July Crisis


July Crisis
(1914)
   The precipitant diplomatic crisis of World War I, the July Crisis is also referred to as the Mobilization Crisis. The crisis began on Sunday June, 28, 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Habsburg throne, by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb fanatic, during a visit to Sarajevo in Bosnia- Herzogovina to view the summer maneuvers of the Austro-Hungarian army. During the month of July it proceeded to an Austrian declaration of war on Serbia on July 28, a general mobilization by Russia the next day, French and German mobilization on August 1 and German declaration of war against Russia later the same day, a German declaration of war on France on August 3 countered by a British declaration against Germany on August 4, and, finally an Austrian declaration against Russia on August 6. Between the assassination and Vienna’s war note to Belgrade a series of diplomatic and military measures - not one of which made war inevitable, but equally none of which were unequivocally dedicated to its prevention - ushered the situation among the Great Powers from the possibility to the probability to the near certainty of Armageddon.
   These began with Vienna seeking German support for an Austrian war to eliminate Serbia as factor in the Balkans. Because the Austrian government had wanted to destroy Serbia in 1912–1913 and had been thwarted, the assassination was viewed in Vienna as an opportunity to revisit the issue. Until now the German government had seen Austria’s fear of Serbian nationalism as hysterical, which it was, but the sensation of the assassination moved Berlin to take the Balkan situation more seriously. Under these circumstances in July 1914 it was possible for the Austro- Hungarian foreign minister, Count Leopold von Berchtold, to obtain what amounted to a “blank check” of support from Germany to undertake against Serbia whatever measures the Austro-Hungarian government deemed imperative. Indeed, Kaiser Wilhelm II himself assured Vienna’s ambassador, Ladislaus Szögyéni-Marich, of German backing even if Russia intervened on behalf of Serbia. This assurance opened a door between the small regional war Austro-Hungary was preparing to launch against Serbia and a full-out European conflict, unless Russia responded to Serbia’s punishment exactly as Berlin and Vienna hoped.
   The next step was the Austro-Hungarian 48-hour ultimatum delivered to the Serbian government on July 23. Among other things, it demanded the suppression of publications and organizations engaged in anti-Austrian activities and the dismissal of Serbian officials thought to be involved, directly or otherwise, in such activities; cooperation of Serbian officials with those of Austria in the investigation of the assassination along with legal proceedings against individuals accessory to it; the arrest of Serbian officials found to be involved; and an explanation for the continuing “unjustifiable utterances” of high Serbian officials. The Serbian reply was mostly positive yet rejected outright the demand for proceedings against accessories. Serbia mobilized its forces before even filing the reply; Austria also mobilized and made hostilities official on July 28. On July 26 the British foreign minister, Edward Grey - a veteran of successful arbitration during the Balkan Wars - had proposed an international conference, but only France and Russia had agreed. Vienna rebuffed outright any submission of an issue of “national honor” to the opinion of other governments, an outrageous articulation given that its position was dependent on German steel.
   Thus Austria had the war it sought. It was only from this point forward that the mobilization of their armies became an integral factor in the failure of national governments to prevent its rapid evolution to a general conflagration. Tsar Nicholas II initially ordered Russian mobilization against Austria but came under pressure to mobilize against Germany, too, because Russia’s enormous territory made mobilization slow and could put the country at a decisive disadvantage if Germany were to mobilize first. On July 29, this order was temporarily cancelled following a telegram from Wilhelm II with the welcome news that Germany was attempting to restrain Austria. But timely mobilization was actually more critical to Germany, faced with the prospect of war in the east and west against two of the Entente powers, Russia and France.
   The potential cost of the German blank check was now becoming apparent. A short, sharp Austrian triumph in the Balkans could have altered the European balance of power in favor of the Triple Alliance without Germany having to fight. With this calculation now in serious peril, army chief of staff General Helmuth von Moltke urged full Austrian and German mobilization. When Russian mobilization resumed on July 30, Germany delivered a 12-hour ultimatum on July 31 that it stop. In addition, Berlin sought clarification from Paris on France’s attitude to a Russo-German war, while looking to Britain for assurances of neutrality. France’s response was cryptic, and Britain’s was a demand that the neutrality of Belgium be respected - a demand Germany rejected. French and German mobilization orders were then almost simultaneous late on the afternoon of August 1, with the difference that Germany now sought British influence to keep France neutral in return for a promise not to attack. At 7:00 P.M ., Germany declared war on Russia. The next day Belgium defied Germany’s demand for a right of passage for its troops through Belgian territory, and the British cabinet decided that its position would be decided over precisely that issue: if Germany violated Belgium neutrality, guaranteed by the Treaty of London in 1839, Britain would be bound to come to Belgium’s aid. When Germany declared war on France on August 3 and promptly launched its invasion of Belguim, therefore, British policy was decided, and the Triple Entente was at war with the Triple Alliance. War was made official on August 4, at which point Austro-Hungary’s Serbian war had, in little more than month, become a continental and finally a global conflict that ultimately was to consume a generation of European manhood and draw in Italy, Turkey, and the United States. The Age of Imperialism was over.
   See also <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Albertini, Luigi. The Origins of the War of 1914. 3 vols. Translated by Isabella M. Massey. New York: Oxford University Press, 1952;
    Fromkin, David. Europe ’ s Last Summer. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004;
    Keegan, John. The First World War. London: Random House, 1998;
    Strachen, Hew. The First World War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
   CARL CAVANAGH HODGE

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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