On 20 July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Leopold Count Berchtold sent telegrams to the Austro-Hungarian Ambassadors of the Triple Alliance in Rome and Berlin. In his telegrams, Berchtold (pictured) informs his ambassadors about the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia, and the attitude to take towards Italy and Germany.
Count Berchtold to Herr von Merey in Rome and Count Szogyeny in Berlin. Vienna, 20 July 1914.
We must count with the possibility that the Royal Italian government will, in the event of a warlike complication between us and Servia, attempt to interpret article VII of the Triple Alliance Treaty in a sense favourable to itself and will bring forward the compensation question.
You will find enclosed a private notice, which you will use as a line of action in case the Marquis di San Giuliano [the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs] should in conversation allude to the Italian interpretation of the article mentioned above.
Your Excellency will find enclosed the copy of a private notice which I am seeding to Herr von Merey. It is to serve the ambassador as a line of action in case the Marquis di San Giuliano should take a warlike complication between us and Servia for a pretext to interpret article VII in a sense favourable to Italy and should bring forward the compensation question.
As it is just possible that the Italian government would ask the Berlin cabinet to support its interpretation of article VII and the German State Secretary might lay the subject before you, I am anxious that you should be in a position to support our point of view in the Wilhelmstrasse [the German Ministry for Foreign Affairs] with the necessary energy.
Your Excellency is authorised to communicate the content of the private notice, but only in case the State Secretary first refers to the subject and even then only verbally. In any other case the private notice is reserved for your Excellency’s private knowledge only.
The war declaration to Servia, which may eventually become necessary, will not be made by Austria-Hungary with a view towards territorial acquisitions. The monarchy has on the contrary no other aim in view, except the one explained in its note to the Belgrade government, not to allow the hostile propaganda nourished by the neighbouring kingdom to disturb its normal peaceful development.
Though the monarchy in a war with Servia by no means thinks of the acquisition of land, still the nature of the war would be such as to place the basis of operations on Servian territory; should Servia in the course of mobilisation or soon after operations have begun, decide in favour of yielding and giving way, a provisory occupation of the country would have to be kept up as long as there are no guarantees for peace, or as long as the costs of mobilisation or of war, incurred through Servia’s refusal to comply with Austria-Hungary’s demands, have not been paid by Servia.
It would be mistaking the spirit of the Triple Alliance Treaty to interpret article VII in such a manner that the temporary occupation of territory belonging to a country, with which the monarchy is at war, should be made dependent upon an agreement with Italy based upon compensation.
In the text of the treaty, article VII, in referring to the necessity in which Austria-Hungary or Italy might find themselves of changing the status quo, the expression is used dans les régions des Balkans [in the Balkan territories] and this might give occasion for the interpretation, that an expressed difference between the territory belonging to Turkey in the Balkans and the territory of the Balkan States not being made, the conditions of the article in question might apply to both.
The text of our agreement proves that this interpretation would be altogether unjustified.
After the words: dans les Balkans article VII continues: des côtes et îles ottomanes dans l’Adriatique et dans la mer Égee [from the Ottoman shores and islands in the Adriatic and Aegean seas]. The explicit enumeration of what belongs to Turkey cannot but signify that the islands and coasts belonging to some other state are not included in the article in question, that the words: dans les régions des Balkans applies to Turkish territory only. If this were not so, an intentional differentiation would certainly arise, since the article would provide that islands and coasts of Montenegro or Greece would be excepted, but portions of the interior would be included in the determinations of article VII.
The fact that the determinations of article VII only applies to territory under Ottoman dominion is furthermore proved by the passage in the same article referring to an eventual compensation. It is clear that were the occupation of any part of Turkish territory in question, either of the allied powers must allow the other to take part in the war and after a preliminary agreement consent to its occupying temporarily or permanently some determined object of compensation. This principle cannot be applied to a war between the monarchy and a Balkan state without territory on the coast, as long as some other Balkan state with a coast has not joined the enemy of the monarchy, when Italy might claim a compensation of territory, which it might reach by sea.
The text of the arrangement special concernant le Sandjak de Novi Bazar [special arrange,ent that concerns the Sandjak of Novi Bazar] of the year 1909 also shows plainly what is meant by les regions des Balkans in article VII of the Triple Alliance Treaty. This arrangement, which was made for the express purpose of supplementing and giving preciseness to article Vll of the Triple Alliance Treaty, says: the determinations of article VII apply to the Sandjak of Novi Bazar just as much as to the other parts of Turkey. When in the following sentence, beginning: Si donc il est question du maintien du status quo dans les Balkans [If the maintenance of the status quo in the Balkans is concerned], there can be no doubt that in this case, and indeed in all the Treaty, les Balkans refers to the territory which Turkey owns in the Balkans.
If we wish to speak of the spirit in which the Treaty is written, it will suffice to quote the words on the: bienfaits que leur garantit, au point de vue politique et social, le maintien de la Triple Alliance [the political and social benefits that the Triple Alliance guaranties them] to make it clear that the monarchy cannot expect Italy to interpret the Treaty in a way which would make its action against Servia difficult, whereas its principal aim is to stop hostile propaganda, which does not even recoil from murder.
Attention should also be paid to the fact, that according to the spirit of article VII, it was then considered desirable that the status quo of that time should be maintained, and all territorial changes avoided, which would be to the disadvantage of either Austria-Hungary or Italy. Since then there have been such changes, and all to the detriment of the monarchy.
The enlargement of Servia at the expense of Turkey has encouraged the old idea of a Greater Servia to such a degree that the monarchy’s quiet development of its territory is threatened and it must, to defend its most vital interests, resort to the use of arms. Though there can be no doubt that if the monarchy, intending to change the status quo of Turkey or of the territory which belonged to Turkey when the Treaty was concluded, would have to come to an understanding with Italy before undertaking serious steps. It is also quite clear that the monarchy must have a free hand to protect its interests, where a change of the status quo has taken place without its cooperation.
The right of temporarily occupying territory in neighbouring Servia to ensure peace in its own country, cannot be disputed, and indeed there is no question of an action undertaken with the purpose of changing the status quo.
Nor should we understand Italy, if it founded its opposition against our action with regard to Servia, on the words with which article VII concludes and which are: donnant satisfaction aux intérêts et aux prétentions bien fondées des deux Parties [giving satisfaction to the interests and well-founded claims of both parties] and chose to speak of an injury to its interests, if we temporarily occupied any part of Servia. We could understand that such arguments might be used by the foes of the Triple Alliance, who are keeping the monarchy busy with the doings of the South Slav propaganda and will see it as a failure of their own, if Servia is checkmated.
Source: 1919 Austro-Hungarian Red Book, with minor edits. Translations from French are mine.