The British foreign minister on the Austrian ultimatum (1914)


Late in the July crisis, British foreign minister Sir Edward Grey sent this memorandum about the Serbian response to the Austrian ultimatum:


CONFIDENTIAL
Foreign Office
July 27th

Count Mensdorff told me by instruction to-day that the Serbian Government had not accepted the demands which the Austrian Government were obliged to address to them in order to secure permanently the most vital Austrian interest. Serbia showed that she did not intend to abandon her subversive aims, tending towards continuous disorder in the Austrian frontier territories and their final disruption from the Austrian Monarchy.

Very reluctantly, and against their wish, the Austrian Government were compelled to take more severe measures to enforce a fundamental change of the attitude of enmity pursued up to now by Serbia. As the British Government knew, the Austrian Government had for many years endeavoured to find a way to get on with their turbulent neighbour, though this had been made very difficult for them by the continuous provocations of Serbia. The Sarajevo murder had made clear to every one what appalling consequences the Serbian propaganda had already produced, and what a permanent threat to Austria it involved…

The high sense of justice of the British nation and of British statesmen could not blame the Austrian Government if the latter defended by the sword what was theirs, and cleared up their position with a country whose hostile policy had forced upon them for years measures so costly as to have gravely injured Austrian national prosperity. Finally, the Austrian Government, confiding in their amicable relations with us, felt that they could count on our sympathy in a fight that was forced on them, and on our assistance in localising the fight, if necessary…

Count Mensdorff admitted that, on paper, the Serbian reply might seem to be satisfactory; but the Serbians had refused the one thing – the co-operation of Austrian officials and police – which would be a real guarantee that in practice the Serbians would not carry on their subversive campaign against Austria.

I said that it seemed to me as if the Austrian Government believed that, even after the Serbian reply, they could make war upon Serbia anyhow, without risk of bringing Russia into the dispute. If they could make war on Serbia and at the same time satisfy Russia, well and good; I could take a holiday tomorrow; but, if not, the consequences would be incalculable…

It seemed to me that the Serbian reply already involved the greatest humiliation to Serbia that I had ever seen a country undergo, and it was very disappointing to me that the reply was treated by the Austrian Government as if it were as unsatisfactory as a blank negative.