Some Damn Thing (Not Quite in the Balkans)
“One day the great European war will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.” –attributed to Otto von Bismarck
The thing is, it was Bismarck’s series of alliances that led to the world war from the damned foolish thing in the Balkans, because it was the Dual Alliance he facilitated with Austria-Hungary that forced Germany to stand behind the aging and stuffy emperor when a Serbian nationalist assassinated Franz Joseph’s (roundly disliked) nephew and heir.
But going to war was not the original intent when Austria-Hungary and the new state of Germany signed their Dual Alliance on 7 October 1879. Quite the opposite, Bismarck was trying to create, through a series of interconnected treaties of which the Dual Alliance was only one branch, which would limit and prevent war. And the Dual Alliance was a groundbreaking achievement – previous to 7 October 1879, alliances had only been entered into on the brink of war, or during a war. This treaty was entered into without a specific conflict in mind. It was unheard of.
It was also hugely effective. Its main purpose was to limit the power of Russia in Europe, done by promising to come to each others’ aid if any conflict with Russia should occur. Russia’s attempts to create a pan-Slavic empire in the Balkans with the Treaty of San Stefano had greatly worried Austria-Hungary, and the two nations hoped that the prospect of facing two Great Powers instead of just one would make Great Russia think twice before institution shenanigans.
It did work for a time. The Bosnian Crisis of 1908, precipitated by Austria-Hungary upon annexing Bosnia and Herzegovina- nearly erupted into a Europe-wide conflagration until Germany was able to convince Russia to stand aside and not intervene.
But Bismarck was long dead by 1908, and no one was able to pick up his mantle as a great statesman. War seemed to no longer be something to be avoided, but something to actively court, especially war against the troublesome Serbs who had the gall to assassinate the heir to the throne.
And thus, the very alliance that Bismarck had advocated in 1879 turned out to be the reason that Germany would be embroiled in a World War in 1914.
World War I Archive: here.