The alliance situation in central Europe in 1914
Serbia expanded its territory at the expense of the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria under the terms of the Treaty of Bucharest. Regarding the expansion of Serbia as an unacceptable increase in the power of an unfriendly state and in order to weaken Serbia, the Austrian government threatened war in the autumn of 1912 if Serbs were to acquire a port from the Turks. Austria appealed for German support, only to be rebuffed at first. In November 1912 Russia, humiliated by its inability to support Serbia during the Bosnian crisis of 1908 or the First Balkan War, announced a major reconstruction of its military. On November 28, in partial reaction to the Russian move, German Foreign Secretary Gottlieb von Jagow told the Reichstag, the German parliament, that “If Austria is forced, for whatever reason, to fight for its position as a Great Power, then we must stand by her”. As a result, British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey responded by warning Prince Karl Lichnowsky, the German Ambassador in London, that if Germany offered Austria a “blank cheque” for war in the Balkans, then “the consequences of such a policy would be incalculable”. To reinforce this point, R. B. Haldane, the Germanophile Lord Chancellor, met with Prince Lichnowsky to offer an explicit warning that if Germany were to upset the balance of power in Europe by trying to destroy either France or Russia as powers, Britain would have no other choice but to fight the Reich. With the recently announced Russian military reconstruction and certain British communications, the possibility of war was a prime topic at the German Imperial War Council of 8 December 1912 in Berlin, an informal meeting of some of Germany's top military leadership called on short notice by the Kaiser. Attending the conference were Wilhelm II, Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz - the Naval State Secretary, Admiral Georg Alexander von Müller, the Chief of the German Imperial Naval Cabinet (Marinekabinett), General von Moltke - the Army’s Chief of Staff, Admiral August von Heeringen - the Chief of the Naval General Staff and (probably) General Moriz von Lyncker, the Chief of the German Imperial Military Cabinet. The presence of the leaders of both the German Army and Navy at this War Council attests to its importance. However, Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg and General Josias von Heeringen, the Prussian Minister of War, were not invited. Wilhelm II called British balance of power principles “idiocy,” but agreed that Haldane’s statement was a “desirable clarification” of British policy. His opinion was that Austria should attack Serbia that December, and if “Russia supports the Serbs, which she evidently does…then war would be unavoidable for us, too,”  and that would be better than going to war after Russia completed the massive modernization and expansion of their army that they had just begun. Moltke agreed. In his professional military opinion “a war is unavoidable and the sooner the better”. Moltke “wanted to launch an immediate attack”. Both Wilhelm II and the Army leadership agreed that if a war were necessary it were best launched soon. Admiral Tirpitz, however, asked for a “postponement of the great fight for one and a half years”  because the Navy was not ready for a general war that included Britain as an opponent. He insisted that the completion of the construction of the U-boat base at Heligoland and the widening of the Kiel Canal were the Navy’s prerequisites for war. As the British historian John Röhl has commented, the date for completion of the widening of the Kiel Canal was the summer of 1914. Though Moltke objected to the postponement of the war as unacceptable, Wilhelm sided with Tirpitz. Moltke “agreed to a postponement only reluctantly.” Historians more sympathetic to the government of Wilhelm II often reject the importance of this War Council as only showing the thinking and...
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