When students of world politics seek to make genralizations based on state behavior during the last two centuries, they implicitly assume that the actors and processes of the early nineteenth century are essentially the same as those operating now. “Human nature and how politics been affected has not changed during history of civilization”. However, when we seek to put forward explanatory propositions, we are in danger of selecting our cases on the dependent variable, which will bias our inferences.
Much of what stands form modern “realpolitik” today deviates form the original meaning of the term. Realpolitik emerged in mid-19th Century Europe form the collision of the enlightenment with state formation and power politics. The study of the powers that shape, maintain and alter the state is the basis of all political insight and leads to the understanding that the “law of power” governs the world of states just as the “law of gravity” governs the physical world. The advantage of justice as foundational idea connects politics and low with ethics and other ideas that theorists have used to bring coherence to the subject, the ideas of interest, agreements, rights, and morality (natural law).
There are many responses to the threat of war. We are being encouraged to accept that the First World War was inevitable. But to say that the outbreak of the First World War was inevitable “is to ignore the importance of the key decision-makers who had the power to say Yes or No to policies and actions”.
Wars and crises are rare events. Quite naturally, scholars seeking to understand them focus much more on these events than on the situations of peace, especially situations lacking crises at all.
There had in fact been a peace settlement a half-century before the fighting broke out – an effort to organize peace. Emperor Charles V engineered the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, which was based on an agreement that sovereign states could choose for themselves which version of Christianity to adopt. When that treaty fell apart, the killing started; Chris Patten Can an understanding of the mistakes made in 1914 help the world to avoid another major catastrophe? To be sure, the global order has changed dramatically over the last hundred years. But the growing sense that we have lost control over history, together with serious doubts about the capabilities and principles of our leaders, lends a certain relevance to the events in Sarajevo in 1914; Dominique Moisi Margaret Macmillan, fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and professor of international history at Oxford University, Questions about events in Sarajevo June 28 a century ago and how close did the world come to peace in 1914?
She looks at the accidents of history in summer 1914. On 28 June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a young Bosnian Serb nationalist in the city of Sarajevo. One of seven Bosnian nationalists supported by Serbian terrorist organisation, ‘the Black Hand’. Franz Ferdinand wanted to visit an officer wounded in the earlier attack. So, General Potiorek, Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina, decided they should travel along the now empty and safer Appel Quay. At 10:45 am they left the city hall. But it seems that perhaps the new route had not been given to the driver. What happened next changed history forever. One of the Serbian terrorists, Gavrilo Princip, was on the corner of Appel Quay and Franz Josef Street. For nationalists, the 28 June was a day of great significance, the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 – a symbol of Serbian national resistance. The worst possible day for a visit by an Austrian overlord. Leader of the Black Hand, Dragutin Dimitrijević, ordered Gavrilo Princip to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Dimitrijević was also a prominent member of the Serbian General Staff. But for an extraordinary sequence of events that day, the assassination might have been avoided. At first, British diplomats dismissed the assassination as a minor incident in a troubled part of Europe. But as the weeks passed, the crisis began to grow at a frightening pace. In the final days of July and first few days of August, the five Great Powers of Europe – Austria-Hungary and Germany on one side; Britain, France and Russia on the other – declared war on one another. The First World War had begun.
Even at the time, the full horror of what was to come was clear to many. The British Foreign Secretary, Edward Grey, argued forcefully for war in Parliament on 3 August. That evening he is reported to have said that ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’
After the war, Grey was one of many politicians and diplomats in the so-called July crisis, who felt the events of summer 1914 made war unavoidable. The July Crisis was a diplomatic crisis among the major powers of Europe in the summer of 1914. But looking back at what unfolded in those 37 days, it seems there were moments when events could have taken a different course. If they had, could war have been avoided?
The UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, launches a series of 8 podcasts of diplomatic communication and policy-making at time, in which he, and senior British Ambassadors from key European countries involved in the First World War Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Russia, and Serbia.
The Serbo-Bulgarian war in 1885 ended in defeat for Serbia as it had failed outright to capture the Slivnitsa region which it had set out to achieve. The Bosnian Crisis of 1908–1909 (also referred to as the Annexation crisis) permanently damaged relations between Austria-Hungary on the one hand and Russia and Serbia on the other. The annexation and reactions to the annexation were contributing causes of World War I.
The political objective of the assassination was to break the Austro-Hungarian south-Slav provinces off from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand triggered a chain of international events that embroiled Russia and the major European powers. War broke out in Europe over the next thirty-seven days.
Russia’s support for Serbia against Austria-Hungary was critical in turning the July crisis into a full-blown war. If Austria-Hungary had struck quickly against Serbia, Russia might not have responded. Farming needs in Austria-Hungary may have delayed a response against Serbia – and in doing so allowed Russia to harden in its determination to support Serbia. The Austro-Hungarian leadership blamed Serbia for Franz Ferdinand’s death. Encouraged by their ally, Germany, they wanted to move quickly and attack, before Serbia and more importantly Russia had a chance to mobilise their own forces. Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Austro-Hungarian Chief of Staff and Commander in Chief, initially insisted an ultimatum to Serbia be given within two days. This ultimatum was part of a coercive program meant to weaken the Kingdom of Serbia as a threat to Austria-Hungary’s control of the northern Balkans which had a significant southern Slavic population, including a Serbian community in Bosnia.
This was intended to be achieved either through diplomacy or by a localized war if the ultimatum were rejected.
Austria-Hungary preferred war, though István Tisza, the prime minister of the Hungarian part of Austria-Hungary, hoped that the ultimatum would be reasonable enough that it would not be rejected outright. According to the British ambassador in Russia, the reaction to Franz Ferdinand’s assassination was initially one of horror. Ferdinand was, after all, a future king. The head of the Russian royal family, Tsar Nicholas II, had been a boy when his grandfather had been assassinated, and had already survived an assassination attempt on his life. And he was the only person who could order Russia’s army to be mobilised.
Before his murder, Archduke Franz Ferdinand had planned to save the Austro-Hungarian Empire by centralising power and creating a federated state to include Hungarians, Germans, Czechs, Poles and South Slavs. He also wanted to improve relations with Russia, as another conservative monarchy.
After the First Balkan War of 1912, Kosovo was internationally recognised as a part of Serbia and northern Metohija as a part of Montenegro at the Peace Treaty of London in May 30th 1913, during the London Conference. It dealt with the territorial adjustments arising out of the conclusion of the First Balkan War. In 1918, Serbia became a part of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later named Yugoslavia.
In the previous Balkan conflicts of 1912 and 1913, he had argued that although a war with Serbia would be over quickly, if Austria-Hungary were to enter a war with Russia ‘it would be a catastrophe’. ‘God help us,’ he said, ‘if we annex Serbia’
What might have happened if Austria had declared war and invaded Serbia quickly? Would Russia have accepted another brief war in the Balkans, like those that had come before it in 1912 and 1913, and stood aside? Socialist movements in the early 1900s strongly argued against war in Europe. Could the workers of the world have united in 1914 and refused to fight? But as the weeks passed, the Russian view began to change. Sympathy for a royal murdered by terrorists, was replaced by political calculations about the balance of power in Europe, and support for Russia’s traditional ally, Serbia. By the time Austria-Hungary finally came to declare war on Serbia, at the end of July, Russia had decided that this meant war against Austria-Hungary. As Europe’s leaders took the decisions that pushed them towards war, the circles of power in Russia, France and Austria-Hungary were missing some influential figures. If they had been there, it’s possible that these men could have steered the course of history away from war.
Ever since it was fought, the question of why the world went to war in 1914 has been vigorously debated, but did it have to happen? After the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, was war inevitable?
Dr Heather Jones, London School of Economics, says War was far from inevitable after Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. In the years before 1914, the assassination of leading political and royal figures was not unusual. The days following Franz Ferdinand’s assassination saw a debate between the hawks and the doves in the Austro-Hungarian leadership with some figures such as the Hungarian Prime Minister Istvan Tisza not initially supportive of war. It was only once the Viennese hawks, such as Conrad von Hötzendorf, chief of staff of the Austro-Hungarian army, won the debate that war was necessary to crush Serbia, using the assassination as an excuse, that war became inevitable – and then only a local Austro-Hungarian-Serbian war. It only became a European conflict because Germany, Austria-Hungary’s ally, offered it unconditional support in its decision to attack Serbia. Russia, Serbia’s supporter, then mobilised to support Serbia. As Russia was allied to France, Germany now feared a Franco-Russian war against it and Austria-Hungary so invaded France pre-emptively, partly via neutral Belgium.
This greatly escalated the conflict, as it brought in Britain in defence of France and Belgium. Prof. Gary Sheffield, University of Wolverhampton War, in the shape of a local conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, was inevitable because Vienna decided to use the pretext of the assassination to crush Serbia. This decision was taken, and given explicit backing by Germany, in the full knowledge this was likely to bring about a general European war. Many in the German elite welcomed an expansionist war of aggression. While a general war was not inevitable, the Austrian and German decisions made it highly likely.
These two states bear the burden of war guilt. Prof. Margaret MacMillan, St Antony’s College To say that the outbreak of the First World War was inevitable is to ignore the importance of the key decision-makers who had the power to say Yes or No to policies and actions. It is true that there were considerable tensions in Europe in 1914, between Britain and Germany for example who were vying for naval and economic power, or between Austria-Hungary and Russia both of whom had ambitions and interests in the Balkans. It is also true that nationalism was on the rise and that it helped to drive nations apart and, in the case of Austria-Hungary, threatened its very existence. And there were, unfortunately, many in Europe, often in positions of influence, who thought that a general war was inevitable and perhaps even desirable.
We should remember though that there was also a very large peace movement in Europe. I think war could have been avoided after the assassination of the Archduke but that became less and less likely as the days went on.