Summary: Diplomacy by Kissinger – Chapter 7 – A Political Doomsday Machine

Diplomacy by Henry Kissinger. Book cover detail.

In 1994, Henry Kissinger published the book Diplomacy. He was a renowned scholar and diplomat who served as the United States National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. His book provides an extensive sweep of the history of foreign affairs and the art of diplomacy, with a particular focus on the 20th century and the Western World. Kissinger, known for his alignment with the realist school of international relations, inquires into the concepts of the balance of power, raison d’État, and Realpolitik across different eras.

His work has been widely praised for its scope and intricate detail. Yet, it has also faced criticism for its focus on individuals over structural forces, and for presenting a reductive view of history. Also, critics have also pointed out that the book focuses excessively on Kissinger’s individual role in events, potentially overstating his impact. In any case, his ideas are worthy of consideration.

This article presents a summary of Kissinger’s ideas in the seventh chapter of his book, called “A Political Doomsday Machine: European Diplomacy Before the First World War”.

You can find all available summaries of this book, or you can read the summary from the previous chapter of the book, by clicking these links.

At the start of the 20th century, the Concert of Europe, which had previously maintained peace, had effectively disintegrated. This shift led to the formation of two major power blocs, somewhat similar to the later Cold War, but with a key difference: in this earlier era, wars were initiated more lightly, sometimes even viewed as beneficial, a misconception shattered by World War I.

The responsibility for World War I’s outbreak is widely debated among historians, with no single country solely to blame. Each major power played a role, showing a lack of foresight and responsibility, a behavior that became unthinkable after the war’s catastrophic impact was fully realized.

Europe’s transformation of the balance of power into an arms race, without recognizing the severe threat posed by modern warfare, was a key factor in the war’s outbreak. Germany and Russia, in particular, demonstrated a lack of restraint, exacerbating tensions. Historically, Germany had often been a battleground for European wars, leading to a national desire to prevent such tragedies in the future. However, the approach to this issue, particularly after Bismarck’s era, was overly militaristic and aggressive, making Germany a source of concern for its neighbors.

Germany’s lack of a unifying philosophical foundation in its foreign policy, unlike other European nations, led to an aimless and aggressive stance. This stemmed from Bismarck’s creation of a Germany that prioritized power without integrating broader national aspirations. This absence of intellectual grounding and the memory of past conflicts left Germany feeling insecure, despite being a dominant power. This insecurity was evident in their military preparedness and aggressive posturing, which ironically led to the very coalition of neighbors they feared.

A more prudent and restrained approach could have potentially averted the looming crisis. However, Bismarck’s successors abandoned his cautious tactics, instead relying on brute strength. Their policies were driven by the moment’s emotions and a lack of understanding of foreign perspectives, leading Germany into isolation and eventually war.

Bismarck’s diplomatic subtlety, which had previously managed Europe’s complex alliances, was not continued by his successors. The change in leadership, particularly with the ascent of William II, marked a significant shift. William II’s need to assert himself, partly due to personal insecurities, led to a more ostentatious and less stable foreign policy. This change was a move away from Bismarck’s careful diplomacy and had a central role in shaping European peace.

William II sought international recognition of Germany’s power, engaging in an undefined global policy. This approach was characterized by bold declarations but lacked clear direction and resolve. The integration of a powerful Germany into the international order was a challenging task, made even more difficult by the volatile mix of personalities and domestic politics in Germany. Consequently, Germany’s foreign policy often exacerbated the very fears and tensions it sought to alleviate.

In the two decades following Bismarck’s departure, Germany’s diplomatic approach led to a significant shift in European alliances. Initially, nations like France and Great Britain were at odds, and Britain’s longstanding rivalry with Russia made the eventual alliance of these three powers seem improbable. However, German diplomacy, perceived as aggressive and threatening, inadvertently united these countries against Germany.

Unlike Bismarck, who operated within the traditional balance of power, his successors failed to understand this concept. Their efforts to emphasize Germany’s strength only prompted other nations to form alliances as a counterbalance. German leaders mistakenly believed that their domineering tactics would convince other nations of the benefits of aligning with Germany. Instead, their approach provoked fears and led to the formation of opposing coalitions. This diplomatic misstep highlighted that domination cannot be achieved without resorting to war, a realization that came too late to prevent the catastrophic World War I.

For much of Imperial Germany’s history, Russia was viewed as the main threat to peace. British leaders like Palmerston and Disraeli were particularly wary of Russia’s potential expansion into regions like Egypt and India. By 1913, German leaders had become so fearful of a Russian invasion that it significantly influenced their decision to engage in conflict in 1914.

Despite these fears, there was little solid evidence of Russia’s intention to establish a European empire. The intense military preparations by all European powers, driven by new technologies and mobilization strategies, were often disproportionate to the actual disputes. These preparations were misinterpreted as indicators of ambitious plans, especially by German intelligence. Prince von Bülow, the German Chancellor, echoed Frederick the Great’s concern about the Russian threat.

Russia’s expansionist tendencies were seen as particularly unsettling in Europe. While other nations engaged in threats and counterthreats for territorial gain, Russia’s expansion seemed driven by an inherent impulse, often preferring the risk of war to compromise, as seen in the Crimean War and the Balkan conflicts. This attitude partly stemmed from Russia’s unique position, straddling both Europe and Asia. In Europe, Russia was part of the balance of power but often displayed impatience with its constraints, resorting to war when its demands weren’t met. In Asia, Russia faced weaker entities where the balance of power principle was irrelevant, allowing for unchallenged expansion.

Russia’s unilateral approach to issues like the fate of Turkey and the Balkans, often resorting to force, contrasted with Europe’s view that such matters should be resolved collectively. This pattern repeated after World War II, with Stalin insisting on Soviet dominance over Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, leading to resistance from Western powers. The historic pattern of Russia’s military assertiveness followed by Western opposition was evident throughout history.

Russia’s tendency to push beyond limits and harbor grievances for future retribution was a recurring theme. Its relations with Britain, Austria, Germany, and later the United States, often involved long periods of resentment and plans for revenge. The response of post-Soviet Russia to the disintegration of its empire and satellite states remained to be seen, raising questions about its future diplomatic direction.

In Asia, Russia’s expansion was even more unchecked than in Europe. Throughout the 18th and most of the 19th centuries, Russia was a pioneering European power in the Far East, forging agreements with Japan and China. This expansion, achieved with relatively few settlers and military adventurers, didn’t clash with other European powers. Russia’s territorial gains in Asia, often through “unequal treaties” with China, were not contested by Europe, though these treaties have been denounced by subsequent Chinese governments.

Russia’s territorial ambitions in Asia grew with each acquisition. Serge Witte, the Russian Finance Minister, once remarked that Russia’s absorption of a significant part of China was inevitable. Russian leaders saw the Far East as their exclusive concern, disregarding the rest of the world’s right to intervene. Russia’s expansion tactics varied, sometimes advancing on multiple fronts simultaneously or focusing on the least risky areas.

The structure of Imperial Russia’s policy-making reflected its dual nature. The Foreign Office, leaning towards Western orientation, was often at odds with the Asiatic Department, responsible for policies in the Ottoman Empire, the Balkans, and the Far East. Unlike the Foreign Office, the Asiatic Department did not see itself as part of the Concert of Europe and often pursued unilateral actions or wars without European consultation.

Russia’s expansionist approach was marked by ambiguity, leading to Western debates about its intentions, a trend that continued through the Soviet period. Russian government structures, both imperial and communist, resembled an 18th-century autocracy more than a 20th-century superpower. Russian foreign ministers lacked the authority to shape long-term policy, serving more as aides to the autocrat. This system hindered the development of a coherent foreign policy.

The tsars’ autocratic system further complicated policy-making. Foreign ministers who gained the tsar’s trust served for extended periods, often into old age, and had exclusive access to the tsar. This system led to disjointed decision-making, as seen when Alexander III disengaged from state affairs for months. Military figures often acted independently of the foreign ministers, further muddling Russia’s foreign policy.

Under Nicholas II’s rule, Russia’s arbitrary institutions led to a costly war with Japan and an alliance system that made conflict with Germany almost inevitable. The 1905 defeat in Japan should have been a wake-up call for domestic reform, but Russia instead pursued further foreign ventures, driven by Pan-Slavism and aspirations towards Constantinople.

Russia’s relentless expansionism, rather than strengthening its power, led to its decline. Despite being considered the strongest European nation in 1849, Russia’s dynasty collapsed in 1917. Its involvement in numerous wars, more than any other major power, drained its resources without significant gains. Leaders like Serge Witte promised dominance from Russia, but economic, social, and political development would have been more beneficial than territorial expansion.

Some Russian leaders realized that territorial expansion weakened Russia, but their views were overshadowed by the nation’s obsession with conquest. The Soviet Union’s eventual collapse echoed the downfall of the tsarist regime, suffering from similar overexpansion. The conflict between Germany and Russia was almost inevitable, given their respective ambitions and positions in Europe. The peace of Europe depended on the balancing role traditionally played by another country, which had maintained moderation throughout the 19th century.

In 1890, Britain’s foreign policy was characterized by “splendid isolation,” a stance of avoiding entanglement in Continental alliances, much like the isolationism favored by the United States. British citizens took pride in their nation’s role as the “balance wheel” of Europe, ensuring no single coalition dominated the continent. However, this approach dramatically shifted by 1914, with Britain joining the muddy battlefields of Flanders alongside France against Germany.

This significant change in British foreign policy was led by the Marquis of Salisbury, a figure embodying traditional British values and political heritage. Salisbury, born into the prestigious Cecil family, had a smooth political ascent, marked by an education at Oxford and travels across the Empire. He became Foreign Minister under Disraeli and played a key role at the Congress of Berlin. Following Disraeli’s death, Salisbury led the Tory Party and became the central figure in British politics at the end of the 19th century.

Salisbury’s tenure mirrored that of President George Bush in some ways. Both leaders operated in a world that was changing around them, though this wasn’t immediately apparent. Bush’s career was shaped by the Cold War, while Salisbury’s experiences were formed during a time of British global dominance and Anglo-Russian rivalry, both of which were waning during his leadership.

During Salisbury’s time, Britain faced challenges to its global standing, with Germany’s rising economic power and expanded imperial efforts by Russia and France. Britain’s dominance, so prominent in the mid-19th century, was declining. Similar to how Bush adapted to unforeseen changes, British leaders in the 1890s recognized the need to adapt their traditional policies to new global realities.

Salisbury, with his conservative appearance and demeanor, seemed more a symbol of Britain’s satisfaction with the status quo than an agent of change. He is credited with coining “splendid isolation” . Salisbury believed Britain’s insular position meant it should remain active at sea and avoid the usual Continental alliances, famously asserting, “We are fish.”

However, Salisbury eventually realized that Britain’s far-flung empire was under strain. Russia was exerting pressure in the East, France in Africa, and even Germany was joining the colonial race. These powers, while often in conflict with each other in Europe, consistently clashed with Britain in overseas territories. Britain not only held significant colonies like India, Canada, and parts of Africa, but also sought to control strategic territories indirectly to prevent them from falling into rival hands. This policy included areas like the Persian Gulf, China, Turkey, and Morocco, leading to constant conflicts with Russia and France in various regions.

To counter these challenges, Britain engaged in the Mediterranean Agreements of 1887, aligning itself indirectly with the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. This was a strategic move to strengthen Britain’s position against France in North Africa and Russia in the Balkans, but it was only a temporary solution.

The new German Empire, after the departure of Bismarck, struggled to effectively utilize its newfound position on the geopolitical stage. Despite Great Britain gradually moving away from its policy of splendid isolation, Germany’s diplomatic tactics were far from effective. German policymakers, believing both Russia and Great Britain were in desperate need of German support, attempted to negotiate hard bargains with both simultaneously. However, their aggressive approach often resulted in rebuffed overtures and sulky responses, a stark contrast to France’s patient and incremental diplomatic strategy. Consequently, Germany’s foreign policy during this period appeared amateurish, shortsighted, and timid.

In 1890, Kaiser Wilhelm II, shortly after dismissing Bismarck, made a significant diplomatic error by rejecting Russia’s offer to renew the Reinsurance Treaty. This decision, motivated by a desire for simplicity, prioritizing the alliance with Austria, and aspirations for an alliance with Great Britain, revealed a lack of geopolitical insight. Ending the treaty encouraged Austrian adventurism and heightened Russia’s anxieties, prompting Russia to seek a counterbalance in France.

The German-British colonial agreement that followed further fueled Russia’s movement towards France. In this agreement, Britain and Germany exchanged territories in Africa and the North Sea, but it led to misinterpretations among the powers. Russia saw it as Britain joining the Triple Alliance, while Germany viewed it as a prelude to an Anglo-German alliance.

Bismarck’s fear of coalitions became reality as the end of the Reinsurance Treaty set the stage for a Franco-Russian alliance. Germany underestimated the possibility of a Franco-Russian alliance, failing to recognize that both France and Russia needed each other to counter German strength. This miscalculation was evident when France and Russia signed the Entente Cordiale, providing mutual diplomatic support, followed by a military convention in 1894, aimed specifically against Germany.

The formation of the Triple Entente in 1908, with Great Britain joining France and Russia, marked the end of the effective balance of power in Europe. The diplomatic environment became rigid, leading to an arms race and escalating tensions. This rigidity foreshadowed the eventual outbreak of World War I.

Meanwhile, Germany’s attempts to forge an alliance with Great Britain were hindered by misunderstandings and misjudgments. British foreign policy traditionally avoided permanent military commitments, preferring limited agreements or diplomatic cooperation through ententes. Kaiser Wilhelm II’s insistence on a “Continental-type” alliance was unrealistic and unnecessary, given Germany’s strength. Germany’s approach led Britain to view its intentions with suspicion, contributing to the deepening divide between the two nations.

Salisbury, the British leader, noted the lack of strategic insight in German foreign policy post-Bismarck. Germany’s push for a formal alliance with Britain, which Britain was not prepared to give, especially for a nation rapidly becoming the strongest in Europe, was a critical diplomatic misstep. German efforts, which could have focused on securing British neutrality in potential Continental conflicts, instead raised fears of German ambitions for world domination. This growing mistrust among the major powers set the stage for the complex web of alliances and hostilities that would eventually erupt into World War I.

As Germany pursued alliances impetuously, there was a growing demand within the German public for a more assertive foreign policy. This sentiment was widespread, with even the Social Democrats eventually supporting Germany’s declaration of war in 1914. The leading German classes, lacking experience in European diplomacy and the new global politics they were advocating, were driving this nationalist fervor. Interestingly, the Junkers, often blamed for Germany’s aggressive foreign policy, were less inclined towards global expansion, being more focused on continental Europe. In contrast, the burgeoning industrial and professional classes were the main proponents of nationalism, lacking the parliamentary checks and balances that existed in Western democracies like Great Britain and France.

The autocratic nature of the German government made it highly susceptible to public opinion and nationalistic pressure groups. These groups, viewing international relations like a competitive sport, constantly pushed for a harder line in foreign policy, territorial expansion, and military enhancements. They viewed any diplomatic compromise as a humiliation, creating a charged political environment that led to diplomatic blunders.

One such blunder was the Krüger Telegram in 1896, which significantly damaged Germany’s prospects for an alliance with Britain. Kaiser Wilhelm II’s congratulatory message to the president of the Transvaal Republic was seen as a direct affront to Britain and was more a public relations stunt than a serious policy statement. It suggested German support for the Boers against British interests in South Africa, thus alienating Britain.

Germany’s attempts to build a large navy, fueled by domestic pressures from industrialists and naval officers, further strained relations with Britain. This arms race was seen as a direct challenge to Britain’s naval supremacy and only added Britain to Germany’s list of adversaries. The Kaiser seemed unaware of the impact of his aggressive policies, failing to recognize the consequences of challenging Britain’s command of the seas.

In Britain, Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, advocated for an alliance with Germany to counteract the threats from France and Russia. However, German insistence on formal alliances was incompatible with British foreign policy, which preferred limited military agreements or entente-type arrangements. Britain’s refusal to commit to a formal alliance with Germany was due to a fear of further empowering an already strong nation.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Lansdowne, shared Chamberlain’s view that Britain could no longer rely on isolationism. However, the British Cabinet was only willing to consider an entente-style arrangement with Germany, similar to what would later lead to the Entente Cordiale with France. Germany, however, continued to demand a more formal alliance, leading to repeated failures in negotiations.

German Chancellor Bülow’s refusal to accept anything less than a formal triple alliance demonstrated a misunderstanding of British foreign policy and a lack of geopolitical foresight. This miscalculation led Britain to seek other strategic partners, notably Japan. The 1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance marked the first significant departure from European alliances for Britain, aligning with Japan to counterbalance Russian and French influences in the Far East.

This alliance demonstrated to Germany that Britain did not view it as an indispensable strategic partner. Britain’s growing perception of Germany as a geopolitical threat, combined with Germany’s failure to understand the benefits of British neutrality, significantly altered the balance of power in Europe and foreshadowed the complex alliance systems that would soon lead to World War I.

In 1912, there was still an opportunity to resolve the tensions between Great Britain and Germany. Lord Haldane, the First Lord of the Admiralty, went to Berlin to negotiate a naval accord and discuss British neutrality in potential conflicts involving Germany. However, the Kaiser’s insistence on a British pledge of neutrality in any war Germany might be involved in, even if it were the aggressor, led to a deadlock. The British saw this as an unacceptable condition, as it implied support for a possible German preemptive strike against Russia or France. Consequently, the talks failed, the German Navy Bill progressed, and Haldane returned to London without an agreement.

The Kaiser failed to understand that Britain was only willing to offer tacit support, which was essentially what Germany needed. The Kaiser’s response was one of indignation, interpreting Britain’s reluctance as an insult to Germany and its emperor. He remained convinced he could coerce Britain into a formal alliance, underestimating the British resolve and misunderstanding their foreign policy stance.

This approach only heightened British suspicions. Germany’s naval expansion and its aggressive stance during the Boer War led Britain to reassess its foreign policy priorities. Historically, Britain had seen France as the main threat to European balance and Russia as the principal danger to its empire. But with the Japanese alliance secured, Britain began to realign its foreign policy, leading to the Entente Cordiale with France in 1904 and subsequent discussions with Russia.

The Entente Cordiale, while technically a colonial agreement, effectively meant Britain was joining one of the opposing alliances in Europe, deviating from its traditional position as the balancer. A French representative assured Britain that France could influence Russia, mitigating British concerns about Russian aggression.

Germany’s response to this shifting alliance landscape was to challenge the Entente Cordiale, notably in Morocco, where French ambitions conflicted with a treaty guaranteeing Morocco’s independence. The Kaiser made a bold statement in Tangier in 1905, asserting Germany’s commitment to Moroccan independence, hoping to split the Entente. This move backfired as Britain strongly supported France, and Germany’s assumptions about potential support from other nations proved incorrect.

The Moroccan crisis ended in a diplomatic defeat for Germany at the Algeciras Conference in 1906. The United States, Italy, Russia, and Britain refused to support Germany, and instead of weakening the Entente Cordiale, the crisis strengthened Franco-British military cooperation and led to the Anglo-Russian Entente of 1907.

Following Algeciras, Britain began military cooperation with France, a significant shift from its long-standing policy of avoiding military entanglements with Continental powers. However, the British Cabinet was cautious, maintaining that these consultations did not commit Britain to military action. France accepted this ambiguity, banking on the moral obligation it created.

By 1907, the European diplomatic landscape had polarized into two camps: the Triple Entente of Britain, France, and Russia, and the alliance between Germany and Austria. This shift marked Germany’s complete diplomatic isolation. The Anglo-Russian agreement of 1907, initially a colonial accord, resolved longstanding colonial disputes between Britain and Russia, indicating Britain’s growing concern about Germany.

Sir Eyre Crowe, a British Foreign Office analyst, outlined the reasons for opposing an understanding with Germany in the Crowe Memorandum of 1907. He argued that Germany’s quest for maritime supremacy and its unpredictable foreign policy posed a threat to global stability. Crowe’s analysis suggested that Germany’s growing power and aspirations made it a formidable threat, regardless of its intentions. This perspective solidified Britain’s stance against further German expansion.

In 1909, Foreign Secretary Grey rejected a German proposal to slow down its naval buildup in exchange for British neutrality in a potential German war against France and Russia. Grey saw this as a ploy to establish German hegemony in Europe, ultimately threatening British security. This development underscored Britain’s commitment to opposing any further increase in German power, marking a definitive shift in its foreign policy and further entrenching the divide leading up to World War I.

After the formation of the Triple Entente, the diplomatic maneuvering between Germany and Great Britain escalated into a more serious and dangerous conflict. This was a struggle between a power seeking to maintain the status quo (Great Britain) and another demanding changes to the existing balance (Germany). Diplomatic flexibility was no longer a viable option, leaving only arms buildup or war as means to alter the power balance.

The alliances, now deeply entrenched in mutual distrust, were more focused on maintaining their unity than avoiding conflict. In this tense atmosphere, war seemed increasingly inevitable, even though few actual issues justified such a drastic step. A more restrained approach might have delayed war and led to the dissolution of these unnatural alliances, particularly since the Triple Entente was primarily formed out of fear of Germany.

By the early 20th century, the European powers had formed rigid coalitions, carelessly assembled and disregarding the potential consequences. Russia was tied to a Serbia full of nationalist and terrorist factions. France had given Russia a carte blanche, and Germany had done the same for Austria, which was trying to suppress Serbian agitation. These major powers had become hostages to their less stable Balkan allies, exacerbating the situation and making war more likely.

In 1908, the crisis over Bosnia-Herzegovina exemplified the repeating patterns of history. Bosnia-Herzegovina, a complex mix of religions and ethnicities, had been under Turkish suzerainty and Austrian administration but without clear sovereignty. Austria’s annexation of the region was more about scoring points against Serbia and Russia than achieving any real political goal, upsetting the balance in the region.

This move by Austria, backed by Germany, alarmed Russia, which had no immediate capacity to respond due to its recent defeat in the Russo-Japanese War. Germany’s support for Austria’s annexation and its demand for formal recognition from Russia and Serbia marked a significant shift in German foreign policy and further estranged Russia.

In 1911, Germany again challenged France over Morocco. The Kaiser sent the gunboat Panther to the Moroccan port of Agadir, escalating tensions and prompting fears of a potential war. However, Germany’s objectives remained unclear and ill-defined. Great Britain, now more firmly aligned with France, backed France more strongly than before. Even Austria, Germany’s ally, was hesitant to support a North African venture.

Germany ultimately backed down, accepting a land swap in Central Africa, but this move was met with nationalistic disappointment in Germany. The criticism focused not on the land gained but on Germany’s repeated threats of war without a clear purpose, which only served to heighten the fears that had originally led to the formation of the hostile coalitions.

By 1912, the Entente powers had started military staff talks, symbolizing a deepening of their military cooperation. The Anglo-French Naval Treaty of 1912 exemplified this cooperation, with France moving its fleet to the Mediterranean and Britain assuming responsibility for the French Atlantic coast. This agreement would later be cited as a moral obligation for Britain to enter World War I, as France had allegedly left its Channel coast undefended relying on British support. Similarly, decades later, a comparable agreement between the United States and Great Britain in 1940 would imply a U.S. moral obligation to protect British Asian territories against Japan.

In 1913, German leadership further alienated Russia with a decision to reorganize the Turkish army and appoint a German general to command in Constantinople. Kaiser Wilhelm II’s dramatic gesture, hoping for German flags to fly over the Bosphorus, deeply angered Russia. For a century, Europe had denied Russia control of the Straits, and the idea of another Great Power, particularly Germany, dominating this critical region was unacceptable to Russia. The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Sazonov, expressed concern that such a move would significantly impact Russia’s economic development in the south.

Although Germany eventually removed the German commander from Constantinople, the damage had been done. Russia saw Germany’s support of Austria over Bosnia-Herzegovina and now its actions in Constantinople as clear indications of Germany’s aggressive foreign policy. The Kaiser’s own words confirmed the deteriorating Russo-Prussian relations, setting the stage for World War I.

The international order before World War I was highly volatile, unlike the later Cold War period. Each member of the main alliances could initiate a war or pressure allies into joining it, creating a dangerous dynamic. There were attempts to restrain alliance members, but these were increasingly unsuccessful. For instance, during the Bosnian crisis of 1908, France made it clear it wouldn’t go to war over a Balkan issue, and similar restraints were exercised in other crises. However, by the time of the London Conference of 1913, the effectiveness of such restraints had diminished.

Each major power feared appearing weak and losing the support of their allies, leading to heightened risks and irrational decisions. Richelieu’s principle of matching means to ends was frequently ignored. Germany was ready to risk a world war over issues in which it had little national interest, and Russia was prepared to engage in a major conflict to support Serbia. There was no major direct conflict between Germany and Russia; their confrontation was essentially a proxy battle.

The escalation of commitments among the alliances was evident. The French President Raymond Poincaré assured Russia of France’s support in the event of war, aligning French interests with the European balance. Similarly, British concerns about maintaining their diplomatic balancing act and fears of losing Russia’s support became apparent. The Kaiser, in a bid to assure Austria of Germany’s support, promised to follow Austria into war if necessary.

The alliances, initially formed to augment strength in case of war, were now driving the nations towards conflict to preserve the alliances themselves. The leaders of these countries seemed unaware of the potential destruction their policies could unleash. They expected a quick, decisive conflict, not realizing that their failure to align alliances with rational political objectives would lead to catastrophic consequences. The Great Powers had unwittingly created a diplomatic doomsday machine, setting the stage for a war that would devastate the civilization they knew.

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