Confusion Between Defensive/Offensive Military Preparations Damages Great Power Relations
[laptop-built, view on narrow browser window]
(Aug 4, 2019, this page in development)

Page 2: Foreign Secretary Edward Grey: Balkans Crisis Arbitration 1903-1914
1914: A general willingness to believe "war was something that was not going to happen in Europe."
Page 3: "Caught Looking": Physical Working Models
of European/British Response to June 28-July 1914 Crisis

Historians on Causes of World War I
Foreign Secretary Edward Grey: Delayed Telegrams June-July 1914
Foreign Secretary Edward Grey on the June 28-July 1914 Crisis
Winston Churchill on the June 28-July 1914 Crisis
June 28-July 1914: The Tactic of Timidity
June 29th-July 1914, Wagons-Lits to the French Riviera
Switzerland: Europe's Strongest Neutral Armed-Power and the June 28-July 1914 Balkans Crisis

Post-June 28-July 1914/WWI:
July 16, 1945: Trinity
Effects of Atomic Detonations: Hiroshima, Nagasaki
Japan: Feasibility of Atomic Demonstration-Test in 1945
USAF Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

Even before the last week in July the chances of arbitrating the Balkans Crisis lay in ruins. Initial military defensive preparations had been misinterpretated. The foreign secretary:

"The distinction between preparations made with the intention of going to war and precautions against attack is a true distinction, clear and definite in the mind of those who build up armaments. But it is a distinction that is not obvious or certain to others.

"Each Government, therefore, while resenting any suggestion that its own measures are anything more than precaution for defence, regards similar measures of another Government as preparation to attack...

"Fear begets suspicion and distrust and evil imaginings of all sorts, till each Government feels it would be criminal and a betrayal of its own country not to take every precaution, while every Government regards every precaution of every other Government as evidence of hostile intent."[italics added]
Foreign Secretary Edward Grey (at 88-90).

Even if all parties to the dispute are rational actors, the confusion between defensive and offensive intent has been an unsolved problem ever since the invention of empires/nation-states with standing armies in proximity to each other. Defensive mobilizations can appear virtually identical to offensive mobilizations. One (or more) sides can claim their mobilization is purely defensive when in fact they are mobilizing to attack.

This can produce a feedback-loop, where one side's defensive maneuvers prompt military maneuvers by the other side, which prompt further maneuvers by the first side, and so on. In the June 28 Crisis, the feedback loop was driven by lightning-speed telegraph cables - not by horseback.

In the latter half of the July 1914 Crisis, the interpretation of defensive military preparations as possibly offensive eroded massive amounts of trust, and had a devastating impact on the capacity of the Great Powers to arbitrate the Balkans Crisis before it ignited a World War. Before the last week in July, deep uncertainty about the actual intent of Great Powers' military preparations/mobilizations ruined the very significant trust painstakingly built up by previous lengthy Great Power Conferences at London, the Hague etc.


  • June 28, 1914: Austrian Army Chief von Hotzendorf Recommends Immediate Military Offensive:
  • To complicate matters, only hours after June 28th regicide, offensive military action/mobilization was strongly recommended:

    "It is said that the Austrian chief of army staff, Conrad von Hoetzendorff, had advocated going to war with Serbia some 25 times in 1913 alone -- but was blocked every single time by Franz Ferdinand."

    "People of the time summed up Conrad's idea of world politics in 3 words...'Krieg. Krieg. Und krieg.' 'War. War. And war.'"

    "[the day after the regicide] Monday evening Conrad arrived at the Ballplatz [Vienna] to sound out Berchtold... Skipping the usual pleasantries, Conrad proposed straightaway that Austria-Hungary mobilize against Serbia, beginning on Wednesday, 1 July... 'Nothing will have the slightest effect' the chief of staff argued, 'but the use of force.'"

    The argument advanced here is that in a slightly similar fashion to the telegraph-driven near-British-French war, within a couple weeks various parties with all sorts of different motives using European/British electric telegraph cables had the effect of whip-sawing the June 28 Balkans Crisis beyond all rational understanding. Defensive preparations against attack were confused with preparations for attack.

    Since nobody was able to agree on any positive action whatsoever, the Balkans Crisis could not be expected to continue on for long. Radical political/military elements were struggling to appropriate the crisis to further their own war-aims.

    For the sake of European/British security, prudence might suggest that despite the risk of the Great Powers getting involved, the Crisis nevertheless had to be firmly arbitrated promptly before it quickly spiraled totally out-of-control. If the Great Power Ambassadors, comprising some of those who had arbitrated the 1912-1913 Balkans Crisis, had promptly arrived in Paris or Vienna with an offer to arbitrate the Crisis, they'd be holding the last card in the deck.

    There was not a lot of time to waste. Within weeks, initial defensive military maneuvers began to quickly erode whatever trust remained between the Great Powers. And once that trust was gone, the window-of-time for arbitration of the Balkans crisis closed.

    The foreign secretary said that "British interests" touched those of other Great Power's in many parts of the world. In view of Britain's colonial interests, it is surprising the foreign secretary did not think to consider asking the fiercly independent Swiss at Geneva to offer to arbitrate the crisis.

    Switzerland was not a colonial expansionist military power. Having Geneva contact Austria/Hungary, Serbia, Russia and Germany seems a vastly more neutral offer than from the then-dominant world military empire Great Britain. It would certainly appear the other Great Powers would have been much more amenable to an offer for arbiration from Switzerland, who in 1914 was the moral center of Europe.


    Starting Day-1, June 28, 1914 the problem seemed to be two-fold: electric long-distance telegraph cables out of the Balkans/Vienna able to accelerate up to 2700Km/minute encrypted messages desperately pleading with DEEPLY sympathetic, heavily-armed Great Powers for all manner of military support.

    And the second problem was initial defensive military maneuvers, as they may be misinterpreted by opponents as hostile. Such ambiguousness prompted an extraordinary risk of Great Power military commanders beginning to fight for control of foreign policy with their duly-constituted Great Power political officials. The supreme danger of this fight cannot be over-emphasized.



2019 - 2020