"France and the Origins of the First World War" by John F. V. Keiger. Macmillan Press 1983. ISBN 0 333 28551 4
(As usual, my comments in brackets and noted as EAR)
Introduction: In 1920s German revisionists blamed France and Poincaré in particular. Much mud thrown and some stuck. New material available, mainly from private papers especially Poincaré's private diary.
Ch. 1. Post 1870, Bismarck sought to keep France isolated and urged her towards colonial expansion. Threatened war otherwise, in 1875 over the revival of the French army, and 1887 over the Boulanger affair. Long periods when détente, even talk of customs union Germany/France. German failure to renew the Reinsurance Treaty left Russia equally friendless and so alliance with France and Franco-Russian Military Convention (strictly defensive) came about in 1892 tho not ratified by Russia till 12/93 and by France till 1/94. Existence of alliance public in 1897 but not details. 1890s - Alsace Lorraine drifting away from French allegiance (disliked anti-clericalism) and France losing interest too. Fashoda made it clear France could not count on German or Russian support and feared Germany and Britain were talking so Entente Cordiale came about in 1904. At first colonial matters only. Germany believed Britain and Russia were irreconcilable and were surprised when Anglo-Russian settlement of colonial disputes was achieved in 1907 and the Triple Entente was born.
Ch 2. Weakness of French parliamentary system meant French foreign office, the Quai d'Orsay, very independent. Staff there mainly from Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques (then rue St Guillaume. In Rue du Bac when I went there in 1950), mostly post 1870, nationalist, expansionist and Germanophobe. Weak ministers failed to control either Quai or the ambassadors. Latter pursued own policies against opposition from the Quai. Jules Cambon in Berlin, taking as example his brother Paul in London and the Entente Cordiale, wrote direct to the minister to circumvent Quai officials. Same officials caused Agadir crisis in 1911. Settled only be secret diplomacy of Caillaux then Prime Minister.
Ch. 3. Background of Raymond Poincaré. Born Lorraine 1860. Brilliant legal and political career. Prime Minister 1/12 and succeeded in substantially reforming the Quai.
Ch. 4. Poincaré agreed with and quoted approvingly Grey when he said "We wanted the Entente and Germany's Triple Alliance to live side by side in amity. That was the best that was practicable. If we intrigued to break up the Triple Alliance, our contention that the Entente was defensive and was not directed against Germany would cease to be true. Disturbance and possible war, it was clear, would be the consequence." He therefore blocked attempts by ambassadors to wean either Italy or Austria away from the Triple Alliance or to wards rapprochement of France with Germany. French-German animosity fed on itself. Pan German articles translated and re-published in France. Thus Germans believed France thirsting for revanche and French feared German aggression. Much dispute re rise of nationalism in France. Best judgement is limited and defensive but still enough to make détente impossible. French conviction that Germany was trying to split the Entente. Financial and economic rivalry grew. Trade war too. Arms race resulted in return to 3 years service in France. Jules Cambon kept trying but official and public opposition too strong. Crozier (ambassador to Vienna) ditto though looked promising for a time. Poincaré thought isolating Germany highly dangerous and risked war.
Ch 5. 1906-11 France occupied by internal matters. French-Russian relation up and down, generally neglected. France did not support Russia over Bosnia in 1908 and Russia France over Agadir 1911. 1912 Poincaré began to revive alliance but ambassador in Russia useless and hard to shift. Interests conflicted over Balkans and Turkey. Had to warn Izvolsky 3/12 French agreement necessary if Russia wanted to attempt major initiatives. (Poincaré's diary makes it clear that Izvolsky misrepresented this warning). But Russia was prompting Italy to go further in its war with Turkey, resulted in Straits being closed for a while. General staffs had met in Paris in 7/12 to discuss new offensive strategy but technical only and dependent on casus foederis arising and governmental agreement. Poincaré to Russia 8/12 to make it clear to Russians that Russia did not have carte blanche to involve France. Alliance re-affirmed. But too late to stop Balkan treaty and 1st Balkan War. Poincaré wanted conference of ambassadors. Some threats from Germany but started in London in 12/12. Russia was effectively restrained and did not support Serbia over Scutari (on Adriatic). Poincaré had managed to maintain a balance between too much support for Russia and too little. New ambassador, Delcassé, 2/13. He and later Paléologue would go too far towards support.
Paul Cambon hoped to convert Entente with Britain into alliance but failed. Staff talks began 1905, lapsed 1906 to 1910 when Wilson DMO. French plans in flux so little done. Trouble with Britain post Agadir (France wanted Spanish Morocco to make good Congo loss to Germany. Britain wanted Spain to stay on south side of Straits of Gibraltar). Cambon persistently overestimated his understanding of Britain and degree of British commitment (no English, went home every week or so and not nearly as clever as he thought he was)..Failed to realize danger of Haldane Mission, mistake rectified by Bertie, British ambassador in Paris. Mission failed in the end but "more as a result of German greed than British reluctance". But would continue on colonial matters which Cambon again underestimated. He also exaggerated the importance of the agreement about the exchange of letters Mediterranean fleets which the British thought made no difference at all. Result was that French were startled by British hesitation in July 1914. Belgium not the Entente brought Britain into the war.
Ch. 6. Poincaré President in 1/13. Tried to respect constitution and convinced he had but still very active in foreigh policy. Contradictions in Franco-Russian Alliance over Balkans and Turkey led him to let Grey take the lead in the London Conference. Now conciliatory to Germany because of French interests in Turkey. Much taken up with question of return to 3 years service. French army very bad at intelligence collection, analysis and self assessment. Repeats story of how secret service funds spent on Bastille Day lunch for officers. French Army grossly over confident in spite of the Humbert revelations in 6/14 but not based on expectation of British help. Contact with Germany over Turkey survived Zabern and Liman von Sanders affairs. Refused to support Russia over latter. Russian prime minister reported to Tsar "All French statesmen want quiet and peace. They are willing to work with Germany and are much more peaceful than two years ago". France reached agreement with Germany on Baghdad Railway in 2/14 and in 4/14 Jules Cambon began talking to Jagow about a colonial deal but got no further before crisis. But new government of Doumergue meant Poincaré's influence faded somewhat and he feared Delcassé was encouraging Russia too much. Replacement by Paléologue in 2/14 did not make much difference. Severely distracted by Caillaux scandals and elections led to Viviani government on 16.6.14. Overall, Poincaré was more occupied with agreement with Germany over Turkey than with supporting Russia. He was firm over continental issues but conciliatory over extra-European.
Ch. 7. July crisis came out of blue. French much more taken up with Caillaux scandal up to 24.7. Absence on trip to Russia etc 15.7 to 29.7 meant President, Prime Minister and senior adviser (de Margerie) isolated. No concern at all about Sarajevo before departure. Diaries show Tsar hoped for a visit to France in 1915, that Poincaré thought, as usual, on 21.7 that direct talks Russia-Austria dangerous and that France and Britain should urge Austria to be moderate. Noted that he warned Austrian ambassador of risk of complications but did not threaten. (Were Germany and Austria too clever by half in so carefully timing the ultimatum as they did? EAR) He learnt by radio message on 24.7 of the nature of Austrian ultimatum and proposed only that an extension of 24 hours to the time limit should be requested and that the Entente should propose an international enquiry into Sarajevo. At sea between Norway and Denmark. On 27.7, Paris asked them to return. Back 29.7. Paléologue to be criticized for being too quick to support Russia and possibly too slow to inform re Russian decision in principle for partial mobilization ( cable of 25.7 sent 18.22, received 19.38. DDF Vol 11, No 50). (Following course of events well known EAR). "Exaggeration to say that mobilization meant war.........any army can be stopped before it crosses a frontier". (May be unjust of author to complain that Paléologue informed Paris only the next day of Russian full mobilization. The decision was published only at 6 pm 30.7. His cable was signed at 08.30 on 31.7. Telephone exchanges all blocked by military traffic and attempt to send by radio failed. Dispatched 10.43 via Stockholm, received Paris 20.30. DDF Vol 11 No 432). But Paleologue's conduct made no real difference to Russia.
Later attacks on Poincaré unjust. He described his policy as follows "...not to break up an alliance on which French policy has been based for a quarter of a century and the break up of which would leave us in isolation at the mercy of our rivals; and nevertheless to do what lay in our power to induce our ally to exercise moderation in matters in which we are much less concerned than herself (ie France)".