In This Review

The Grand Strategy of the Habsburg Empire
The Grand Strategy of the Habsburg Empire
By A. Wess Mitchell
416 pp, Princeton University Press, 2018

In 1914, the Habsburg empire’s fatal combination of belligerence and weakness triggered World War I and, four years later, the empire’s own dissolution. This graceful account of Habsburg diplomacy from 1700 to that fateful moment explains how the empire survived so long: its diplomats dampened threats through minor acts of appeasement, always playing for time. The most celebrated case of this strategy came after the Napoleonic Wars, when Prince Metternich, the empire’s chancellor, constructed the Concert of Europe, a system for preserving the balance of power and deflecting the hostility of the Habsburgs’ stronger neighbors: the Russian, German, and Ottoman empires. Mitchell synthesizes rather than challenges existing interpretations, and his portrait of unitary states managing the military balance is a bit archaic. But the book deserves attention for other reasons. Mitchell currently serves as U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian a airs and seeks to identify lessons for today’s U.S. policymakers from the Habsburgs’ experience. He convincingly criticizes the Habsburg empire for rampant “anti-intellectualism” in its foreign policy; for provoking and ultimately empowering, rather than subtly deflecting, its enemies; for overspending on its military; and, most important, for alienating its allies through “self-isolation.” The Trump administration ought to keep these lessons in mind.