On 8 July 1914, the Hungarian Premier Count Istvan Tisza wrote a letter to the Austro-Hungrian Emperor Franz Joseph. In his letter, Tisza warns about the dangers of rushing into war against Serbia, and the possibility of escalation into a World War.
Letter of the Hungarian Premier Count Tisza to his Imperial and Royal Majesty Franz Joseph. Budapest, 8 July 1914.
The gratifying news from Berlin, combined with the indignation felt over the events in Servia, in yesterday’s Crown Council matured the intention of bringing about a war with Servia and to settle accounts with this arch-enemy of the monarchy, with all the members of the Council except myself.
I was not in a position to approve this plan to its full extent. Such an attack upon Servia, would—if human foresight does not deceive—cause the intervention of Russia and conjure up the world’s war. Notwithstanding Berlin’s optimism I should consider the neutrality of Roumania very questionable. Public opinion in Roumania would passionately cry out for war with us, and the present government would not be able to resist, King Carol very little. In this war we should therefore have to expect to see the Russian and the Roumanian armies among our foes, and this would make our chances of [a victorious] war very unfavourable.
I could not give my consent to an action, kindling war under such constellations, all the less because Berlin no longer opposes active, consequential policy promising success in the Balkans, so that we now have the means of using decisive influence on the development in the Balkans and bringing about a more favourable constellation for ourselves. This justifies us in hoping that if later on we should be compelled to resort to a decisive war, we should have a better chance of winning it.
When I asked how the proportion of forces among the Great Powers stood, after the armaments of latter years, the Chief of the General Staff [Conrad von Hötzendorf] answered, after considering a while: ‘Rather in our disfavour’. I drew the conclusion from this answer that there would be no great difference in the present proportions and that the development of conditions in the Balkans would compensate what was in our disfavour.
It is superfluous again to discuss the action which is to bring about an improvement of the conditions in the Balkans. The accession of Bulgaria to the Triple Alliance is the first step, so to say the Archimedean point, at which we must begin to oust Russia from its present position. Next we should have to see to definitely clearing the relations between Bulgaria and Greece. There are some difficulties in the way, but the chances of success are not bad. Jointly with Germany we must exercise some pressure on Roumania. There will no doubt be an outcry when the accession of Bulgaria becomes a fact, but I am certain that the attitude of Roumania will change visibly immediately afterwards. Chances may be in our favour, but even in the worst case we may suppose that in the course of a few years we shall be sure of the friendly neutrality of Greece. Roumania will be held in check by Bulgaria, which will have regained its force and Servia will be deprived of a good portion of its army, when Bulgaria begins an action in Macedonia.
I will resume what I have thus far stated. A war, which we would provoke, would have to be fought under most unfavourable circumstances, whilst a postponement, if we make good diplomatic use of it, would change the proportions of forces in our favour.
If besides considering the political points of view, I take into account the state of our finances and our economical interests, which a war would burden immensely, and give a thought to the almost unbearable sacrifices and sufferings which a war would impose upon society. I must — after consulting my conscience — refuse to share the responsibility of military aggression as it is proposed against Servia.
I am far from advising an inactive or unenergetic policy towards Servia. We cannot remain indolent spectators of the intrigues spun against us, we cannot see our own subjects encouraged in high treason, or assassinations plotted. The explanations published by the Servian (even the semi-official) press not only, but by the representatives of Servia in foreign countries, betray so much hatred and such total wait of international decency, that out of consideration for our prestige and our safety we must act in an energetic way against Servia, if we are not indifferent to what foreign countries and our own think of us.
I am not pleading that we should pocket these provocations and am prepared to take the responsibility for all the consequences, which a rejection of our just demands would entail. But according to my belief Servia must be given the possibility to avoid a war by suffering a heavy diplomatic defeat. If a war is unavoidable, all the world must see that we are acting in defence, not defiance.
A strictly measured, but not a threatening note should therefore be addressed to Servia, in which all our concrete complaints are enumerated and precise demands are formulated. As such I should propose the recalling of the Servian diplomats Spalajkovic in Petersburg and Jovanovic m Berlin: I should demand satisfactory information on the Kragujevae origin of the bombs found hi Bosnia and on the fact that compromised subjects of the monarchy have crossed the border with forged passports. The Servian authorities must moreover explain the hostile and seditious declarations of Servian officials and officers, which I hope will soon be ascertained. Attention should also be called to the universally known defectiveness of the press, the societies and the schools in Servia, and satisfaction demanded in each case.
If Servia gives an unsatisfactory answer or seems disposed to delay giving an answer, an ultimatum should be sent and when the allowed time is over, hostilities might begin. In this case the war would have been forced upon us—no country that wishes to continue existing as a State—can refuse to fight out such a war; and besides we should have put the blame on Servia, which courted the danger of war by refusing to comply with the duties of a decent neighbour after such an event as the abomination of Sarajevo.
Such an attitude on Servia’s part might considerably improve the chances of the German action in Bucharest and might even prevent Russia from participating in the war. It is probable that England would exercise a pressure upon the other powers of the Entente and that the thought would have weight with the Czar, that it cannot be his business to extend a protecting hand over anarchist plots and anti-dynastic murders.
To avoid complications with Italy and to be sure of the sympathies of England, besides making it possible for Russia to remain an idle spectator of the war, we should find the right time and the right form for declaring that we do not mean to annihilate Servia, and certainly will not annex it. It is my belief that after a successful war it would be best to reduce the size of Servia, by returning its newly acquired territory to Bulgaria, Greece and Albania, and to ask only certain important strategic corrections of the borders. We should be justified in asking an indemnity for our war expenses and this would keep Servia in check for a long while.
These are the aims we should keep in view in the eventuality of war. If Servia yields to pressure, we must accept this solution of the difficulty bona fide and not hinder its retreat. In this case we must he satisfied with the blow to Servia’s pride, with its diplomatic defeat, and take up a well-aimed, intense action with Bulgaria and the other Balkan states, and we may be sure that the diplomatic victory over Servia would have a favourable influence upon the negotiations that will become necessary.
I have taken the liberty to give my impression of the situation at length. I am aware of the heavy responsibility which all are obliged to bear in these critical times, who have the honour to possess Your Majesty’s confidence. Knowing well that the burden of responsibility wall be equally heavy, whether we decide for acting or for leaving things alone, I have, after painful consideration of all the arguments, which come in question, the honour to advise a middle road, which does not exclude a peaceful arrangement and to a certain degree improves our chances of war—should war be unavoidable.
It will be my duty in tomorrow’s Crown Council to cause the Hungarian cabinet to declare itself. In the meantime I can only declare in my own name that notwithstanding my devotion to the service of Your Majesty, or rather on account of my devotion, I could not share the responsibility for an exclusively aggressive solution of our difficulties.
(signed) Istvan Count Tisza
Source: 1919 Austro-Hungarian Red Book, with minor edits