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  • The Wars Before the Great War: Conflict and International Politics Before the Outbreak of the First World War ed. by Dominik Geppert, William Mulligan, and Andreas Rose
  • David Silbey
The Wars Before the Great War: Conflict and International Politics Before the Outbreak of the First World War. Edited by dominik geppert, william mulligan, and andreas rose. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. xi + 392 pp. $99 (hardcover).

The Balkan Wars, as the editors of The Wars Before the Great War: Conflict and International Politics Before the Outbreak of the First World War point out, are often put in the shade by the overwhelming historiographical brightness of the conflict that started in July–August 1914. “The sheer scale of the First World War encouraged historians to look for longer term causes and trends” (p. 3). The wars of 1912–1913 were as much an international and Great Power crisis as what came later but a crisis that did not result in a war with the cataclysmic impact of 1914–1918.

Professors Geppert, Mulligan, and Rose set out to remedy the neglect and recover the importance of the Balkan Wars. They do this by striving to understand how the Balkan Wars influenced and fed into the crisis of 1914. Understanding 1914, they argue, requires understanding 1912–1913. Though this approach does not really let the Balkan Wars stand on their own as historical events, it does suggest how seeing them as a critical precursor to the Great War deepens our knowledge of both sets of conflicts; in fact, the editors suggest, it “place[s] these wars and their wider repercussions at the center of the transformations in international politics on the eve of the First World War” (p. 1). [End Page 277]

To carry out this ambitious goal, the editors have recruited a range of scholars to write essays on various aspects of the wars before the war. The essays, ranging from ten to thirty pages in length, are gathered in four sections. The first looks at the participants in the Balkan Wars and their experiences of their participation. The second looks at the military reactions to the wars on the part of the European militaries, most prominently the Great Power forces. The third section looks at the attempts of the Great Powers to intervene in, shape, and otherwise control the process of the Balkan Wars, to a greater or lesser degree of success. The fourth and final section looks at various non-state actors concerned with international relations, like the European socialist movement. There is no concluding essay, which would have been useful in wrapping up and reminding the reader of the lessons of the entire volume. The work is deliberately Eurocentric, containing its focus on the continental events, powers, and peoples, though there is some mention of the imperial context.

The essential question, of course, is did the volume as a whole succeed in establishing the kind of linkage between the Balkan Wars and the start of the First World War that it sets as its goal? Here, the answer is mixed but mostly positive. Where the essays adopt the theme wholeheartedly and center their discussion on how 1912–1913 affected the situation in 1914, the book’s introductory assertion is amply supported. Bruce Menning’s essay on how the Russian General Staff’s threat calculus was affected by the Balkan Wars makes the effective point that the perceived lessons of the Balkan Wars shaped Russian military reactions in the summer of the Great War. Patrick Bormann’s piece on German foreign policy and the effects of the Balkan Wars does something similar for German diplomats. Even Markus Pöhlmann’s piece on the German general staff, which concludes that the German military rightly took few lessons from the Balkan Wars, reinforces the book’s theme as he makes clear the value of reaching that conclusion.

But other essays do not interweave the theme nearly as effectively. The essays of the first section (on the participants in the Balkan Wars), notably, do not really use the theme as a driver, either not acknowledging it as at all or leaving it to a brief discussion at the end of the...


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pp. 277-279
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