On 26 July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Leopold Count Berchtold (pictured), sent a private telegram to the Austro-Hungarian Ambassadors to Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and France. In his telegram, Berchtold informs his ambassadors that diplomatic relations between Austria-Hungary and Serbia have been broken. He also instructs them on how to communicate Austria-Hungary’s reasoning to their respective foreign ministers. For Berchtold, Austria-Hungary was engaging in an act of self-defense brought on by Serbian aggression.
Count Berchtold to the Imperial and Royal Ambassadors in Berlin, Rome, London and Paris. Vienna, 26 July 1914.
- Count Szogyeny, Berlin.
- Herr von Merey, Rome.
- Count Mensdorff, London.
- Count Szecsen, Paris.
Serbia, having refused to accept the demands we have addressed to it, we have broken off diplomatic relations.
I request your Excellency to visit
The Imperial Chancellor [Theobald von Bethmann-Hollveg] or [the Minister of Foreign Affairs Gottlieb] von Jagow.
the Marchese di San Giuliano or his representative.
Sir Edward Grey or his representative.
the Minister of Foreign Affairs or his representative.
And to address him in something like these words:
The Royal Serbian government has refused to comply with the demands we have found necessary to address to it to protect our threatened vital interests, and has thereby given us notice that it will not give up the subversive movement and the aims by which it causes incessant disturbance in some of our frontier countries, which it might ultimately disjoin from the body of the Monarchy. To our sincere regret, and much against our will, we have been placed before the necessity to compel Serbia by the strongest measures to completely alter its past hostile attitude.
The Imperial German government is well aware that we are not entertaining aggressive tendencies, but that after many years of patient toleration, we have at last decided for an act of self-defence, if in the face of the intrigues for a Greater Serbia we are compelled to draw our sword.
We are sincerely gratified, to find that the Imperial German government and indeed all German people, fully agree with us that now that the inquiry has shown that the assassination of Sarajevo was plotted in Belgrade and accomplished by persons sent from there, our patience has been exhausted, and we must now strive with all means in our power to obtain a guarantee that things will not go on as they do at present along our South-Eastern frontier. We hope that our disagreement with Serbia will not lead to further complications; should this be the case, we acknowledge with gratitude that Germany, in its faithful loyalty, remembers its duty as our ally and will support us in a war forced upon us by a new enemy.
The Royal Italian government is well aware that we are not entertaining aggressive tendencies, and that it is an act of self-defence, if, after years of patient toleration we at last decide to meet the intrigues of Greater Serbia with the sword. Rome will not refuse to give testimony that we have for many years used great patience towards Serbia under undue provocation, although the development of Serbian propaganda filled us with increasing anxiety. Now that the inquiry has brought forth results, which prove beyond a doubt that the assassination in Sarajevo has been prepared in Belgrade and accomplished by agents sent from there, now that we know that Serbia does not shrink from the most violent means of promoting its aims, we are at last convinced that it is high time for us to obtain the certainty that the activity of Serbia on our South-Eastern frontier will be stopped for all times.
The peaceable means of inducing Serbia to change its attitude towards us, being completely exhausted, it is to be feared that the question will have to be decided by the force of arms.
When Italy, a short time ago, was compelled to resort to war [i.e. the 1911-1912 Italian-Turkish War] to assert its position in the Mediterranean, and to protect its economic interests, we showed our friendly dispositions as an ally, rejoiced in the success of Italian arms and readily recognised the extension of the Italian sphere of influence.
In conformity with our friendly feelings, the Duke of Avarna [the Italian Ambassador to Austria-Hungary] has now declared in the name of his government that in case an armed conflict should break out between us and Serbia, Italy will be faithful to its duties as an ally, a declaration which we acknowledge with great gratification.
We have, as the
government knows well during quite a number of years, done all in our power to live on good terms with our unruly neighbour, although his provocations increased in such a manner as to render this more difficult every year. Our patience necessarily found its end when the bloody plot of Sarajevo, planned in Belgrade and carried out by agents sent from there, showed all the world what terrible fruits had ripened under Serbian propaganda; how it constantly threatened the integrity of the Monarchy, and what despicable means and tools Serbia is not too proud to use, to promote its aims.
government will understand that we think the moment has come, when with the greatest energy we must obtain the certitude that Serbian aspirations are indeed being suppressed, so that we may trust that quiet and order are being re-established in our South-Eastern countries.
As all the peaceable means to attain this end have been exhausted, the ultimate decision will eventually have to be left to our arms. The Austro-Hungarian government has not decided lightly in this sense and only because, whilst it harbours no aggressive tendencies whatever, the step it takes, is an act of self-defence, which can no longer be delayed. The government believes that it is serving the interests of Europe if it deprives Serbia of the possibility of remaining a disturbing element in Europe in the future, as it has been during the last ten years.
The highly developed love of justice of the British people and of its leading statesmen cannot consider us to be in the wrong if we should have to resort to the sword to defend what is ours, if at last we come to an explanation with a people whose hostile policy has compelled us to contrive costly measures, deprecatory to the well-being of our nation. Trusting to the happily re-established, traditionally friendly relations with England, we may rely upon the sympathies of the Royal British government in a war, which has been forced upon us, and may hope that it will support the efforts, which are being made to localise the conflict.
During the  Annexation Crisis, France gave us valuable proof of a just valuation of our political aims; we hope that France will not refuse its sympathies in a war which has been forced upon us and will support the efforts which are being made to localise the war, if it cannot be avoided.
Source: 1919 Austro-Hungarian Red Book, with minor edits.