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Although this book will focus on Russia’s military experience in World War I, the war’s origins are important to establish necessary context. Library shelves bend under the weight of books on the causes of the First World War. During the war, governments published selections from their diplomatic archives to demonstrate that the fault lay with their enemies, and the struggle over assigning blame has never ceased. For many years after the war, the predominant attitude among historians was to blame all participants (which, in effect, blamed no participants) for the creation of an international system pregnant with the danger of war, for their clumsy handling of prewar crises, and for underestimating the devastation war would bring: the war was a mistake, rather than deliberate policy. All along, though, a substantial minority of scholars saw primary responsibility as lying with Germany. During the 1960s, the pioneering West German historian Fritz Fischer argued in a pair of books that Germany had indeed engineered war in 1914. Ever since Fischer, a basic consensus among historians has agreed that all the powers regarded war as a legitimate feature of the international system, but that in 1914 only Germany and AustriaHungary were willing to provoke a limited war and risk a general war to achieve their ends. No other great power wanted war in 1914: Great Britain was satisfied, France was too uncertain of its prospects against Germany, and Russia saw its military potential growing with every year that passed. Austria-Hungary, on the other hand, was conscious of the danger it faced from Slavic nationalism in the Balkans, and saw a war to crush Serbia as 1 The Origins of Russia’s First World War 14 Stone_The Russian Army in the Great War 5/19/15 9:43 AM Page 14 preferable to disintegration, even if that risked general war. Every year made Austria’s relative position worse, and immediate war as a solution more attractive. Germany likewise saw the passage of time increasing Russian power and closing the window within which Germany might achieve European domination.1 This book accepts the consensus that Germany and Austria-Hungary bore primary responsibility for the war, but the way the world looked from St. Petersburg is worth reviewing: how it was that Russia came to fight in 1914. The quest for roots of the First World War can be pushed back endlessly into the past, but discussion here will focus on three key elements: the alliance system that structured international relations in 1914, the concrete grievances and policy goals that fueled international rivalries, and finally the 1914 July crisis that brought war.2 ALLIANCE SYSTEMS European politics in 1914 were structured but not determined by two competing alliance systems. The older and more formal was the Triple Alliance. When Prussian chancellor (i.e., prime minister) Otto von Bismarck engineered the wars of German unification—against Denmark in 1864, AustriaHungary in 1867, and finally France in 1870–1871—his policies forged the fragmented petty states of Germany into one empire under Prussian leadership , but guaranteed enduring Franco-German hostility. Relatively mild terms for Austria-Hungary meant that the Habsburgs became German allies in short order after their 1867 defeat. After Bismarck won the FrancoPrussian War of 1870–1871, however, the peace he imposed on France provided grounds for forty years of enmity by seizure of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.3 Once Germany was unified, Bismarck regarded his state as a satisfied power, and his priority was to prevent France from finding allies to undo the settlement of 1871. Bismarck’s lack of colonial or naval ambitions meant that the British had no cause for opposition to Germany. Bismarck used shared commitment to political conservatism to bind Russia and AustriaHungary to Germany as well. This ideological consensus became formal in 1873 as the Three Emperors’ League, a vague commitment to solidarity among monarchies. Bismarck moved to establish more lasting connections THE ORIGINS OF RUSSIA’S FIRST WORLD WAR 15 Stone_The Russian Army in the Great War 5/19/15 9:43 AM Page 15 with Austria and Russia to lock out the French. Prior to serving as chancellor , Bismarck had been ambassador to Russia and so had a welldeveloped sense of Russia’s potential power. He played on Habsburg fear of Russia to win Austria-Hungary to a Dual Alliance in 1879, expanding this into the Triple Alliance with the addition of Italy in 1882. As soon as Bismarck attached Germany to Austria, however...


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