|The Domenica del Corriere, depicts Gavrilo Princip |
killing Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo.
In 1913 the European powers were preparing for a possible war as the arms race accelerated. In March the German government introduced a new army bill designed to provide superiority over Russia in the following year. In confidence the party leaders in the Reichstag were told that the increases were justified by the expectation of the ‘coming world war’. The French urged on the Russians the necessity of completing the railways which would enable them to present Germany with a war on two fronts. The British government was proceeding with its naval programme. Russia was so fearful of the implications of the Berlin-Baghdad railway that she began a huge expansion of her forces and even contemplated seizing the Straits.
Yet none of the powers wanted a world war, and right up to 1914 international crises were negotiated on a case by case basis. Less than two months before the war broke out an agreement was signed between Britain and Germany over extending the Baghdad railway to Basra. It has been argued that the Junker elites wanted a war but this has more recently been contested.
Germany was prepared to fight a limited land war while it still had the military and economic advantage over Russia and was prepared to encourage Austria-Hungary to bring it about. On 8 December 1912 the Kaiser told Herman von Moltke, his chief of staff, his naval chief Alfred von Tirpitz, and two senior admiralty officials that if Russia was ready to defend Serbia against Austria, then Germany would consider war unavoidable. Moltke replied, ‘the sooner the better’. On the other hand, it has been argued that all the European states had expansionist ambitions and that the 8 December meeting did not come out with detailed war plans.
The answer to the question of who is to blame for the war? (if there is an answer) does not answer the question of why the war happened. The over-riding factor was Austrian fear of Serbia. Its policy was to show the Serbs that they could not rely on the Russians to defend them. This meant being prepared to go to war with Russia in order to make this point. Austria was willing to go this far because she could rely on German support and Germany was prepared to back Austria because of her new interest in Turkey and her calculation that if there had to be a war, it should come sooner rather than later.
The entry of France into the war was made inevitable by the plan drawn up in 1905 by the German chief of staff, Alfred von Schlieffen and arouse out of his concern that Germany could be ‘encircled’ by simultaneous attacks from France and Russia (as Frederick the Great had been). This required that if war broke out with Russia, France should be eliminated by a pre-emptive knock-out blow. Since this attack was to come through Belgium, it risked bringing Britain into the war, since Belgian independence was guaranteed by treaty.
|The Schlieffen Plan|