Was Russia ready for World War I.

Pre-war 1913

The year 1913 began as 1912 ended: with war and crisis. Since the autumn of 1912 fighting raged in the Balkans and challenged the interests of the competing powers Austria-Hungary and Russia, together with their alliance systems. Europe was exposed to considerable tension. In this threatening situation - the diplomats were already talking about the possibility of war in telegrams - the German General Staff wrote a memorandum that dealt with the military plans for the future of the Reich. The military emphasized the importance of the German alliance partners, in addition to Italy this was above all Austria-Hungary. Only "when the entire people is permeated with the realization that the damage to their allies also jeopardizes their own vital interests will the willingness to make sacrifices revive in them, which every state (...) needs in order to be able to wage an energetic war". Should a war break out on the continent, "the casus belli" must be formulated in such a way that the nation unanimously and enthusiastically takes up arms. [1]

The example is not a special case: it reflects the ways of thinking and attitudes that were widespread in all major European powers, had an impact on politics and tell us a lot about the year 1913 and the "pre-war period". Obviously, around 1913 international relations were marked by conflict. They came about because political action was shaped by dangerous ideas. The great powers relied on a challenging power politics with which they wanted to gain national prestige and guarantee their security. The alliance systems played an increasingly important role. The memorandum also reveals that in the event of war one reckoned with a destructive struggle for which the mobilization of the whole nation would be necessary. But was a war even likely for contemporaries? Could politicians and the military in Europe hope for broad popular approval? Was there any form of propaganda that advocated the war and worked towards it before the outbreak of war in 1914?

Dangerous tendencies

War was in the air in Europe not only in the crisis of 1912/1913. There were latent tensions between Germany and Great Britain because of the German naval policy. In 1905/1906 and 1911, two Moroccan crises worried international politics, with Germany and France vying for influence in North Africa. They ultimately led to the consolidation of the Triple Entente between France, Great Britain and Russia, which was concluded in 1908. The Bosnian annexation crisis had very similar effects. In the same year it caused diplomatic unrest after Austria-Hungary had annexed some Balkan territories. Ultimately, these crises led to the emergence of two solid alliance systems in Europe by 1913: the Triple Alliance with Germany, the Habsburg Monarchy and Italy on the one hand and the Triple Entente on the other. Between 1911 and 1913 there were also three wars, in which first Italy, then encouraged by the actions of Italy, Balkan states such as Bulgaria and Serbia pushed back the area of ​​power of the wavering Ottoman Empire. In addition, there were unrest on the periphery of Europe, where violence was always an obvious option for political action. In any case, the European powers seldom hesitated in their colonies to fight insurrections by force of arms.

The numerous cold and hot conflicts gave the war a special presence in European politics. In general, political and military decision-makers, professors and publicists such as Heinrich von Treitschke or James Ram were convinced that war was a quasi-natural part of state development. The war memorials in the European capitals - the Victory Column in Berlin, the Nelson's Column in London's Trafalgar Square, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris or the Alexander Column in St. Petersburg - reminded every passer-by of their own warlike past. War and the military played an important role in the myths and symbols of European nations and thus gave the states traditions and legitimacy. [2] So it is hardly surprising that the military and war were omnipresent in society as well.

The peculiar presence of the war in Europe was fed not only from historical images, but also from contemporary mentalities and ideologies. In addition to nationalism and imperialism, above all social Darwinism should be mentioned here, which contributed a lot to the fact that states were seen as competitors. He made struggle and power the guidelines for political action that must be geared towards national expansion. Few politicians adhered to the radical forms of social Darwinism, yet were fight to survive, lutte pour la vie and struggle for life Buzzwords that influenced political thinking and action. Above all, the economic rivalries between the great powers seemed to confirm social Darwinian assumptions. In Great Britain and Germany, and less so in France, it was assumed around 1900 that great world empires would arise in the future. It was concluded that the size and resources of national spheres of influence alone were decisive in determining which powers could dominate the 20th century.

Nationalism, imperialism and social Darwinism led to a way of thinking that turned international politics into a competition between states in which prestige, influence and honor as well as space and resources were decisive. As a result, the major European powers pursued a self-centered politics of prestige and power, in which war was always a possible option. However, there are differing views as to whether or not the main political decision-makers in Europe expected a war around 1913.