The The Eastern Question

Austria Table of Contents

Having reconciled itself to exclusion from Germany and Italy, Austria-Hungary turned to the east, where declining Turkish power made the Balkans the focus of international rivalries. Foreign Minister Andrássy was opposed to any annexation of Balkan territories because that would have increased the empire's Slavic population. Ideally, he favored maintenance of Turkish authority in order to check the expansion of Russian influence. This option, however, was not viable. To prevent either Russia from replacing Turkey as the dominant power in the region or the already independent Balkan states (Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, and Romania) from dividing up the remaining Turkish territory, Austria-Hungary was forced to seek a partition of the Balkans with Russia.

Because Germany was aligned with both Russia and Austria-Hungary, it acted as a moderating force on Russia to prevent war between its partners in the 1870s. So successful was Germany at limiting Russian gains after the costly Russo-Turkish War (1877-78), that Russia's relations with Germany cooled considerably. With Germany's support, Austria-Hungary acquired Bosnia and Hercegovina as part of the settlement to that war. Andrássy, however, did not directly annex Bosnia and Hercegovina but obtained the right of an Austro-Hungarian occupation, while Turkey retained sovereignty.

With relations strained between Russia and Germany, Austria-Hungary exploited Germany's need to strengthen its position against France and obtained an anti-Russian alliance. Under the resulting Dual Alliance, Austria-Hungary and Germany pledged to help defend the other against an attack by Russia. In the event of war between Germany and France, however, Austria-Hungary promised nothing more than neutrality unless Russia were also involved. As favorable as the Dual Alliance appeared, it drew Austria-Hungary into Otto von Bismarck's web of alliances and diplomatic maneuverings. Austria-Hungary thus became party to conflicts with France and Britain, countries with which it had no directly conflicting interests. The Triple Alliance signed by Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary in 1882, for example, mainly protected Italian and German interests against France and did nothing to resolve outstanding issues between Austria-Hungary and Italy.

Great-power tensions in the Balkans eased in the 1890s, as Africa and the colonial territories in the Far East became the focus of competition among European powers. Although Austria-Hungary was not involved in this colonial competition, Russia was. Its interests in the Far East paved the way for an accommodation with Austria-Hungary to maintain the status quo in the Balkans. In 1903, however, Serbia, a Balkan country that European powers had assigned to the Austro-Hungarian sphere of influence, launched an expansionistic program directed against Austria-Hungary. Without Russian support, however, Serbia's threat was not a major concern.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress