Austrian ministers debate action on Serbia (1914)




On July 7th 1914 the Council of Ministers of Austria-Hungary met in Vienna to formulate a response to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. The following document is an abridged summary of the minutes of this meeting:



The Ministerial Council has been called in order to advise on the measures to be used in reforming the evil internal political conditions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as shown up by the disastrous event at Sarajevo. In the president’s opinion there were various internal measures available within Bosnia… to deal with the critical situation. But first of all they must make up their minds as to whether the moment had not come for reducing Serbia to permanent inoffensiveness by a demonstration of [Austrian] power.

Such a decisive blow could not be dealt without previous diplomatic preparation; consequently he had approached the German government. Conversations at Berlin had led to a very satisfactory result; both Kaiser Wilhelm and [Chancellor] von Bethmann Hollweg most emphatically assured Germany’s unconditional support in the case of hostilities with Serbia…

The Hungarian premier agreed that during the last few days the results of our investigations, and the tone of the Serbian press, had put a materially new complexion on events, and emphasised the fact that he himself held the possibility of warlike action against Serbia to be more obvious than he had thought in the period immediately after the act at Sarajevo. But he would never give his consent to a surprise attack on Serbia without previous diplomatic action… were that done, in his opinion, our position in the eyes of Europe would be an extremely bad one, and in all probability we should have to reckon with the enmity of the whole Balkans…

It was absolutely necessary that we should formulate demands against Serbia and only send an ultimatum in case Serbia failed to satisfy them. These demands must undoubtedly be hard but should not be impossible of fulfilment. Should Serbia accept them we should be able to quote a dazzling diplomatic victory, and our prestige in the Balkans would be raised. Should our demands not be accepted, he himself would then be for warlike action. Even at this point he thought it essential to lay stress on the fact that the object of such action ought to be the reduction of Serbia but not her complete annihilation…

It was not Germany’s place to judge whether we should now deal a blow at Serbia or not. Personally he was of opinion that it was not absolutely necessary to go to war at this moment… in spite of the crisis of affairs in Bosnia, he would not make up his mind unconditionally for war…

[The president responded that] during the last few days the whole situation had received a materially fresh complexion and a psychological situation had been created, which, in his opinion, led unconditionally to an issue of arms with Serbia… How to begin the conflict was a question of detail…

It would be desirable from a military point of view if the mobilisation could be carried out at once, and secretly, and a summons addressed to Serbia only after mobilisation had been completed. This would also be a good thing with regard to the Russian forces, as just about this time the Russian frontier forces were not at their full strength on account of harvest time…

A discussion followed on the points to be included in the demands to be put in the Note to Serbia. The Ministerial Council took no definite decision as to these points; suggestions were simply made with a view to obtaining an idea of what demands might be put…

After a communiqué had been drawn up for the Press, the President closes the meeting.

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