On June 28, 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, was
assassinated along with his wife while touring the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. The assassin was a student
radical associated with a Slav nationalist terrorist group known as the Black Hand, which was fighting for
independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire for the empire's Slavic minorities. From the beginning,
the Austrians suspected that Serbia, an independent and radically pan-Slavic nation bordering the
Austro-Hungarian Empire, was behind the killing (they were right as it happened — the Serbian chief of
staff had helped plan the crime).
Initial world opinion also believed Serbia was behind the assassination, and the initial world response
condemned the act — a factor which reassured Austria that it could move to get revenge. But the
Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy never operated quickly, especially since Austria could do nothing without
being sure of German support. In the end, the Austro-Hungarian government waited too long — by the
time they attacked Serbia, public opinion about the killing had already cooled.
The Entangling Alliance Domino Effect
Austro-Hungarian Empire: desperately wanted to get rid of Serbia, which had been behind most of their
largest Slavic problems (Serbia had been a leader in the two Balkans wars, both of which had threatened
Austro-Hungarian holdings). Biggest Fear: Russia (a Slavic country which might help their minorities if
pressed). Needed: the Hungarians and the Germans to promise military support against Russia.
Germany: promised the Austrians support in the event of a Russian attack: a "blank check" which allowed
A.H. to move confidently against Serbia. Both Austria-Hungary and Germany believed they could do this in
a limited way, and that Russia would stay out of it, as it had before. They were not looking to start a fight
with Russia or any other major European power. Biggest Fear: That Austria-Hungary, their most
important ally, would be seen as a useless, "paper tiger" if they didn’t act against the Serbians, and that
the A.H.’s disintegration would leave them standing alone against France and Russia. Needed: A strong
ally, a united front with that ally, a passive Russia, and a neutral Britain.
Russia: The Austrians and Germans were counting on a repeat performance of Russia’s previous behavior,
where she had blustered in defense of the Balkan Slavs but had done nothing. But popular support in Russia
was overwhelmingly with Serbia, to the point that the government, which had many other problems (Russia
was in the midst of an economic downturn) was more afraid of not acting. Russia decided to try a partial
response: to mobilize against Austria only as a way of exerting pressure on her to back down. Biggest
Fear: internal revolution. Needed: to get Austria to back down without dragging the other nations into
Russian mobilization, however, was inherently...