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How Bismarck's Diplomacy was Crucial in the Process of Unifying Germany

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Bismarck was crucial in the process of unifying Germany, but his diplomatic skills and achievements certainly were not a sole contributing factor. As A.J.P. Taylor comments, “Bismarck's greatness lay not in mastering events, but in going with events so as to seem to master them.” In other words, Bismarck managed to identify favorable circumstances and take advantage of them — there was already some economic unity in the Zollverein, a growing German identity and a strong army. His main goals were to identify north German states under Prussian rule and making Austria weaker so that Berlin could be the center of German affaires.
When Bismarck started working towards his goals, Germany was already unified economically. The Zollverein was a force for unity in the 1840s and therefore something German nationalists would focus on in their efforts in unifying Germany politically. However, it is not clear whether it could have achieved German unity without the contribution of other factors, influenced by Bismarck. For example, Zollverein members sided with Austria against Prussia. Furthermore, the ruling classʼ main motivation for the support of the Zollverein was winning the middle classes from revolutionary activity, making political unity unnecessary. Bismarck should therefore receive credit at least for overcoming this impasse and replacing the Bund with the North German Confederation — and removing Austria.
The Prussian economy was strong and therefore provided a strong foundation for Bismarck to build upon. Prussiaʼs economic boom can be owed partially to the Geweberfreiheit of 1811, where one no longer had to acquire a license to work in a trade and the Vienna Settlement, where Prussia gained more land. A prospering economy meant Prussia was able to afford a strong army, without which many of Bismarckʼs later efforts would be futile — had he not had the resources, it is unlikely that he would accomplish anything.
However, Prussiaʼs army wouldnʼt be as strong without Roon and Moltke, who reformed and reorganized the army, despite strong opposition. Albrecht von Roon increased universal military service to three years and decreased the importance of the Reserve, which he believed was a false institution lacking in martial qualities. Helmuth von Moltke reorganized the army after the Prussian mobilization during the Austro-Sardinian War, nearly doubling its strength. Bismarck receives some credit too, although his actions werenʼt exactly diplomatic — when he failed to receive funding and authorization from the Reichstag to strengthen the army, he collected funds through general taxation, bypassing the Reichstag completely.
While Prussiaʼs military significance surely showed that Bismarck meant business, one cannot say that Bismarck didnʼt possess any diplomatic skill at all. Not being experienced in war and disliking its risks, Bismarck tried to rely instead on diplomacy, either to make sure the war would be avoided or at least its effects not as sever. During the Polish revolt for example, Bismarck was able to gain Russian neutrality in the forthcoming anticipated clash with Austria. He was going to need Russian friendship if he was going to set up Germany the way he wanted. Furthermore, he gained security against potential turmoil in Prussiaʼs Polish territories.
Sometimes, however, war was unavoidable for Bismarck to reach his goals. In Denmark, Bismarck was less than keen on the issue of the two duchies, instead wanting Prussiaʼs interest served. Likewise, Prussia was at high risk of war with Austria and Bismarck was anxious to find a quick resolution to the conflict. He waited for when the situation was favorable and secured Napoleonʼs neutrality in the conflict with Austria. Instead of relying on just force, he made sure that to assuage the effects of the war through diplomacy, exploiting the weakness of his enemies in solving conflicts. In 1866, however, it seems unlikely that he would look so far ahead as to be already preparing for a war with France and there is no evidence to support that Bismarck deliberately intervened in the Spanish Marriage in order to provoke France into war.
Bismarck was able to utilize the growing feeling of nationalism among German that was becoming ever more important. Since the establishment of the National Society the idea of a greater Germany became familiar to most people. Also, the cultural movements in music, literature and art were important in kindling the spirit. Bismarck could use this to back himself up during various crises, such as the one in Luxembourg, Spain and the war with Denmark. It was this feeling of German nationalism that in the end caused the southern states to join the north in the war against France.
It must be mentioned, therefore, that Bismarck's real goal was preserving and extending the power of Prussia rather than unifying the German states. Bismarck was a Prussian and not a German nationalist. He took over the leadership of the German unification movement and manage it in such a way that Prussia emerged intact and more powerful than before in order for the Junkers to continue their control over the Reich. In order to reduce the sacrifice of Prussian resources for a non-Prussian cause to a minimum, he carried through a partial unification, in which Austria was excluded. It seems that the rest just happened, and wasnʼt under his control.
Making sure army reforms took place and isolating other countries to make them look like aggressors, Bismarck was definitely the man who did the most for a unified Germany. However, it cannot be said that it was only due to his diplomacy. There was already force for German unification and Bismarck had a strong economy that he could utilize. Also, there isnʼt any evidence that he provoked the war with the French directly, thus having the southern states rally with the north and gaining Alsace-Lorraine. Bismarck was, however, capable of taking advantage of the opportunities that were presented to him and using them to favor him, which are, no doubt, skills that a good diplomat and leader should possess.

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