As Stephen Van Evera observes, impending power transitions can be conceptualized as windows of opportunity for existing great powers, but they do not always necessarily climb through these windows in order to wage preventive wars against rising states and forestall their rise. Thus, as T.V. Paul suggests in Chapter 1, though most IR theorists focus on the prospects of rising powers leading to confrontation, conflict and containment are not inevitable; great powers might accommodate rising powers peacefully. The purpose of this volume is to explore the conditions under which great powers accommodate rising states and invite them into the great power club, and how such accommodations are made. In order to evaluate the phenomenon of accommodation comprehensively, however, it is useful to examine negative cases as well as positive ones, in order to determine the limits of accommodation and the factors that prevent it. To this end, this chapter examines British responses to rising Germany prior to each of the world wars. These are particularly interesting cases, as British leaders began by accommodating rising Germany, but then switched to a policy of containment. By focusing on the events that inspired the British to change their policies, we hope to shed light on the factors that changed to inspire containment.
Departing slightly from Chapter 1, however, we conceptualize accommodation as an alternative to containment, rather than a full acceptance of the rising challenger and a reduction of tensions between the two states. If states attempt to contain a rising challenger and prevent its inclusion in the great power club, either through diplomatic means, economic sanctions, or even preventive war, that can hardly be understood as accommodation. We would argue, however, that accommodation is not inconsistent with balancing, as existing great powers might accept the rising challenger as part of the club while still aiming to limit its growth and its potential to pursue outright hegemony.
Our purpose here is to examine what explains the shift from accommodation to containment in these cases. To this end, we begin with a very brief overview of the leading hypotheses on why states might decline to accommodate rising states. We then investigate British responses to rising Germany from 1900 to 1914 and from 1933 to 1939 to see which, if any, of these hypotheses best explains British behavior.