The ostensible cause for Austria’s declaration of war against Servia lay in the alleged unsatisfactory character of the Servian reply to the Austrian demand for suppression of anti-Austrian propaganda and societies by systematic measures in which Austria should herself take an active part. Not only the nature of the demands, but the language in which they were couched, the circumstances of their presentation, and of the receipt of the reply, render it probable that Austria wished to force upon Servia the solution by war of an infinitely larger issue than that raised by the murder of the unfortunate archduke and his wife. Indeed, the fundamental antipathies between Austria and Servia, already centuries old, the strength of national feeling, and the scope of national ambition, are significant among the causes of this war. To settle by peaceful means such a tangle of interests, racial, political, and commercial, in any fashion mutually agreeable, has so long proved futile, that this present war is tinged for the combatants with inevitability, and almost with divine sanction.

To Americans, far from the tramp of armies and safe from the aggression of covetous neighbors, such militant enthusiasm, such driving force of tradition and patriotism, is literally incomprehensible. And to explain a war begun in aggression, couched in the terms of arrogance, based upon the consciousness of vastly superior strength, to those who have not themselves experienced such emotions and ambitions, above all, to lend to it the color of inevitability which is so clear to Austrian and Serb, involves the explanation of many factors not at first obviously related to the issue itself.


To the Austrian, the war is literally a war of self-preservation. Austria has probably the least homogenous population of all the great powers, and of that heterogeneous mixture the Slavs form a large and unruly part. In Southeastern Austria, in Styria and Carinthia, in Bosnia and Herzegovina are millions of men, racial cousins of the Servians so near them, who have long chafed under the Austrian yoke and as constantly dreamed of the glad day when they should be liberated by some great revolution of all Slavs together in the name of their religion and their nationality.

The creation from these Austrian subjects and their Balkan neighbors of a great monarchy has been more than an aspiration for many years, and for the last year or two much more than a hope. The Emperor of Austria, Francis Joseph, is old and the numerous conspirators in his dominos have believed that his death would afford an excellent opportunity for the great revolt and the dawn of freedom. The Hungarians, they believe, would not elect his successor king; the Bohemians would likewise decline to choose him; the Poles, the Ruthenes, the Croatians and Slavonians would all cast off the yoke together and become simultaneously free and independent nations. So successful has this propaganda been, so wide is its support among all classes of the community, and so far-reaching are its ramifications, that the Austrians have believed their supremacy seriously imperiled and the continuance of the Hapsburg Empire in its present form almost a matter which superior force alone could decide in their favor.

Needless to add, in Servia these malcontents found their natural leader; there they found refuge, there they obtained funds. To believe that the Servian government would of its own volition do more than avoid official connection with these schemes was to believe that they would renounce their national ambition and play traitor to those who looked to them for leadership. The true inwardness of the Austrian demands is only too apparent: they were such as Austria knew in advance that the Servians could not and would not accept in the spirit in which they were made. Yet, a war which should crush Servia to earth, rob her if possible of political independence, of a quantity of men and treasure, and thus render her incapable of leading the malcontents in Austria’s own domains, seemed at this crisis, with the Emperor at death’s door and the Archduke dead, and an unknown quantity next in succession, literally the only chance of maintaining the Hapsburg monarchy and of securing it lease of life for another generation.

From the actual war the leaders expect great results. It will knit the various peoples together and give them a common object to strive for and a common victory to celebrate. Already the semi-official press at Vienna is exulting in the ‘fact,’ now ‘apparent to Europe,’ ‘that Austria-Hungary is not only a political and constitutional entity, but also a national reality.’ It is a war of self-preservation, a war to end once for all the attempts of Servia to disrupt the Empire; such is the official manifesto of the Emperor.

It is none the less a war of ambition and aggression. For centuries Austria has dreamed of dominating southeastern Europe, of ruling the Balkans, of possessing a sea-coast on the Adriatic and Ægean, where stately ships flying the Austrian flag and laden with the commerce of the world should lie at anchor. The economic backwardness of many of her provinces has been attributed to the difficulty and expense of communication overland with the rest of the world, to the fact that she is behind all the other nations save Russia. These nations buy and sell each other’s produce rather than hers, and tax her produce heavily for transportation. A direct outlet to the world’s trade, undisputed control of some really significant strip of sea-coast possessed of really fine harbors, are indispensable for development and expansion.

Much has already been attained: an outlet to the sea, possession of enough land to control access to it, but a coast whose extent is limited and whose approaches are in large measure dominated by other nations. Control of Albania and Montenegro would give the Austrians what they wish, but only the control of Servia can assure their peaceful possession of it. Servia menaces Austria’s connections with Trieste, with the lower Adriatic through Albania; she controls the shortest and best roads to the Ægean at Salonika and to the ports of the lower Adriatic; a canal from the Danube to the Ægean is reported perfectly feasible but its route lies through Servian territory.

When to these facts we add the leadership of the malcontents in southeastern Austria, and the possible establishment of a strong Slav state in control of all Austria’s present approaches to the Adriatic, and directly athwart the path of all her roads to the Mediterranean, we can begin to comprehend the significance that the present war has for Austrians. If on the one hand it is to preserve the Austria that is from disruption, it is on the other none the less certainly an attempt to insure the future of the Austria that is to be.

Short of Servia’s virtual annihilation, Austria cannot rest. The protestation said to have been made to Russia that no accessions of territory were contemplated is probably true; the annexation of Servia would so greatly change the balance of power in the Adriatic as to menace decidedly Italy’s interests and risk the rupture of the Triple Alliance. During the Balkan wars, Servia, despite her gain in prestige, suffered such great losses in men and resources that Austria scarcely risks failure in the military operations, and will certainly further weaken Servia in men and resources to a point which will very likely render her impotent for harm (even though independent and in possession of her present boundaries) for some generations to come. This result, however, clearly cannot be assured by negotiations or diplomatic pourparlers. War, destructive war alone, can accomplish the desired result; and upon that Austria has resolved.


It was obvious to the Austrians that these considerations were familiar to every diplomatist in Europe, and that in every foreign capital their motives would be only too completely understood. There were states, as powerful as they, whose interests would be much injured by the annihilation of Servia. Still, the Austrians thought that there was a fair chance that they might be allowed to deal with Servia unmolested. Not only would the fears of general European war make all other nations slow to interfere, but it seemed almost certain that the domestic difficulties of the Triple Entente would prevent England, France, or Russia from moving, while the striking advantages of the Triple Alliance would obtain in its general position from Austria’s control of Servia, and consequently of Albania and Montenegro, would insure the neutrality of Germany and Italy, her own sworn allies.

England has not faced in many, many years a problem as difficult of solution as the Ulster crisis. So absolutely equal in size have been the English parties for some years that neither can single-handed form a majority and control the House of Commons; each is dependent for ministerial existence on the support of the Irish Nationalists, some eighty in number, who hold therefore, literally, the balance in English politics. Realizing the helplessness of both of the great English parties, the Nationalists recently delivered their ultimatum to the Cabinet: they would support no government which did not actually propose and pass a Home Rule bill satisfactory to them.

No sooner, however, did the bill approach its final stages than agitation began in Ulster against it. Descendants of English colonists in Ireland, the titles of their lands the result of confiscation. Protestants in religion, Orangemen in 1798, they would not trust the Nationalist Catholics in the face of the accumulated religious and political hatreds, the legacy of Ireland’s past. They declared that they would not accept Home Rule, and would make good their defiance in the field. A provisional government was set up; troops enrolled, armed, and drilled; money subscribed; and for some weeks they awaited with scant patience the outcome of the negotiations at London.

The Nationalists, for their part, declined to allow the exclusion of Ulster. Ireland is poor at best; the new government would have a difficult financial problem to solve, even with the aid of English subsidies; and if Ulster, the richest and most important commercial centre of Ireland, were to be excluded, the experiment would become practically unworkable. Moreover, Home Rule predicated the existence of a nation in Ireland, and the Nationalists could not accept the Ulster doctrine, which contradicted the very premises of Home Rule. The Nationalists declined Home Rule without Ulster; the Ulster men were determined to accept nothing less than the complete exclusion of the Ulster Protestant area from the operation of the bill.

Neither party was willing to wait; both were armed; both clamored for an immediate end of the long suspense and the restoration of settled conditions. And now, when conferences and compromises had failed to break the deadlock, when the troops had fired on Nationalists in Dublin, when the probability of civil war in Ireland was growing nearer daily, Austria declared war upon Servia. If the Triple Alliance was awaiting a moment when England would be embarrassed at home, they certainly chose their moment well.

In addition, the House of Commons had manifested its hostility to the Budget and had found fault with the allocation to Mr. Lloyd George’s social legislation of funds which many would assign to the army and navy. A cabinet crisis was impending, the government’s majority was restless and uneasy over many things, and the Unionists seemed scarcely less divided. There had been complaints from influential quarters that the personnel of the navy was insufficient to mobilize the fleets England possesses. Recruiting had not been successful lately, and the quota of men was probably somewhat smaller than it should be. Naturally this reduced in Austrian eyes the apparent discrepancy between the size of the English and German fleets.

Then out of the difficulties Hindu emigrants had recently experienced in South Africa and Canada, had grown serious problems of imperial relationship. Canada declared she would not have Hindus in Canada at all; South Africa denied them equality of status; the Hindus demanded as British subjects freedom of emigration and equality of status in all British dominions. So serious a rift in the Imperial structure had not appeared for years. Hitherto, England had been able to yield and so relieve the tension; but to yield to the self-governing colonies at this time meant an agitation in India at a particularly critical period in world-politics, an agitation which would only too obviously lend color and weight to the anti-English movement, and might even be interpreted to demonstrate its inherent justice.

France, the Austrians saw, was also less fitted than usual to strike or resist. Recently most sensational disclosures of the bad condition of the army were made in the Chamber. The artillery, supposedly the best part of the French army, was frankly stated to be old or defective; the ammunition old and insufficient in quantity, or of the wrong size. Frontier forts in strategic positions dated from the Franco-Prussian War, and had not even been properly repaired, much less rendered efficient from the point of view of modern warfare. The aeroplane squadrons, on which so much reliance had been placed, were said to be only on paper: the number of machines very deficient; many of old and unstable types; the personnel of the service much smaller than the peace footing required, to say nothing of mobilization; the landing places badly selected, and insufficient in area; the sheds too small and too large a proportion of them fixed. These charges the Minister of War was compelled to admit were in substance correct. Then, because of the ministerial crisis, the Caillaux scandal involving most of the Parliamentary leaders, and the strength of the opposition to the three-years’ service, financial provision for the increase of the French army had not been completed, and the execution therefore of most of the provisions of the recent army law was hardly more than in a preparatory stage. The French President, the Premier, the minister of Foreign Affairs, with other notables, and the two best units of the fleet, were also in the Baltic visiting foreign potentates on July 23, when Austria delivered her ultimatum. France was thus, Austria thought, in many ways estopped from taking prompt offensive action. And England’s hands were tied!

Russia, the Austrians believed, had not yet recovered from the Japanese war and was not now capable of a serious, sustained effort at a time when her allies, France and England, might also be compelled to make a sustained effort. France, viewing with misgiving the magnitude of the expenditures on the army (even though the loan was eventually subscribed by the patriotic bourgeoisie forty times over), would view with great reluctance, thought Austria, the financing of Russia in the event of European war. England, with her own fleet to man and supply, would not single-handed by able to finance Russia, the Austrians concluded. Besides, the serious labor difficulties in Russia, and the imperative necessity of gathering the coming harvest, would cause the Russians to hesitate long before interfering on Servia’s behalf.

The probable and natural allies of the Triple Entente were also particularly busy or otherwise incapacitated from action. The most powerful, if the most unlikely, the United States, without a really large modern army, was facing the possibility of trouble in Mexico which would unquestionably require all her efforts for at least a twelvemonth, and would also very likely cause the Americans to hesitate before joining in any European imbroglio. The Balkan States, long sworn enemies of Austrian expansion, were too exhausted form the two recent wars to be very dangerous, and Bulgaria, smarting from her humiliation at Servia’s hands, might indeed actually join Austria in the event of a general conflagration, and could certainly be relied upon to remain neutral if the war were limited to Austria and Servia. Greece and Montenegro, who would very likely join Servia, the Austrians do not fear.


Thus there was a reasonable chance that the Powers would not interfere to save Servia from chastisement. If they did, and a general European war resulted, there had not been in twenty years anything like as favorable an opportunity for the Triple Alliance or one as disadvantageous for the Triple Entente. The stake was so immense, the results of success would be so stupendous, so out of proportion, in the case of the Triple Alliance, with what they might lose, that the issue of war might even be courted with some assurance. Should they win, substantial accessions of territory, money indemnities, and a vastly increased prestige would be the least they could confidently expect.

The schemes of the Pan-Germanists indeed reach to the creation of a vast confederation of states including present Germany, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Austria-Hungary, Italy, the Balkans, Turkey, and Asia Minor—a great belt of territory reaching ‘from the North Sea to the Persian Gulf, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean,’ as one of their slogans has it. The Confederation would have all-rail connection with the Persian Gulf via Vienna, Constantinople, and the Bagdad Railway. It would give the trade of the East a route to the European markets far quicker and possibly cheaper than the all-sea route via Suez. It would be invulnerable to attacks form the English fleet, and would itself render the present English chain of communications with the Far East untenable.

Of this great scheme (supposing it to be, as many claim, the veritable secret policy of the Triple Alliance) the undisputed possession of the Balkans by the Triple Alliance is the most important single factor. If the Triple Entente did not interfere, Austria would crush Servia and make the Triple Alliance the dominant influence in the Balkans. If it did act, even if it acted promptly, Austria could surely occupy the Balkans quickly enough to render the position of immense advantage in the general war, for the Balkans cover the rear of the Triple Alliance.

As to a general assault upon the Triple Entente, the Triple Alliance has long seen two obvious methods, both in the opinion of many likely to be successful: the one, a long waiting game where the rapid growth of the population in Germany, Austria, and Italy, and the decline of the rate of growth in France, England, and Russia, would in time give the Alliance a real preponderance in numbers; the other, a short quick blow at some moment when the Triple Alliance could bring all its strength to bear and when the Triple Entente could not. The former meant, not improbably, many years of waiting, and in those years much might happen.

Thoroughly alive to the situation, the Triple Entente had already under execution the preliminaries of so vast an increase of offensive force, and showed such a determination to maintain a naval and military preponderance, that there would be no alternative but waiting, once these schemes were perfected. The French, and particularly the Russian, army was to be increased, not only in size, but in efficiency and equipment; and an influential minority in England, with apparent popular support, was agitating conscription. The English navy was to be much increased in fighting force by manning at war strength in the near future a much larger proportion of ships than ever before. Chiefest of all, the Russians were building in the Baltic a really formidable fleet, capable of contesting the Baltic with Germany and of threatening the rear of the German fleet in the Atlantic to such an extent that united fleet action in the North Sea would become an impossibility. This meant of course that the German fleet might lose its power of terrorizing England, for, once divided between the Atlantic and Baltic, it would not be large enough (under present legislation) to meet the English fleet, and certainly could not risk an attack from the English and Russian fleets in front and rear.

If they were to fight at all, they must fight now. Next summer might be too late. Now the actual offensive force of their rivals was proportionately less than it might be again for ten years, and their difficulties at home were collectively and individually greater than any of the three has seen for a generation.

So far as the fulfillment of the schemes of Pan-Germanism is concerned, the moment is more than opportune and will not return. Part of the objective of the Pan-Germanists is the control of the trade of the Far East and the lion’s share in the development of China, Africa, and South America. Already they threaten England’s control of the Suez route, and, if a general action with Germany seemed likely in the North Sea, the English might so weaken the Medierranean fleet to insure a preponderance in the Channel, that Italy, Austria, and Turkey might sweep the Mediterranean clear and take Suez. Then, assuming that all went at least not badly in the North, India and the East could be quickly overrun and control so firmly established that nothing short of a catastrophe in Europe could undo it.

One thing alone might stand in the way. The opening of the Panama Canal this coming year would provide the Triple Entente with another sea route to the East, through which third- and fourth-rate English ships could pass in sufficient numbers to dispose of any force which the Triple Alliance could spare from the Mediterranean. The results, even of victory for the Triple Alliance, will be limited to Europe, in all probability, once the Panama gateway to the Pacific is available.

Again, it seemed to Austria advisable to move before the Balkan nations had recovered from the physical and financial exhaustion of the recent war. Weak, they could easily be overrun and were of little advantage as allies to the Triple Entente; strong, they might become thorns in the flesh, constantly menacing the rear. Turkey on the other hand is not by any means so much exhausted by the war, and its army, just reorganized by the new German military mission, should prove, thought Austria, of sufficient account to keep Greece busy. Then, for the moment, the Turkish navy controlled the Ægean by virtue of the recent purchase from Brazil of a first-class battleship. Although the Greeks had just bought two battleships from the United States—of older construction to be sure, but still formidable—they would not be on the scene ready for action for some weeks.

For the nonce, factors at home were as favorable to the Triple Alliance as they were unfavorable to the Triple Entente. The new German army measures were practically completed; the Austrian and Italian armies strengthened and improved. The German fleet’s efficiency had been enormously increased by placing all the modern ships on a war footing. No domestic difficulties of importance hampered the difficulties of importance hampered the action of any of the three governments. They were, moreover, only too well aware that the situation was likely in the immediate future to change for the worse.

First and foremost, the age and ill-health of the Emperor of Austria made his death possible at any time, and even the partial disruption of his Empire would without question destroy the offensive (and perhaps the defensive) force of the Triple Alliance and provide the Triple Entente with a favorable opportunity for aggression which they would not be likely to let pass. The Hungarian plans for independence were no secret; the schemes for the creation of a third Slav monarchy out of Southern Austria were far advanced among the plotters, and had had support (as a necessary compromise) from influential statesmen in Vienna at one time or another. The murder of the Archduke was, it was feared, part of this scheme, and prompt action against the chief offenders was meant to postpone or prevent its execution.

From the accession to the throne of a complicated empire like Austria-Hungary—in a few years or perhaps months—of a young man, whose political capacity and training were certainly not above the average, little good could be anticipated. If he could hold together this jumble of races and religions, this tangle of political and national interests and keep the Dual Monarchy alive, he would accomplish the maximum that could be expected of him. No doubt there were in all parts of the Empire able and patriotic ministers who could govern fro him, yet the personal ability and influence of Francis Joseph has alone harmonized these ministers’ views and given Austria as a consistent foreign policy and the aspect of a single nation in the world’s councils.

Was it to be expected that a young and unknown man would be able to discharge duties which had constantly taxed the ability of a singularly capable and unusually popular monarch? In Austria, the Emperor really is sovereign, and must personally discharge functions requiring the utmost degree of intelligence, skill, tact, and information. Was it likely that the heir apparent possessed these? There was everything to gain, not only for the Triple Alliance but for Austria herself, if the war could be at least begun by Francis Joseph. Victory would insure the future of the monarchy, and if defeat were the measure dealt by the Fates, better far that Francis Joseph himself should tide over the first moments of humiliation and readjustment, and that he should have charge of diplomatic negotiations which could not fail to be of the utmost delicacy and consequence.

In addition to these grave apprehensions were the fears that the growing socialism in Germany, much of which would be elsewhere simple political discontent with autocratic government and the class system of voting, might force the rulers to share some of their power with ‘the mob.’ Never has militarism in Germany been as strong as it is to-day. Witness the white-washing and virtual acquittal of the offenders in the Krupp scandals and the Zabern incident, in the face of an overwhelming chorus of disapproval from every possible organ of public opinion. The moment was, from this point of view also, favorable.

These were the real causes of the Austro-Servian war: the disadvantage of the moment to the Triple Entente, its advantages to the Triple Alliance; the belief that the balance might before long swing so decisively the other way that action might become impossible and might even so decidedly favor the Triple Entente that the latter could take the field with almost complete assurance of success.

Let us beware of saying that Austria advisedly began a general European war or that Germany was anxious to fight. They have neither of them ever been anxious to fight for what they are determined to have, unless they can obtain it in no other way.

The crippling of Servia was, from the point of view of Austrian domestic politics, long decided upon; from the point of view of the interests of the Triple Alliance as a whole, it was highly desirable, and, if successful, would allow them to dominate the Balkans; but it was a movement of such a character, involving so great a change in the balance of power in Europe and affecting so gravely the interests of other nations, that it could not be undertaken, except at a time when the situation made the Triple Alliance willing to accept the issue of a general conflagration should the Triple Entente be also willing to undertake it. Properly speaking, therefore, the true causes of the declaration of war upon Servia by Austria lie less in the domestic relations of the two countries than in the general European situation in the fourth week of July, 1914.

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