Austro-Hungarian Red Book: Conversation between Count Berchtold and the German Ambassador to Austria-Hungary, 26 July 1914

On 26 July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Leopold Count Berchtold (pictured), had a conversation with the German Ambassador to Austria-Hungary, Heinrich von Tschirschky. The German Ambassador informed the Minister of Foreign Affairs of a conversation between the German Ambassador to Rome and the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs on Austria-Hungary’s policy towards Serbia. Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy were members of the Triple Alliance. 

Leopold Count Berchtold

Leopold Count Berchtold

Conversation between Count Berchtold and the German Ambassador to Austria-Hungary. Vienna, 26 July 1914.

The German Ambassador came to visit me on 26 July as he had been instructed to communicate the contents of a telegram of the German Ambassador in Rome, which refers to a conversation with the [the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs the] Marchese di San Giuliano on the crisis between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.

The Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs is reported to have spoken in an excessively irritated tone of our step in Belgrade, and to have declared that it is nothing less than an aggressive act, for the consequences of which, the Italian government cannot certainly allow itself to be made responsible. The Triple Alliance Treaty is of a purely defensive nature, our advance into Serbia is decidedly offensive, and if Russia should be involved in the conflict, there would be no casus foederis for Italy and Italy would remain passive.

[The German Ambassador to Italy] Baron Flotow tried in the course of the conversation, which lasted several hours, to convince the Minister and persuade him that our action was a case of necessary defence and self-preservation, and, moreover, that, should Austria-Hungary and Germany be obliged to meet Russia on military ground, this would also be but a defensive action, so that according to the conditions of the Treaty, Italy’s duty would be to fight on our side.

Marchese di San Giuliano, who defended his views with much perseverance, spoke of the enormous difficulties which public opinion would create for him in the face of this conflict, in which public sympathies were not on our side, but entirely with our enemy. Before concluding, he declared that according to Article VII of the Triple Alliance Treaty,—even if there was but a temporary occupation of Balkan territory,—we should be compelled to admit compensation and Italy would certainly insist upon the fulfillment of these stipulations.

[The German Ambassador to Austria-Hungary] Herr von Tschirschky, in communicating these facts, informed me, that on this point the German government was of the way of thinking of the Italian government, since — inconvenient as it was in the present case — every occupation, temporary or otherwise, of territory “dans les regions des Balcans” [in the region of the Balkans] whether on Austria-Hungary’s or on Italy’s part, gave the other party the right of compensation, after a previous arrangement.

My remark, that we held a different view on this subject, because according to the meaning of the Triple Alliance Treaty, and specifically of its Article VII, the rights of compensation here in question could only apply to Turkish territory, was answered by Herr von Tschirschky with the remark that “unfortunately” the text of Article VII perfectly justified the claim of Italy, so that the German government must in this question side with the Italian government; two votes would stand against one.

I did not conceal my surprise that the Roman cabinet should in this question assume such an inflexible attitude. During the Libyan campaign [i.e. the 1911-1912 Italo-Turkish War], the Italian troops had occupied quite a number of Ottoman islands in the Aegean Sea, and we could have claimed the right of compensation. I had consented to the occupation of Rhodos, Karpathos and Stampalia, because they are situated where the Aegean Sea joins the Mediterranean, only remarking that the rest of the islands decidedly belonged to the Aegean Sea, and we had undoubtedly a right to compensation. I did not make good our right at the time, but if Italy will give the Article in question such a wide and inflexible interpretation, we should certainly put forth our claims in our turn. It was moreover my opinion that, since we had no intention of occupying Serbian territory, temporarily or otherwise —transitory operations of war could not be counted as temporary occupation — this was not the time to take the question into serious consideration.

Source: 1919 Austro-Hungarian Red Book, with minor edits.

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