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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Essay on Reasons for Napoleon Bonaparte's Invasion of Russia

Most people live their life without even causing a ripple in the sea of life.  Once in a while, however, a person will come who will not only create ripples but a tsunami in the history of the world.  While he was still living he always spoke about his intention to leave a mark in history.  There is no doubt that he was able to accomplish his goal.  His name was Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon Bonaparte was a great leader and conqueror. (Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) He was recognized as one of the greatest military leaders in history after he conquered majority of Europe territory through annexation and conquest. (G John Ikenberry 84)  During the 1812, Napoleon had under his control almost the entire of continental Europe which had included from Italy to Baltic and from Portugal to Poland. 

Yet, Napoleon was unsatisfied with his achievements.  He thought that while he had made himself the master over the majority of Europe, his power was unsecure unless something was done about the English ships which at the time could still sail freely in Europe.  He thought that England needed to be under his control so as to make his power more secure.  His goal however was to finally defeat England which at the time was a formidable opponent.  He thought that it would be a good strategy to weaken the economic superiority of Britain by banning other countries from trading with it. 

Consequently, Napoleon began his campaign by starting with Russia which at the time was trading with England.  Napoleon sent one of the greatest armies ever to have been assembled in Russia in 1812.  This essay seeks to discuss the France’s invasion of Russia in 1812, the reasons why France decided to invade Russia, the various reasons why it was a failure and its effects and its consequences in the world order. 

II. The Peace of Tilsit
Five years before Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, Tsar Alexander of Russia who was already defeated by Napoleon’s army entered into a treaty with France which was known as the Peace of Tilsit or the Treaties of Tilsit.  Under the treaties, Russia and France entered into an alliance by which it was agreed that France shall aid Russia in its war against Turkey while Russia agreed to join the Continental System against England. 

The Continental System is Napoleon’s solution to weaken England.  At the time, Napoleon realized that a military solution against England was not feasible. Consequently, he decided to use an indirect way to beat England by means of trade bans and restrictions.  Napoleon thought of a system of blockade aimed at denying England trading access to different ports in Europe.  His plan was to reduce Britain’s might by denying them money they need to fund any war. 

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Theoretically, the Continental System would have been sufficient to weaken the mighty England.  However, the reality of the matter was that the Continental System was very difficult to enforce since it relied on the obedience of other countries to the wishes of Napoleon.  In the case of Russia, they thought that the trade restriction had an economic effect on them.  As a result, Tsar Alexander of Russia refused to obey the Treaties of Tilsit and still secretly traded with Britain. 

When Napoleon knew about this he decided to invade Russia so that he could force the Tsar of Russia not to trade with Britain.   Napoleon was insulted by Tsar Alexander’s act of insolence against him.  He thought that something had to be done otherwise other countries which were under his control may emulate the act and he would lose his control over Europe. (Perry et al  493)

As a result, Napoleon assembled around six hundred thousand armies to take over Russia.  Around three hundred thousand soldiers were French.  The rest were taken from the countries which Napoleon had conquered over his victories in Europe.  Napoleon thought that he was at an advantage considering that he can gather as much as six hundred thousand soldiers easily combined from the French armies and the other armies in Europe that he had conquered.  At the time, it was unthinkable for him to lose.

III. Other Theories for France’s Invasion of Russia
The second theory on why Napoleon decided to invade Russia was the desire of Napoleon to bring the Russian army under his control. During the 1807, Napoleon himself had become familiar with the military capabilities of Russia.  He was “impressed with a conviction of the vast elementary warlike means possessed by Russia, capable of being cherished into a formidable maturity even within a very few years from that epoch of discomfiture…” (Sir Robert Thomas Wilson 1)

Moreover, Napoleon had become impressed with the qualities of the Russian soldier.  “Napoleon had witnessed the unquailing valour of the Russian soldiery under circumstances unpropitious for its display, and had recognized qualities and properties which would render Russian armies, when duly organized, pre-eminent in some respects over all others.” (Sir Robert Thomas Wilson 1)

With these qualities and the fact that the Russian armies were receiving lower wages compared to the other armies in Europe, Napoleon may have thought that the Russian armies may play an important role in his conquest over the rest of Europe. 

The third theory which was connected to the second theory is his desire to expand his control over Asia.  R.G. Burton stated that Napoleon had always wanted to conquer Asia and that Napoleon may have wanted to conquer Russia as a prelude to his conquest over the East.  “My glory is already at an end; there is not enough of it in this little Europe.  I must go the East, all great glory comes from there.” (R.G. Burton 2) Burton theorized that the glory of the East may have attracted Napoleon so much so that he wanted to expand his territory to the East.

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