The Moroccan Crisis in the early 20th century saw Morocco's independence threatened by European powers, sparked by the kidnapping of an American retiree and his English stepson. France sought control, but Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II publicly backed Morocco's independence. Fears of war surged until the Algeciras Conference in 1906 upheld Morocco's sovereignty, averting conflict but revealing Europe's fragile alliances.
Held in the Spanish port city of Algeciras, the conference was attended by representatives from Europe's major powers. Aside from the primary players, France and Germany, representatives from Britain, Russia, Italy, Spain, and even the United States and several other nations participated. The sheer diversity of attendees underscored the international importance of the Moroccan question.
The main issue at hand was the political and economic control of Morocco. While France, with the backing of Britain, sought to establish a protectorate over the country, Germany wanted to ensure open trade and equal opportunities for all powers in Morocco. Behind this economic facade, however, was a deeper strategic play. Germany, under Kaiser Wilhelm II, sought to challenge the French-British alliance and test the strength of their understanding.
Over several weeks, intense negotiations took place. The atmosphere was fraught with tension, as every decision had implications not just for Morocco, but for the broader European balance of power. While France and Britain were keen to establish a joint policing arrangement in Morocco, Germany opposed this, fearing it would be a guise for military control.
Furthermore, the issue of banking control in Morocco was discussed. France and Germany, having significant banking interests, sparred over who would have the primary say in Moroccan financial affairs.
The conference concluded with the Act of Algeciras, a set of agreements that were a diplomatic victory for France but also ensured some checks on its power. The act acknowledged the special roles of France and Spain in maintaining order in Morocco but also confirmed its status as an independent sovereign state. It ensured free trade in Morocco for all nations and established an international bank, keeping French and German interests balanced. While France did get the lion's share of control, Germany's objections ensured that it was not unchecked.
While the Algeciras Conference did manage to avert an immediate crisis, it revealed the deep-seated rivalries and mistrust among Europe's great powers. The complex web of alliances and ententes that was becoming ever more intricate set the stage for future conflicts. Just a few years later, another Moroccan crisis would arise, further straining relations.