A German writer on the Triple Alliance (1914)

In 1914, the German military writer General Friedrich von Bernhardi wrote about an imminent war. In this extract he describes the situation and weaknesses of the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy):

We see the European Great Powers divided into two great camps. On the one side Germany, Austria, and Italy have concluded a defensive alliance, whose sole object is to guard against hostile aggression. In this alliance the two first-named states form the solid, probably unbreakable, core, since by the nature of things they are intimately connected. The geographical conditions force this result.

The two states combined form a compact series of territories from the Adriatic to the North Sea and the Baltic. Their close union is due also to historical national and political conditions. Austrians have fought shoulder to shoulder with Prussians and Germans of the Empire on a hundred battlefields; Germans are the backbone of the Austrian dominions, the bond of union that holds together the different nationalities of the Empire…

The weaknesses of the Austrian Empire lie in its strong mixture of Slavonic elements, which are hostile to the German population, and show many signs of Slavic nationalism. It is not at present, however, strong enough to shape the political position of the Empire.

Italy, also, is bound to the Triple Alliance by her true interests. The antagonism to Austria, which has run through Italian history, will diminish when the needs of expansion in other spheres, and of creating a natural channel for the increasing population, are fully recognised by Italy.

The weakness of this alliance consists in its purely defensive character. It offers a certain security against hostile aggression, but does not consider the necessary development of events… Bismarck, in his “Thoughts and Reminiscences” pointed out that this alliance would not always correspond to the requirements of the future. Since Italy found the Triple Alliance did not aid her Mediterranean policy, she has tried to effect a pacific agreement with England and France, and effectively retired from the Triple Alliance.

The Triple Alliance, which in itself represents a natural league, has suffered a rude shock. The ultimate reason for this result is found in the fact that the parties concerned with a narrow, short-sighted policy look only to their immediate private interests, and pay no regard to the vital needs of the members of the league. The alliance will not regain its original strength until, under the protection of the allied armies, each of the three states can satisfy its political needs…

It appears that on the continent of Europe, the power of the Triple Alliance, and that of the states united against it by alliance and agreement, balance each other – provided that Italy belongs to the league. If we take into calculation the unexpected, whose weight can only be guessed at, the scale is inclined slightly in favour of the Triple Alliance. On the other hand, England indisputably rules the sea. In consequence of her crushing naval superiority when allied with France, and of the geographical conditions, she may cause the greatest damage to Germany by cutting off her maritime trade…

There is also a not inconsiderable army available for a continental war. When all considerations are taken into account, our opponents have a political superiority not to be underestimated. If France succeeds in strengthening her army with colonial troops and a strong English landing-force, this superiority would be asserted on land also. If Italy really withdraws from the Triple Alliance, distinctly superior forces will be united against Germany and Austria.