War and Risk in 1914 Essay

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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
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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 attack on Serbia would isolate Vienna among other European governments, in other words it was an attempt to localise the conflict. Secondly, Russian intervention was deemed possible and military plans were made to this end, in conjunction with Conrad and Krobatin. However despite acknowledgement of the Russian threat, there was no
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