Russia’s Repeat Failures
Moscow’s New Strategy in Ukraine Is Just as Bad as the Old One
BRITISH DOCUMENTS ON THE ORIGINS OF THE WAR, 1898-1914. Vol. V, "The Near East: The Macedonian Problem and the Annexation of Bosnia, 1903-1909." EDITED BY G. P. GOOCH AND HAROLD TEMPERLEY. London: H. M. Stationery Office (New York: British Library of Information), 1928, pp. 886.
IN the winter of 1908-1909 Europe quivered in fear of a general war. It was barely a year after the Triple Entente had been completed by the agreement between England and Russia, and hardly two months since the Young Turk Revolution had upset the traditional alignment of the Powers in the Near East. These two factors -- the grouping of the Powers and their rival interests in the Near East -- supplied the setting for the crisis. The trouble arose from the precipitate action of the Austro-Hungarian Government in proclaiming the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, two provinces of the Ottoman Empire which had been occupied by the Dual Monarchy under a mandate from the Powers since the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Yet the conflict that threatened was not one between Austria and Turkey, but between Austria and Serbia; for Serbia herself had designs on these two Slav provinces. In other words, the so-called Bosnian annexation crisis of 1908-1909 had obvious points of similarity with the July crisis of 1914. It may, in fact, be aptly described as the prelude to the World War, for it raised issues which were not again to come to rest. In both cases there was the same Austro-Serbian tension, the same threat of intervention on the part of other Powers, the same division of Europe into two opposing groups. The question naturally arises why war was avoided in 1909 but not in 1914. An examination of the events of the earlier crisis in the light of the voluminous material that has now been made available will illuminate the more remote origins of the World War and at the same time clarify the course of developments in the crucial months of 1914.
Bismarck had established the ascendancy of Germany in Europe by building up the Triple Alliance and drawing into its orbit almost every nation of international consequence, including England and excepting only France. The alliance between France and Russia, concluded within a few years of the Iron Chancellor's dismissal, represented a serious breach in this system and once again set up something resembling a balance of power on the continent, as Bismarck's successor frankly recognized. The Franco-Italian agreements of 1900 and 1902, in strengthening the French position, weakened the Triple Alliance correspondingly; while the Anglo-French entente of 1904 marked the definite turn of English policy from the Central Powers. According to the Germans this was the first step in the direction of the encirclement of Germany, a development of the greatest moment. Whatever may be said of the German attitude in the Moroccan crisis of 1905, it can hardly be denied that on the part of Baron von Holstein at least the object in view was to break up the new combination by dragooning France. The Kaiser, by the famous Björkö Treaty with Russia, hoped to attain the same result by gentler means. What actually happened was the very reverse of what the Germans had expected. At the Algeciras Conference the Germans were deserted by all the Powers excepting Austria. The Anglo-French entente was more firmly established and the unfavorable nature of Germany's position was more marked than ever.
The one bright spot on the horizon, as the Germans saw it, was the exhaustion of the Russians after the disastrous war with Japan and the revolutionary outburst of 1905-1906. But even this bit of consolation disappeared in a very short time. Alexander Isvolsky, who became Russian foreign minister in 1906, promptly set to work to iron out what difficulties with Japan had remained after the Peace of Portsmouth, and in August 1907 signed an agreement with England that settled the age-old problems of the two countries in Asia. At the famous Reval meeting between King Edward and the Tsar in June 1908 the question of Macedonian reform was discussed and the new Anglo-Russian entente thereby extended to the Near Eastern terrain.
The statesmen in Berlin were greatly exercised by these events. The relations between Germany and England had become steadily worse since 1901 and threatened to become serious as the result of the German naval program. The Germans refused to yield and consequently the future of Anglo-German relations looked darker than ever.
Baron Aehrenthal, the Austrian foreign minister, was more concerned with the Near Eastern aspect of the problem. For a full decade the perennial question of the Balkans had been allowed to rest. Russia, engaged in the Far East, had concluded a number of agreements with Austria aiming at the preservation of the status quo and had coöperated with Austria in the program of Macedonian reform. It was expected in Vienna that after her rebuff in the Far East the Russians would devote themselves again to their traditional aspirations in the Near East. Isvolsky was distinctly a "westerner" in this respect and did not disappoint expectations. But he did not desire to arouse the hostility of Germany and Austria and never tired of giving assurances that neither the entente with Russia nor the Reval meeting was directed against the Central Powers. An exceedingly adroit man, he was ever ready for a plunge in haute politique, as his apologist says.[i] According to Sir Vincent Corbett, who knew him well, "he seemed to believe that the rest of the world existed to be outwitted by himself." "He loves academic discussions in which he can review the world from China to Peru, but he does not like the hard give and take of an argumentative conversation," said Sir Arthur Nicolson, the English ambassador to St. Petersburg. Isvolsky's idea was evidently to play the two ends against the middle, and to extract concessions from the Central Powers by demonstrating his friendship with the western Powers. Already in the autumn of 1907 he revealed to the Germans and Austrians his desire to see the Straits of the Bosporus and Dardanelles opened to Russian warships. Since her defeat in the Far East, he said, Russia's centre of naval development lay in the Black Sea, and she must secure access to the Mediterranean.[ii] In Berlin and Vienna no opposition was made to these academic remarks, for it was believed that England, the traditional opponent of concessions to Russia in this question, would wreck the scheme as soon as it assumed concrete form. In this the German and Austrian statesmen were profoundly mistaken.[iii] The English had long since given up the idea of maintaining the Turkish Empire at any cost, the more so as the German influence had entirely displaced the English at Constantinople.
General Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Austrian chief of staff, suggested to Aehrenthal that, if Russia intended to raise the question of the Straits, Austria should seize the opportunity to bargain and secure in return the consent of Russia to the annexation of the two Turkish provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had been occupied by the Austrians under a mandate from the powers given at the Congress of Berlin in 1878.[iv] The problem of annexation had become an acute one since 1903, when, as a result of the murder of King Alexander and his queen, a new dynasty had ascended the throne in Serbia. The relations between Serbia and Austria had become rapidly worse and there was, undoubtedly, a great deal of agitation and Serb propaganda in the occupied provinces. The famous "pig war," or tariff conflict of 1906-1907, had made matters even worse, and the demand for vigorous action was becoming louder and louder in Vienna. Aehrenthal himself was not a partisan of rigorous measures. According to the British diplomats he did everything he could to remove the bad feeling between the two countries, while Pashitch, the Serb nationalist leader, was determined to free Serbia from Austrian political and economic influence and provoked Austria into taking a more and more aggressive attitude by making offers which, while only too reasonable from the Serbian point of view, were certain to be rejected at Vienna. Nevertheless Aehrenthal continued to hope for a pacific settlement, and desired to postpone the question of annexation of the two provinces until other clauses of the Berlin Treaty came up for discussion. His idea was still to coöperate as closely as possible with Russia.[v]
The change in his attitude came about after the dispute concerning the projected Austrian Railway through the Sanjak of Novi-Bazar to connect with the Turkish railroad to Saloniki. Austria had a right to such construction under the terms of the Berlin Treaty, but Isvolsky took a stiff attitude and maintained that a "bomb had been thrown between his legs." Unwilling to see Austria score a point, he declared that the Austro-Russian entente had been broken up through the action of the Vienna government. This did not prevent him from soon recovering, and in July 1908 he suggested to the Austrian Government an entente and a discussion of the problems of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the one hand and the Straits on the other, "in a spirit of friendly reciprocity." Although, in a number of earlier agreements with Austria, the Russians had given their consent to the eventual annexation of the two provinces, Aehrenthal was evidently much impressed by the willingness of Isvolsky to abandon the cause of the Southern Slavs.[vi] Conrad had for some time been urging the desirability of coöperating with Bulgaria against Serbia and the ultimate division of Serbia between the two, Austria to incorporate the territory as far south as Nish. Aehrenthal had looked upon this as the only method of satisfactorily cleaning out "the Serbian revolutionary nest," but apparently it was not until August 1908 that he began to regard the solution as a matter of practical politics. Isvolsky's attitude, together with the uncertainty resulting from the Young Turk Revolution of July 23, 1908, evidently led him to believe that some such settlement, followed by the establishment of a Southern Slav state within a reorganized "trialistic" Hapsburg Monarchy, might be possible.
Both sides were, even at this time, playing a fast game. Isvolsky said nothing of his plans to his ally France, or to his friend England. He did not even consult Stolypin, the vigorous President of the Russian Council, whose opposition he had reason to fear. All intent upon the realization of his scheme to open the Straits to Russian warships, he was prepared to resort to any method. In February and again in the first days of August 1908 he had suggested in the council that some pretext be found for an attack upon Turkey, but on both occasions Stolypin had vetoed his proposals on the ground that mobilization in Russia would only add strength to the revolutionary movement and that "any policy other than a strictly defensive one would be the evil dream of an abnormal government and would spell disaster for the dynasty."[vi] The little Slav brothers in the Balkans did not concern Isvolsky at all. Russia's policy, he had told the Duma in April, must be dictated by a healthy egoism -- by which he meant, as he said to the German ambassador, that Russia must not allow herself to be misled by exaggerated emotions and by anxiety for the fate of the other Slav peoples to the detriment of purely Russian interests. He was simply hypnotized by the idea of securing the opening of the Straits for Russian ships, although in Russian government circles there was considerable doubt whether such a concession was desirable or worthwhile.
The negotiations between Russia and Austria in July and August, and the development of the international situation after the Young Turk Revolution, resulted in the decision of the Austrian Government to carry through the annexation. The plan was to take the wind out of the sails of the Serbian agitators by granting the two provinces some sort of constitution, and to obviate the danger of a reassertion of sovereignty by the Turks by severing the last tie between the provinces and the Ottoman Empire. A meeting between Isvolsky and Aehrenthal was arranged for, though only with considerable difficulty. Aehrenthal was still angry about the attitude taken by the Russians in the Sanjak Railway affair, and Isvolsky was filled with distrust of the Austrian and of his Balkan schemes. The famous interview took place on September 16, 1908, at Buchlau, where the two statesmen conferred in private for fully six hours. Exactly what was said and what was decided upon will perhaps remain forever a mystery, since there was no witness. We do know, however, that the two statesmen "laid the Treaty of Berlin on the table, read it and reread it, page by page, article by article, the whole length and breadth of it, from one end to the other, not once, but twice, beginning with the beginning and then starting over again from the end."[vii] Russian consent to the annexation of the two provinces was promised in return for Austrian approval of Russia's desires in the Straits question, under certain conditions. It seems fairly clear that Aehrenthal indicated that the annexation would take place in the near future, and that he agreed, at least in principle, to the eventual convocation of a European conference to approve the changes made by the Russian-Austrian bargain. But it is equally clear that at Buchlau the two statesmen did not deal frankly and honestly with each other, as one of Aehrenthal's acquaintances remarked.
The annexation was publicly announced by the Austrian Government on October 6. Through an indiscretion on the part of the Austrian ambassador to Paris, the French Government knew of it on October 3, and it now appears that Aehrenthal had also informed Sir Charles Hardinge, the English under-secretary for foreign affairs, by private letter on the same day. Even then it was no surprise. The newspapers had been filled with rumors for weeks and the step to be taken by Austria had long since become a "roaring whisper." Isvolsky, who had spent the intervening period in visiting Schoen, the German foreign secretary, and Tittoni, the Italian statesmen, got the news only as he reached Paris. Undoubtedly he would have preferred to approach the French and English statesmen himself, but he does not appear to have been much exercised by Aehrenthal's action. He had already seen Milovanovitch, the Serbian foreign minister, and had left him in despair. In Paris he spoke to Vesnitch, the Serb representative, and administered "some cooling medicine." While Vesnitch declared the annexation to be a "great national catastrophe" and a menace to peace in the Balkans, Isvolsky assured him that he had foreseen the Austrian action and asserted that the excitement of the Serbs was incomprehensible, that the Serbs were in actual fact losing nothing, while they were gaining Russian support.
But before long Isvolsky changed his tone, when he learned from St. Petersburg that Stolypin and the government were opposed to recognition of the Austrian action and that the press would not hear of the abandonment of Russia's "Holy of Holies," the Slav idea. The Russian minister was practically forced to deny his past and himself go back on the agreement with Aehrenthal, although obviously this involved the ultimate failure of his plan to open the Straits. He therefore denied that Russia had given her consent to the annexation and insisted on a European conference to discuss the matter and consider what compensation should be granted to other Powers. It was his last chance to secure what he wanted. If the friendly arrangement with Austria had fallen flat, perhaps the end could be attained by international pressure.
French statesmen took an attitude of the greatest reserve, deciding to leave the English to settle with Isvolsky. The idea of a conference appealed to them, because they had hopes that a preliminary agreement could be come to between Russia, France, England, Italy and Turkey, and that Austria and her ally, Germany, could once again be isolated and out-voted as at Algeciras. But the English position was unusually difficult. The statesmen in London resented having been left in the dark and they distrusted Isvolsky.[viii] With the merits of the question they had little concern. "Quite seriously," wrote the Saturday Review on October 10, "what has been done is so obviously the right thing, that, except for the breach of diplomatic etiquette and the sentimental offence to the Turkish party of reform, every sensible man should approve it. . . . Those who hope to gain by fishing in troubled waters will prefer a conference; those who want a quiet settlement will prefer an exchange of notes." Even the Russian proposals in regard to the Straits did not, in the abstract, upset them, and they had long since indicated their willingness to make concessions on this point. The crux of the matter with them was that Austria by the annexation, and Bulgaria by her declaration of independence, had upset the status quo, that Isvolsky's secret parleys with Aehrenthal had revealed the basic weakness of the Anglo-Russian entente, that the Central Powers were about to score a great success, and that, above all, the recent developments threatened to undermine the new influence acquired by England in Turkey after the revolution.
All this was made clear to Isvolsky when he came to London. Sir Edward Grey pleaded with him that the moment was very inopportune for the realization of his plans. "Turkey was hurt and sore at the slight put upon her by Austria and Bulgaria. It was hard enough that she should suffer this at the outset of what we hoped was a new and better era at Constantinople. We could not agree to add to her hardships by forcing upon her at once the embarrassing question of the Straits."[ix] Isvolsky finally agreed to delete the Straits clause from the projected program of the conference, but urged some concession on the part of the English. Twice the matter was before the cabinet. The King, Sir Edward Grey, Asquith and many other ministers were in favor of acquiescence, but feared the force of public opinion. There was no advantage in the English right of ingress, they were agreed on that. "It is already a settled principle of naval warfare with us that in no case would our fleets enter the Straits unless Turkey were our ally. The condition of reciprocity, however, is a shop-window ware, since the public do not understand these strategical considerations," wrote Hardinge. So Isvolsky had to content himself with a compromise. In case of war, if Turkey were not involved, the Straits should be opened to all alike. In any case Russia was to reach an agreement with the Turks and no pressure should be applied at Constantinople. The attitude of the Turks was perfectly clear, so that Isvolsky had little to hope for. He left London a disappointed man, with nothing to console him except the compliments of the English press upon his abnegation, self-restraint and loyalty, and the assurances of Grey that he was not opposed to the Russian desires in principle: "On the contrary, I positively desire to see an arrangement made, which will open the Straits on terms which would be acceptable to Russia and to the riverain states of the Black Sea, while not placing Turkey or outside Powers at an unfair disadvantage."
With that Isvolsky's scheme had fallen flat and he was a broken man. Both King Edward and Grey wrote letters to St. Petersburg supporting him in order to maintain him in office and avoid the humiliation of his defeat. The game was already up and the rest of the crisis is the story of the play of two rival groups of Powers centering on the question of recognition of the Austrian action. On the side of the Entente the policy was positively an insane one, because the two groups were in no sense equally matched. Austria was backed to the limit by Germany and both these Powers would have taken recourse to arms if necessary. Not that the Germans were favorably impressed by Aehrenthal's high-handedness. The Kaiser, who learned of the annexation later than the chief of any other state, was bitter in his denunciation of the Austrian action and felt that Germany had been duped in the most outrageous fashion. But with the conclusion of the Triple Entente Berlin was practically forced to stand by Austria through thick and thin. "For our attitude in Balkan affairs the needs, interests and wishes of Austria are decisive," Bülow had written before the crisis. He now demanded "la loyauté sans phrase," and the Kaiser agreed that it was the only course Germany could follow. Vienna was told that even in the event that difficulties and complications should arise, Germany's ally could count upon her. In a few words, Austria's humiliation would be Germany's humiliation.
As the crisis developed negotiations were opened between the German and Austrian general staffs to determine the conditions of the campaign if war should result. In a letter to Conrad dated January 21, 1909, the German chief of staff, Count Moltke, stated that Germany would support Austria if the latter were attacked by Russia. This was in accord with the terms of the treaty of 1879. But Moltke went on to envisage the possibility of an Austrian invasion of Serbia to put an end to Serbian provocation. "I believe," he said, "that only an Austrian invasion of Serbia would bring about eventual intervention by Russia. In that event the casus foederis would arise for Germany." What it amounts to is this, that Moltke recognized an attack by Russia upon Austria resulting from an Austrian invasion of Serbia as obligating Germany to support Austria. It has been claimed that this represents an extension of the alliance beyond the sense given it by Bismarck, but it should be remembered that Moltke, though his letter was approved by the Kaiser and Bülow, could not in this way bind the German Government.[x] Arrangements of this kind were frequently discussed and made by the general staffs of all countries. Furthermore, it should be noted that while Bismarck refused to support Austria if she provoked Russia, the situation in 1887 was fundamentally different, and even Bismarck in his heart of hearts was determined to rescue Austria from defeat in any case, for he regarded the continued existence of the Dual Monarchy as a great power as a primary interest of Germany. The crucial point is that Bismarck, unlike Moltke, scrupulously avoided informing the Austrians of his ultimate intentions. But it cannot be denied that the existence of the Triple Entente had put Germany in a position where she thought she had to support Austria and Austrian policy in the Balkans, almost sans phrase. The German statesmen genuinely feared that Austria might go over to Russia with "flying banners."
Both Russia and England knew, in 1908, that Germany was determined to go the limit, for the Germans told Grey and Isvolsky on numerous occasions just how they viewed the situation. The English, at least, did not resent this. In fact, Grey told the German ambassador that he understood the German attitude "because it was what we should have done in Germany's place." What the English were concerned with was their position in Turkey and above all the future of the entente with Russia. They knew all about Isvolsky, but felt that they had to do their best to support him, such as he was. While greatly desiring a naval agreement with Germany they felt that the Russian friendship was more important: "We have no pending questions with Germany, except that of naval construction, while our whole future in Asia is bound up with the necessity of maintaining the best and most friendly relations with Russia. We cannot afford to sacrifice in any way our entente with Russia -- even for the sake of a reduced naval program," wrote Hardinge.
The English, then, were determined to back the Russians, just as the Germans were clear as to the necessity of backing Austria. The great difference was that the English, from the start, had limited their support to diplomatic assistance. It was the only thing to do, for the English public would certainly have refused to support the government in any more adventurous policy, and the Russians were so notoriously unable to fight after the disasters of the Japanese War that Isvolsky himself had told Aehrenthal at the outset that Russia would not make the annexation a casus belli. As for the French, they were never more disinclined to fight for Russia on a Balkan issue. Clemenceau was literally haunted with the fear of European complications, which, in the last count, would compel France to bear the brunt of the German attack. In fact the French seem to have had hopes of eventually weaning Austria from her alliance to Germany much as they had already drawn Italy away from the Triple Alliance.[xi]
In international affairs it is not good policy to announce in advance that you cannot or will not fight. This is what the powers of the Triple Entente did, and consequently their defeat diplomatically was a foregone conclusion. The English, from the start, were exposed to a serious setback in supporting Russia, for Isvolsky was determined to have his revenge. He fulminated against Aehrenthal to anyone who would listen, and people who came in contact with him in these months found him "suffocating with indignation." Russia no longer had anything to hope for from a conference excepting the humiliation of Austria. But Isvolsky saw an opportunity for revenge in pressing the case of the Serbs, who from the beginning had taken the view that they were entitled to compensation, a claim which the Austrians naturally denied. Aehrenthal at first paid comparatively little attention to the Serbs and concentrated on an agreement with the Turks. His theory was that once the Turks had been satisfied the other Powers no longer had a leg to stand on. In February 1909 the arrangement with the Turks was complete and the Austrians were able to devote themselves to the Serbian problem.
There was not the slightest indication that the Serbs would yield. Their attitude was throughout a reckless one. Even before the annexation the Serbian foreign minister, Milovanovitch, who was an unusually moderate man, had spoken to the English representative in terms of despair, saying that many Serbs felt that an adventure, even with the certainty of defeat, could not make the situation worse: "Even if the Austrian armies swept Serbia and she was annexed to the Dual Monarchy, her patriots would at least have the satisfaction of feeling that they were united with their brethren now under Austrian and Hungarian rule." After the annexation the Serb policy was unequivocal: "Either we shall make Serbia a huge cemetery or we shall make Greater Serbia," said one Belgrade paper.
Neither Germany nor England cared much about the Serbian claims. "Germany had little interest in the fate of Serbia, but she had a great one in the fate of Austria-Hungary. She would stand by her ally and protect her if necessary," said the German ambassador in Vienna. And Grey wrote: "I have not, myself, much sympathy with the clamour of Serbia and Montenegro for territorial compensation. If they are afraid of the Austrian advance, they had better sit still, put their own houses in order, make friends with Turkey and hope that she will get strong under the new régime. But I do not want to cold-shoulder Isvolsky on the Serbian question, if the Russians are keen about it." In actual fact the Russians were not keen about Serbian claims as such. Isvolsky's attitude has already been discussed. The Tsar's was not far different. To the German naval attaché he said that Serbia and Montenegro were comparatively indifferent to him. The point was that Isvolsky saw in Serbia the instrument of his revenge and so Serbia became the focus of the situation. Whereas Isvolsky had originally put aside the Serbian pretensions as impossible, he now began to encourage the Serbs to hope for compensation at the expense of Austria. It is true that he warned them about precipitating war, but at the same time he strengthened them in an aspiration which could be realized only by war. When the Serbian Crown Prince and Pashitch came to St. Petersburg they were given advice that could be interpreted in various ways. The Tsar said to the English ambassador: "I told him that because you consider yourself injured that is no reason why you should crack your skull against a stone wall. You can gain nothing by that. You say that there are many Serbians under foreign domination: but do you think that this is a grievance peculiar to your country?" But we know that he also said that the Bosnian question could be settled only by war and that he would not recognize the annexation. The Tsar regarded an eventual conflict between Germanism and Slavdom as inevitable.
The English knew that the Russians had given the Serbs great encouragement, but Grey had promised to support the Russian position and he stuck by his promise. At the same time he backed the Russians in urging upon Serbia a defensive alliance with Bulgaria and Turkey to block the Austrian advance, a matter concerning which a great deal is to be learned from the British Documents. The upshot is that the tension between Serbia and Austria became greater and greater, till in February and March 1909 it seemed more than likely that war would result. Conrad urged this course eloquently, but Aehrenthal had given up his idea of settling the Serbian question by dividing the country between Austria and Bulgaria, and was now determined to effect a peaceful settlement if possible. In the end the English used their utmost influence to mediate, and finally found a satisfactory formula for the note which the Serbs were to hand in at Vienna. The solution came in the nick of time, for the Austrians had just decided to mobilize and make war.
By this time the Russian policy had collapsed completely. In order to bring the crisis to an end Aehrenthal threatened to publish certain compromising documents which would have exposed Isvolsky and his scheming. The Russians asked the Germans for good offices, but when the Germans presented a note enquiring whether Russia would agree to recognize the annexation by an exchange of notes should Austria request it, Isvolsky could not bring himself to make the sacrifice. After some delay the Germans followed their first note by a second, couched in stiff language, and Isvolsky gave in. He had not consulted either France or England, who had no objection to the German suggestion, but desired to make recognition of the annexation dependent on a satisfactory settlement of the Austro-Serbian crisis. Recognition in advance would have deprived them of the last leg they had to stand on, for it would have deprived the Serb claim of all justification. But here again they could not be too outspoken in their reproaches of Isvolsky, who insisted that the German summons was the equivalent of a "diplomatic ultimatum." The Austro-German alliance, he claimed, had obviously been extended to include the Balkans, and Austria "was browbeating Russia through Germany." A Russian refusal would have led to an immediate attack on Serbia by Austria and perhaps an attack on Russia by Germany. France had left him entirely in the lurch. Her attitude was tantamount to a denunciation of the Franco-Russian Alliance.
The English were not deceived by these Jeremiads. They had replied to the German note by making acceptance of the annexation conditional on the Austro-Serbian settlement, and the French had done likewise. "Had he [Isvolsky] given a reply such as we gave to Metternich, it would have been impossible for the Germans to base an ultimatum upon it," wrote Hardinge. " In that event," wrote Grey, "there would have been no war -- the result would have been just as it is now. . . . The result [of the crisis] would not have been so bad, if only Isvolsky had withstood German hustling for forty-eight hours." Finding that he had not made a very good impression, Isvolsky himself soon changed his mind. "Russia had received nothing more than a temporary diplomatic check and this was preferable to having been launched into war which might have had disastrous consequences," he told Nicolson, and later on he denied everything, describing himself "as the innocent lamb who had been destroyed by the wicked wolf." As for the reputed German ultimatum "he asserted that nothing approaching an ultimatum had been delivered to him; in fact, Germany had acted in a friendly spirit and had merely declared that if war broke out between Austria and Russia it would be very difficult for her not to stand by her ally. . . . In fact, Pourtalès came to Isvolsky like a cooing dove bearing a message of peace." On this note we may close.
The analogy between the crisis of 1908-1909 and the crisis of July 1914 has often been drawn. In both cases there was acute tension between Austria and Serbia, arising in large measure from the corroding Serbian propaganda against the Monarchy. In 1909 Austria all but declared war; in July 1914 she took the fatal step. On both occasions Germany supported her ally, while attempting to localize the conflict. England, on the other hand, backed Russia, which amounted to the generalization of the crisis.
So much for the points of similarity. They must not be pressed too hard. The situation in 1908-1909 was fundamentally different from that of 1914. King Edward is reputed to have said that England in 1908 had fine friends: the one, Russia, could not fight, while the other, France, would not. From the start Isvolsky had announced that Russia would not fight, and it seems more than doubtful whether she could have done so even if Austria had attacked Serbia. The French, while asserting their loyalty to the alliance, made it sufficiently clear that they did not approve of the Russian tactics, and here, too, there is room for grave doubt whether they would actually have gone the limit in supporting Russia.[xii] England was consistent throughout, but had declared at the very beginning that she would not go beyond diplomatic support. In 1914, on the other hand, the Russians were ready to fight and there was no Stolypin to hold them back by reasonable arguments. The French, even if they did not actually encourage the Russians, certainly did little enough to hold them back. The English, too, were prepared to see the thing through, however much they may have desired to avoid the conflict.
The crisis in 1908 was due in very large measure to the scheming and intrigue of Isvolsky. Aehrenthal's tactics were not sound and certainly not commendable, but the more we learn about Isvolsky the more it appears that he was "a very unscrupulous and unreliable man" to use the words of Sir Charles Hardinge. Mendacious to the last degree, high-strung and emotional, he was constantly engaged on selfish projects which were based upon ruthless lack of consideration for others, friends as well as foes. Under normal conditions his disavowal and dismissal would have been a matter of course. But he had to be held and he had to be supported, because Europe, in 1908 as in 1914, was divided into two hostile camps, each of which dreaded disruption and humiliation and in each of which the members had to be prepared to fight on an issue in which they had no direct interest. In 1908 the new-born entente was not ready for the conflict, but the scene was set. In 1914 the preparations were complete and it took only the least impulse to set the European cart going on the road to perdition.
[i] Vox et Praeterea Nihil: "Baron Aehrenthal and M. Isvolsky," Fortnightly Review, September 1909.
[ii] "Grosse Politik," documents nos. 7383, 7385.
[iii] See the present writer's article in the English Historical Review, January 1929; and especially Baron M. de Taube: "La Politique Russe d'Avant-Guerre," Paris, 1928, p. 186.
[iv] Conrad: "Aus Meiner Dienstzeit," Vienna, 1921, Vol. I, pp. 513, 516, 530.
[v] Conrad: I, p. 519; also Joseph Baernreither: "Fragmente eines Politischen Tagebuches," p. 77.
[vi] M. Pokrowski: "Drei Konferenzen," Hamburg, 1920, p. 17; E. A. Adamov: "Konstantinopel i Prolivi," Moscow, 1925, I, pp. 8-10; "Diaries of General Polivanov," quoted by Frantz in Deutsche Rundschau, February 1927.
[vii] Statement made immediately afterwards by Isvolsky's secretary and quoted by Crozier in the Revue de France, April 15, 1921.
[viii] John Morley: Recollections (New York, 1917), II, p. 277: "There has been such a quantity of intrigue, secrecy and downright lying that we don't know whether we stand on firm ground or on treacherous bog."
[ix] Viscount Grey: "Twenty-Five Years," London, 1925, I, p. 172.
[x] H. Kanner: "Der Schlüssel zur Kriegsschuldfrage," Munich, 1926; and the review by S. B. Fay in American Historical Review, January 1927.
[xi] Philippe Crozier in Revue de France, June 1, 1921; Raymond Poincaré: "Au Service de la France," Paris, 1926, I, pp. 245 ff.
[xii] In February Isvolsky maintained that France had gone over to Austria "bag and baggage." On March 23 he told Nicolson that Russia had "no reason for trusting to the coöperation of France were she disposed to push matters to extremities." Somewhat later he asserted that France had made it clear that she would not lend material support. His apologist explains (Fortnightly Review, September 1909) that the French press had not been given a "refresher nor a retaining fee."