Austro-Hungarian Red Book: Count Berchtold to Count Mensdorff, 28 July 1914

On 28 July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Leopold Count Berchtold (pictured), sent a coded telegram to the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to London, Albert von Mensdorff. In his telegram, Berchtold describes a meeting he had with the British Ambassador. The British proposal for a great power conference to mediate the Austro-Serb crisis was met with reservations by Berchtold.

Leopold Count Berchtold

Leopold Count Berchtold

Count Berchtold to Count Mensdorff. Vienna, 28 July 1914.

Cyphered.

The British Ambassador [Sir Maurice de Bunsen] came to see me this morning and, according to instructions, explained the point of view [the British Foreign Secretary] Sir Edward Grey holds with regard to our conflict with Serbia, which is the following:

The British government has followed the course of the crisis with the greatest interest; it sympathises with our way of seeing things, and perfectly understands our grievances against Serbia. It did not mind saying that it had no love to spare for Serbia, and knows very well that Serbia has committed a number of misdeeds in the past.

Britain is therefore not disposed to consider our conflict with Serbia as a subject of special preoccupation, but the London Cabinet must nevertheless give its full attention to it, because this conflict might draw wider circles and might endanger the peace of Europe.

Inasmuch as Britain is involved in this danger, Sir Edward Grey has seen fit to invite the governments of those States which are not immediately interested in the conflict (Germany, Italy, and France), to examine and discuss the possibilities of appeasing the differences between the conflicting countries. The British Foreign Secretary’s idea was to follow the modus employed at the conference of the last Balkan crisis, when the London ambassadors of the different states kept up a continued intercourse with Sir Edward Grey. The governments in question had already sent him very friendly answers, in which they approved his idea. At present it is the ardent wish of the Foreign Secretary to prevent the outbreak of hostilities between Austria-Hungary at the eleventh hour, if this were possible, if not, to prevent a bloody encounter, perhaps by inducing the Serbians to withdraw. The answer, which Servia had given to our demands, seems to imply the possibility of yet coming to an understanding. Britain will willingly mediate in our direction and use its influence in favour of our wishes.

I thanked the ambassador for the expressions of sympathy which Sir Edward Grey had used in referring to us, and answered that I valued the Foreign Secretary’s point of view at its full worth. His point of view is very naturally different from mine, Britain having no immediate interest in the dispute between us and Serbia, and the Foreign Secretary himself being scarcely informed thoroughly enough on the gravity of the questions which have to be solved in the interest of the [Austro-Hungarian] monarchy. Sir Edward Grey speaks of the possibility of preventing the outbreak of hostilities, but for this it is too late, since Serbian border soldiers fired at ours yesterday, and today our declaration of war has been sent. I must decidedly reject the idea of a temporary arrangement, based upon the answer of the Serbian government. We had asked for an integral acceptance of our demands; Serbia concealed its embarrassment by prevaricating. These Serbian methods are an old tradition. The Serbians must not be taken as if they were a cultivated nation, and we cannot forget how often they have deceived us.

Sir Maurice Bunsen had no doubt acquired sufficient insight into local circumstances and would be best able to draw a truthful picture on the subject for Sir Edward Grey.

Sir Edward Grey is anxious to serve European peace, and he will certainly not find us oppose to him in this, but he must consider that the peace of Europe would not be saved if the Great Powders backed up Serbia and procured for it exemption from punishment. If we were to accept an attempt at mediation, Serbia would feel itself encouraged to go on doing what it has done in the past, and the question of war would crop up again in a very short time.

The British Ambassador ended by assuring me that he understood our point of view perfectly, but that he must regret that under such circumstances the wish of the British government to achieve a friendly arrangement must be given up for the time being. He hoped that he would be allowed to remain in close contact with me, a circumstance which might be of special value in view of the great danger of a European conflagration.

After I had assured him that the ambassador would always find me at his disposal, he took his leave.

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

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