from Lisbon (Portugal) and is landed, among other points, at Madeira (Portugal) and St. Vincent (Portugal), St. Louis (French coaling station), Bissao (Portugal), Konakry and Porto Novo (France), Prince's Island (Portugal), St. Thomé (Portugal), St. Paul de Loando (Portugal), Benguela (Portugal), Mossamedes (Portugal), and thence in one long stretch reaches Cape Colony.

Such facts as these call for little comment. The weakness of such means of communication is glaring. The west coast line, even if the neutrality of the Portuguese could be assured during hostilities, passes through St. Louis, thus enabling the French to interrupt communication at any moment or to tamper with messages. Apart from these dangers, the lines hug the coast line and are in shallow waters, so that they could be grappled and cut.

But, it may be said, there is the eastern route by way of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. There is, but we have no means of defending these many thousand knots of cable lying in shallow waters. The present Commander-in-Chief of the British army has characterised dependence on these cables as 'unwise and suicidal.' It needs no gift of prophecy to state that in case of hostilities with either Russia or France the cutting of these lines would be among the first acts of warfare, and would probably precede, and not follow, the formal declaration of war and the breaking off of diplomatic relations. A cable can be grappled and cut at any depth up to 2,700 fatboms. How does this bear on the Mediterranean? It is separated into two basins by ridges that run out from Gibraltar and from Sicily, where there is only a depth of 200 fathoms, while the mean depth of the whole sea is only 768 fathoms. From these figures

[ocr errors]

it will be understood that an enemy would have no difficulty in cutting these cables and thus breaking off all communication to the eastward and one of the cable lines to South Africa. This policy was outlined as recently as 1898 by the semi-official Russian journal, the Novoe Vremja. . In case of an armed conflict between this country and England,' it stated, 'our task would be to block England's communications with India and Australia.' It is not generally recognised how easy a matter it is to tamper with cables. The manner in which the United States was able to fish them up and hold and use them for their own purposes was something of a revelation of modern strategy. It is a strategy which would be practised by France. In the French Navy there are a number of telegraph ships. Complementary to the 'fleet of “ Alabamas to harass British commerce, on which one school of naval authorities have set their hearts, these telegraph ships would be busily engaged in severing the cables, and thus isolating the mother country from her children. In case of hostilities with the Dual Alliance, such work could be left to France, and could be effected at a minimum of risk with either Algiers, Tunis, or Biserta as a base. With a length of 2,200 miles of sea to patrol and guard, it stands to reason that no British naval force in the Mediterranean, however powerful, could prevent this enterprise, while, on the other hand, it is impossible to overestimate the disasters which might result from the sudden cable isolation of India and Australia. One point is significant, that the news would soon be known in Russia, whose cables run from St. Petersburg across Siberia and into China and India, via Port Arthur. While the authorities at Downing Street were labouring under the disadvantage of being unable to send a word of warning to Alexandria, Aden, India, Australasia, or to either of the British admirals in Eastern waters, the Dual Alliance would have an uninterrupted cable to the Far East, with what results it were more pleasant not to attempt to speculate. At one blow the scheme of imperial defence would be disorganised.

It is not impossible that an enemy would risk a great deal to cut not only the eastward lines, but the westward lines at one and the same time. Since the latter hug the African continent, and are actually landed on French soil, the cutting of this line to the Cape would offer no difficulties. It might be cut, and who sha!) say that it would not be tapped, thus materially strengthening the hands of the Intelligence Departments of the allies ? Thus we should have communication to Egypt, the Suez Canal, India, Hongkong, Wei-Hai-Wei, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa blocked, and British Africa would be completely isolated. When it is borne in mind that the use of the navy as an effective and mobile weapon depends very largely on the perfection of the cable communications between the various units of the Empire, the serious results which might follow upon such a catastrophe (so easily planned and executed by the enemy) will be readily grasped and the writer will be exonerated from any charge of alarmism.

This is the most serious cable danger, but unfortunately it is not alone. Now that the British and Egyptian flags once more wave over Khartoum, Mr. Rhodes's dream of a trans-African telegraph will soon be an accomplished fact; this year will see its completion. From the Cape to Cairo messages will then be sent, but from Cairo to England they will pass over those same treacherous cables under the shallow waters of the Mediterranean. Africa will be circled and intersected by the cables, but there will not be a single line free from the danger of interruption-and, it may be, telling its secrets to an enemy. We may be sure Mr. Rhodes has seen this peril, but we may be equally sure he has seen how the danger may be averted and that he has faith in his race. It has dotted the world's seas with colonies and coaling stations; will it not also link these Empire outposts together with cables independent of foreign hospitality and free from the danger of foreign interference ?

It will probably be said : ‘But this is not the only danger; there are the West India Islands.' Just at present Englishmen are apt to be impatient with the West Indies because they are not prosperous, and Englishmen will not sit under misfortunes. But they are a part of the Empire—another part that has no means of cable communication with Great Britain except by the grace of a foreign country -in this case America. We have quarrelled with our cousins in the United States in the past, and we may do so in the future. Who can tell what that future has in store now that the United States has entered on a policy of expansion over the seas? But may heaven forfend! Apart from this aspect of the matter, is it politic or dignified that between the motherland and her distant children there should be no direct electric link? Matters are not as bad as they were, for the cable from England to Halifax bas lately sent out a branch via Bermuda to Jamaica. But for the other Islands messages still go by way of Key West, Cuba, and Porto Rica, or else straggle along the shores of Brazil, across Argentina, and thus reach their destination ria Peru, Ecuador, and Panama. Having ended the isolation of Jamaica, it would not be a difficult or expensive task to join up the other islands with the Bermuda-Halifax line. Compared with the dangers in the Mediterranean and the West Coast of Africa, this is a slight matter, because the remedy is not far to seek.

What can be done to end once and for all the existing cable peril, and thus ensure efficient means of communication between all parts of the British Empire-India, Ceylon, Hongkong, Wei-Hai-Wei, our kith and kin in the treaty ports of China, in Australia and South Africa? Sir Sandford Fleming comes forward with a solution of the problem which he urges more on commercial than on defensive grounds. It is a thoroughly practical scheme judged from the latter

« PreviousContinue »