Austro-Hungarian Red Book: Count Szecsen to Count Berchtold, 27 July 1914

On 27 July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to France, Nikolaus Count Szecsen (pictured with his family), sent a coded telegram to the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Leopold Count Berchtold. In his telegram, one of the key documents of the July Crisis, he describes French fears of the escalation of the conflict into a World War. The escalation would result from over-zealous belligerence from Austria-Hungary towards Serbia.

Nikolaus Count Szecsen with his family

Nikolaus Count Szecsen with his family

Count Szecsen to Count Berchtold. Paris, 27 July 1914.

Cyphered.

Received cyphered telegram.

Have spoken in the sense of the telegram to [The French Minister of Justice, representative of the Minister of Foreign Affairs] Monsieur Bienvenu Martin. He showed himself painfully surprised and said that the Serbian government had met our wishes in such a degree, the slight differences left, were so unimportant, that no one could understand how they could give cause for a rupture or for applying the very severest measures.

Without saying it in so many words, he seems to assume that the beginning of hostilities against Serbia must necessarily be followed by a general war. He said Austria-Hungary was taking upon itself a tremendous responsibility, if, now that Serbia has given way on so many points, on account of small differences it caused the World War to break out. Of course I answered that Austria-Hungary’s efforts were all directed to localise the war between Serbia and us; the danger of further complications would arise if a third power interfered in this conflict; a danger which France could do much to avoid.

The minister assured me that France had not ceased to advise Belgrade to give way entirely. He had not given up hope that Serbia would still find means to satisfy us. If Serbia now agreed to accept our Note [i.e. the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia] without reservations surely that must suffice. He asked how your Excellency’s expression “by the strongest measures” was to be understood, but I had to say that I did not know precisely. The Minister hopes that only a fresh ultimatum was meant, which would give Serbia a chance of altering its answer to our satisfaction.

Serbia’s acquiescence to our demands, which here no one could have believed possible, impressed greatly. Our attitude in the face of Serbia’s answer causes the belief to become general that we want war at any price, and this turns public opinion very much against us.

[The President of France] Monsieur Poincaré has given up his visits to Copenhagen and Christiania and will no doubt be very much put out in consequence. He is to arrive here on Wednesday, [the Russian Ambassador to France] Monsieur Iswolski today or tomorrow. We must expect to hear sharper words in the near future.

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

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