WWI: Germany’s blank cheque

Kaiser Wilhelm II 1905Count Alexander von Hoyos, the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, visited Berlin as a special emissary on 5th July 2014. He brought with him a handwritten letter from Emperor Franz Joseph, dated 2nd July, which was delivered to Kaiser Wilhelm II by the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador, Count de Szögyény-Marich. Also delivered was a memo from István Tisza, prime minister of Austria-Hungary, the only member of the Austro-Hungarian government to oppose the war with Serbia at that time.

The Emperor wrote:

I sincerely regret that You should have been obliged to give up Your intention of going to Vienna for the funeral ceremonies. I should have liked personally to express to You my sincerest thanks for Your sympathy in my keen sorrow — a sympathy which has greatly touched me.

By Your warm and sympathetic condolence You have given me renewed proof that I have in You a sincere friend worthy of confidence and that I may count upon You in every hour of grave trial.

I should have liked very much to discuss with You the general situation, but as that has not been possible, I take the liberty of sending to You the subjoined mémoire prepared by my Minister of Foreign Affairs, which was drawn up before the terrible catastrophe of Sarajevo, and which now, following that tragic event, appears particularly worthy of attention.

The attack directed against my poor nephew is the direct consequence of the agitation carried on by the Russian and Serbian Pan-Slavists whose sole aim is the weakening of the Triple Alliance and the destruction of my Empire.

By the foregoing declaration, it is no longer an affair at Sarajevo of the single bloody deed of an individual but of a well-organized conspiracy, of which the threads reach to Belgrade and if, as is probable, it be impossible to prove the complicity of the Serbian Government, nevertheless it cannot be doubted that the policies leading to the reunion of all the Southern Slavs under the Serbian flag is favorable to crimes of this character and that the continuance of this state of things constitutes a constant danger to my house and to my realm.

This danger is rendered more grave from the fact that Roumania, despite the alliance with us, has entered into friendly relations with Serbia and, on her own territory, permits against us an agitation just as venomous as that allowed by Serbia.

It is painful to me to suspect the fidelity and the good intentions of so old a friend as Charles of Roumania, but he himself has twice declared during these last months to my Minister that by reason of the aroused and hostile sentiments of his people toward us he would not be in a position in case of need to carry out his obligations of alliance.

Furthermore, the Roumanian Government encourages openly the activities of the Kulturliga, favors a rapprochement with Serbia and carries on, with Russian aid, the creation of a new Balkan alliance which can only be directed against my Empire.

Once before, at the beginning of the reign of Charles, such political fancies as these propagated by the Kulturliga disturbed the good political sense of Roumanian men of state and the danger arose of seeing Your realm launched on a policy of adventure. But at that time Your venerated grandfather in an energetic and far-sighted fashion intervened and pointed out to Roumania the road which assured to her a privileged place in Europe, and she became the strong support of the existing order.

Now the same danger threatens this kingdom; I fear that counsel alone is insufficient and that Roumania cannot be retained in the Triple Alliance unless, on the one hand, we make impossible the creation of the Balkan League under the patronage of Russia, by the entrance of Bulgaria into the Triple Alliance, and unless on the other hand, we make it clearly understood at Bucharest that the friends of Serbia cannot be our friends, and that Roumania cannot consider us as allies unless she detaches herself from Serbia and represses with all her force the agitation directed in Roumania against the existence of my Empire.

The efforts of my government should in consequence be directed toward isolation and the diminishment of Serbia. The first step in that direction will be to strengthen the present situation of the Bulgarian Government in order that the Bulgars, whose real interests coincide with ours, shall be preserved from a return to friendship with Russia.

If they realize at Bucharest that the Triple Alliance has decided not to abandon the alliance with Bulgaria, but that it is disposed to invite Bulgaria to an understanding with Roumania and to guarantee its territorial integrity, we may perhaps succeed in bringing her back from the dangerous step to which she has been led by her friendship with Serbia and her understanding with Russia.

If this should succeed, a reconciliation of Greece with Bulgaria and Turkey could be attempted. There would then arise, under the patronage of the Triple Alliance, a new Balkan alliance, the aim of which would be to put an end to the invasion of the Pan Slavist tide and to assure peace to our states.

But this will not be possible unless Serbia which is at present the pivot of Pan-Slavist policy is eliminated as a political factor in the Balkans.

And You, also after this last terrible happening in Bosnia, will see and know that one cannot think of smoothing out the differences that separate us from Serbia, and that the maintenance of peaceful policy by all the European Monarchies will be threatened as long as this focus of criminal agitation in Belgrade remains unpunished.

Attached to the letter was a memo composed by Count von Berchtold on 16th June 2014, which notes that the Bulgarian government can no longer be considered a Russian ally, but is a potential future ally of the Triple Alliance: Serbia is said to be completely under Russian influence and has been expanding in population and power, with a likely future union with Montenegro: Turkey has been almost entirely pushed out of Europe: and Romania is no longer perceived as a safe ally of the Triple Alliance, the only guarantee of neutrality the personal will of the King. The “secret thought of Russian policy” is “freeing the Christian Balkan people from Turkish rule, in order to use them as a weapon against central Europe”.

Count von Berchtold wrote on 16th June 2014:

In these latter days has been developed the idea, put forward by Russia and taken up by France, of uniting the Balkan States into a Balkan alliance, in order by this means to put an end to the military superiority of the Triple Alliance. The first condition before the realization of this plan was that Turkey should be pushed back from the territory inhabited by the Christian nations of the Balkans, in order to increase the strength of these States and to render them free to expand to the west. This preliminary condition has been, on the whole, realized by the last war. On the other hand, after the end of the crisis, a division separated the Balkan States into two opposing groups of nearly equal strength: Turkey and Bulgaria on the one hand, and the two Serbian States, Greece and Roumania, on the other.

To put an end to this division in order to be able to use all the Balkan States or at least a decisive majority, to upset the balance of European power, was the latest task to which, after the end of the crisis, Russia and France applied themselves….

There is no doubt of the basis upon which, according to the intentions of French arid Russian diplomacy, these differences and rivalries might be reconciled and a new Balkan alliance created. What could be the actual aim of such an alliance in the present circumstances for the Balkan States? There is no longer reason to consider a common action against Turkey. It can, therefore, only be directed against Austria-Hungary and can only be accomplished on the basis of a program that should promise to all it members extensions of territory by a graduated displacement of their frontiers from the east to the west, at the expense of the territorial integrity of the Monarchy. A union of Balkan States upon any other basis would be impossible to imagine, but on this basis not only is it not impossible, but is in a fair way to be realized. One cannot question that Serbia under Russian pressure would consent to pay a considerable price in Macedonia for the entry of Bulgaria into an alliance directed against the Monarchy and looking forward to the acquisition of Bosnia and the adjacent territory…..

The relations of Austria-Hungary with Roumania may be at this moment characterized by the fact that the Monarchy relies entirely upon its alliance and, before as since, is ready to uphold Roumania with all its force if the casus foedoris shall arise, but that Roumania detaches itself one-sidedly from its obligations of alliance and shows to the Monarchy only the prospect of neutrality. Even the neutrality of Roumania is only guaranteed to the Monarchy by the personal affirmation of King Charles [a guaranty] which naturally is of value only for the duration of his reign and the accomplishment of which depends upon the King’s keeping always the guiding hand on the direction of the foreign policy….

Under these conditions it is impossible to consider the alliance with Roumania as of sufficient certainty and extent to serve Austria-Hungary as a pivot in her Balkan policy….

To destroy, with the assistance of the Balkans, the military superiority of the two Imperial powers is the objective of Russia.

But while France seeks the weakening of the Monarchy, because that is favorable to her ideas of révanche, the designs of the empire of the Tsar have a much greater extent….

For Russia has recognized that the relation of her plans in Europe and in Asia, plans which correspond with internal necessities gravely affect the important interests of Germany, and must inevitably arouse her to resistance.

The policy of Russia is determined by an unchanging situation, and is consequently constant and foresighted. Russia’s policy of encirclement directed against the Monarchy, which does not pursue a world policy, has for its final aim to make it impossible for the German Empire to resist the aims of Russia or her political and economic supremacy.

For these reasons those in charge of the foreign policy of Austria-Hungary are convinced that it is in the common interest of the Monarchy, as in that of Germany, to oppose energetically and in time in this phase of the Balkan crisis, the development foreseen and encouraged by Russia by a pre-concerted plan.

Von Berthold added, after 28th June:

Austria-Hungary has not been lacking in good will and in the spirit of conciliation, to bring about reasonably good relations with Serbia, but it has just been shown that these efforts have been completely impotent and that the Monarchy must expect in the future to deal with the bitter, irreconcilable and aggressive enmity of Serbia.

In these conditions the Monarchy must tear away with a strong hand the net in which its enemy seeks to entangle it.

Kaiser Wilhelm II indicated to the Austro-Hungarian ambassador and their Foreign Minister that he would support the Austro-Hungarian Empire against Serbia even if this led to war with Russia.

The Entente Cordiale - France leads Britain away from GermanyAt a conference the same day in Potsdam Palace, a group of senior military officers and civil servants endorsed this policy as sound, believing Germany was more ready for war than Russia or France and that Britain was likely to remain neutral. (Yes, Arthur Zimmerman – the Under-secretary of state for war – was at the meeting.) The Triple Entente linking Russia and Britain via France had been a matter of concern in Germany since the Entente Cordiale between France and Britain was established in April 1904.

3 Comments

Filed under World War I

3 responses to “WWI: Germany’s blank cheque

  1. I want to thank you for sharing such fascinating day-by-day details of the lead-up to war. It is an eye-opener to read the communications of those involved.

    • Sorry not to see this comment before! Thank you very much – it’s been very interesting to research and write.

      • Don’t worry! It’s so difficult to keep track of everything. It’s been so good to reblog two or three of these on my newish history site. I’d reblog yours every day but I don’t want to overwhelm the site with WWI though I’m always in danger of that, and WWII, as I’m slightly obsessed with both world wars!

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