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Lecture 31

HIS103Y1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 31: World Politics, Weltpolitik

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Denis Smyth

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The Origins of the First World War; Part One
Within Bismarck’s attempt to maintain an equilibrium between Austria and Russia was a
particular blunder; the necessity to favour one faction over another
Prussia ultimately chose to favour Austria over Russia in the Bulgarian Crisis because the
Austrians stood between the ‘Germany’ Austria led (Bismarck’s GroßDeutschland) and a
Greater German Empire featuring minute minorities
Spring 1890: Russians gave a request to Germany to renew the Reassurance Treaty and a
proposal to give Prussia what they wanted; Russian acknowledgement and concessions
However, Bismarck was no longer in office by then; Kaiser Wilhelm II (‘Kaiser Bill’) removed him
from that post
As a result, Germany declined the request and offer
On one hand, many of Bismarck’s partners in Germany’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs were willing
to listen to a superior council regarding Russo-German affairs
There were diplomatic contradictions between Germany and the lesser powers it allied with
Bismarck had no worries about this, but the military minds were skeptical
May-June 1890: German diplomacy pursues its ‘New Course’ policies regarding Foreign Affairs
Britain was spurred to move from its detached stance regarding binding agreements
There was a fatal flaw in the Bulgarian Crisis’ logic:
Britain had committed necessary action with regards to preventing Russian military intervention.
but they were also preparing to prop up Austria against Russian action, while Prussia was
upholding Russia to pursue military intervention
Since Austria appeared vulnerable, Britain allied itself with Austria
Spring 1890: Austria is now Prussia’s only ally
The New Course ultimately proved fallacious; propped up Russia without the strategic necessity
to do so would make German powers vulnerable
The New Course also made a blunder of assuming that Russia had no diplomatic options;
German politicians assumed that France could never come to Russia’s aid in any meaningful
sense; that Russia could only sulk
1880s: French banks bail the Russian military
May 1890: French interior minister ordered a police raid on Russian revolutionaries who were
assembling a bomb to send back to Russia
Tsar Alexander III praised this raid
The arrest was a great act of Franco-Russian solidarity
Russian interior minister would go to the Russian embassy in France to thank the French
20/7/1890: After months of rejection from Berlin, Tsar Alexander III would personally invite
French General Roidet to Russian military maneuvers in August
After the maneuvers, Roidet wrote a reflection on the Russian military personnel
Roidet: “I believe that if today war were to break out, without there being any provocation on
our side, Russia will mobilize. I believe this all the more because the Tsar not all the more for
us, but for our affection, but solely for the interests of Russia itself. What is important is that
Russia will go to war in the face of an attack on us.”
Europe itself began to understand the scale of the shift in diplomacy through the Kronstadt Affair
23/7/1891: A squadron from the French Navy made their way through many boats in St.
Petersburg’s harbour
A few days later at a banquet, Alexander III would have Russia’s military band play the then
French anthem
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