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War And Risk In 1914 Essay

3334 words - 13 pages

War and Risk in 1914

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife on the 28th
June 1914 began what has since been termed the July Crisis, a month or
so of intense diplomatic wrangling and military preparation. The
crisis ended in early August 1914 with all five major European powers
at war, a European war that ultimately escalated into World War I.
During the war itself, aggressive premeditation by each power was seen
as its primary cause but these arguments were replaced within two
years of its end by ones of inadvertence, the ‘slide’ theory.[1] The
statement contained in the title of this essay lies somewhere in
between these two accusations. Discussion of this statement requires
analysis of the circumstances of the five powers involved;
Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, France and to a lesser extent Great
Britain. These circumstances will be examined in this essay, namely
the relative rise, decline and perceived threat to each nation, in the
context of each powers desires and intentions during the July Crisis.

Two points ought to be clarified before the analysis begins in
earnest. Firstly, from the title statement, I take war to mean a major
war involving at least four European powers, not a localised war
involving say only Austria-Hungary and Serbia. Secondly, it’s worth
noting that whenever a power is mentioned as a decision-making entity,
it was not the population, or even the whole government of each power
that made decisions that led to war but a small decision-making
coterie within each government.

On 28th July 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The pre-text
for this declaration was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
and his wife. However the broader reasons for the declaration are more
profound. Following a century of military defeat and in a context of
rising nationalism, the multi-ethnic empire had become a second
‘sick-man of Europe.’ It was very vulnerable to nationalist
provocations from countries on its borders appealing to ethnic groups
within the empire. Not to be relegated to a second-rate power, Vienna
opted for a local war with Serbia with both plan and foresight. Whilst
the intention of the decision-makers, essentially a group known as the
Common Ministerial Council, was to keep the war local, all were well
aware of the possibility of Russian intervention. In a meeting of the
ministers on the 7th July the precise policy of the Austrian
government was decided.

Several important observations on the attitudes and beliefs of the
ministers can be made from this meeting. Firstly, it was decided to
issue an ultimatum to Serbia so harsh that it would be refused, giving
Vienna an excuse to attack. This decision was made as it was felt that
War Minister Krobatin and Chief of Staff Conrad von Hotzendorf’s call
for a surprise...

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