Streetwise Professor

October 17, 2010

China Station

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:15 pm

In my talks over the last couple of years about national energy strategies that I’ve given to State Department and other US foreign policy folks, I’ve compared China to Wilhemine Germany.  Rising powers with a major chip on their shoulders.  Each believing that theirs is a superior culture that has been held down by inferior ones.  Inferior cultures that are now in terminal decline and who should make way for the ascendence of the rising ones, but were not doing so voluntarily–and so who would have to be pushed aside if necessary.  And nations intoxicated with the writings of an American naval officer who was a contemporary of Wilhelm II, one Alfred Thayer Mahan.

One of the deans of American foreign policy intellectuals, Walter Russell Mead, has recently made the same comparison:

As China’s economy grows and its military develops new capacities, it is looking for ways to turn that potential power into actual power over events.  In the past, China has tried to attract its neighbors into its orbit with sweeteners like trade deals and aid.

But these measures apparently strike a new generation of Chinese policy makers as unsatisfactory.  China is too great a power to play nice, they think.  So they assert their territorial claims more and more boldly, and blow up disputes with Japan out of all proportion.

Wilhelm I had put his empire together (defeating Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian War), he and his brilliant chancellor Otto von Bismarck realized that Germany’s greatest danger was to unite the surrounding powers against it.  It was time for sweet talk and flowers, or as the last generation of policymakers in Beijing used to put it, “peaceful rise”.  Wilhelm and Bismarck were nice to everyone who might join a coalition against them: Russia, England, Austria, Italy, the Ottoman Empire, America — and even France.  This was an exhausting policy and German foreign policy sometimes looked like a French bedroom farce as Bismarck hid Austria in the closet when Russia stormed into the bedroom.  Nevertheless, it worked.  Germany rose peacefully after 1871; it overtook Britain in manufacturing and its exports filled the world.  German financial firms developed a world reach and Germany even built up a colonial empire with dependencies in Africa and the Pacific.

But the old Wilhelm died and a new Wilhelm (Wilhelm II) brought a new generation of Germans into power.  Firing the elderly and crotchety Bismarck, Wilhelm read Admiral Mahan’Importance of Sea Power in History and dreamed of the blue water navy that would turn Germany into a true Weltmacht, world power.  Moreover, ‘Willi’ was sick and tired of deferring to all the neighbors.  Enough of this insipid “Dreikaiserbund“, the complicated three-way alliance between Russia, Germany and Austria!  And enough of this being nice to France.  The French were losers, has-beens.  It was time they were made to feel it.  Germany was the greatest power in Europe and it was high time people accepted this fact.

In true Mahanian fashion, China is attempting to amass rapidly a blue water navy and air and missile forces that can deny the US Navy access to vast expanses of the oceans bordering China.  It is stridently asserting expansive territorial claims with no basis in international law.  It is actively bullying neighbor states, and shrilly telling the US to butt out of these disputes.

One doesn’t need to be as hysterical and alarmist as Mark Helprin to recognize that this is a potentially dangerous emerging threat to American interests that requires (a) long term strategic planning, (b) alliance building, and (c) the maintenance of robust US naval forces that are capable of operating at will in the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea.

The US Navy’s hull count is down dramatically, to under 300 ships, and new building programs like the DD-1000/DD(X) are languishing (at best).  The current SecDef is not a big navy fan who could benefit by reading a little Mahan himself, and who has made noises about cutting back on the number of US carrier groups.  All meaning that (c) isn’t looking too good right now.

A Wilhelmine-esque China and a drifting, distracted, and enervating US is a bad combination.  As Mead points out, China’s obstreperousness is engendering a reaction that the US can use to bolster a containment-oriented strategy.  Whether we have the will to do so, or are willing to commit the resources necessary to implement it, is another issue altogether.

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  1. Chinese Kultur > the degenerating bourgeois West. 8)

    On a more serious note, continuing the reliance on carriers is pretty much one of the worst things the US could do if the intention is to contain China.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — October 18, 2010 @ 12:56 am

  2. I think the real issue is not the risk of outright military conflict, as discussed ad nauseum in the last thread, whether in The Bear and the Dragon or refighting WWII in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Rather it is a New Cold War, with a slow and steady application of pressure by the Chinese on American institutions, led by the ailing U.S. dollar, and China mirror-imaging American strategies of Prometheanism, propaganda and NGOism. Should you be surprised if suddenly the Republican of Texas movement magically starts appearing flush with cash? Or that Chinese NGOs and think tanks start treating the Panarin thesis like it’s actually real, ala Jamestown, Thor Halvorssen et al with the Republic of Ickteria (it’s a damn shame that Mr. Halvorssen’s loathing of Russia for buddying up with Chavez means he has to pal around with a terrorist sponsoring thug like Zakayev and call him a human rights activist). What if China floods Venezuela with Dragonwater plainclothes PLA contractors and spooks, ala the U.S. in Georgia? Of course, the Professor would say they will do that regardless of what we do, there is no such thing as blowback.

    The chief of RFE/RL just made his pitch to Congress claiming that the Chinese are poised to spend billions on their own 24/7 news network, hiring dozens of English speaking correspondents. While he may be wildly exagerrating to bloat his budget and the cushy salaries of the top execs who work in the Prague Palace, it’s interesting that his remarks revealed something akin to panic, as in losing control of the message. Corporate media is dying and even the Professor would admit GE probably loses money on MSNBC with its ever shrinking establishment progressive audience, since even the liberals disappointed with Obama can turn to the Huffington Post instead. Why does GE accept losing money on its channel, if not to make a massive in-kind contribution to the White House to keep those defense/’green energy’ contracts coming?

    Ultimately the risk comes from within, from the failure of American institutions and elites, which would include those connected to the military industrial complex that will persist in insisting on trillion dollar defense/war/intel budgets to the bitter hyperinflationary end.

    You’ve already seen the first skirmishes with the MSNBC attempts to smear Ron Paul, the ‘Defending Defense’ op-ed by Kristol and co. targeting Tea Partyers rather than Leftists, etc.

    Comment by Mr. X — October 18, 2010 @ 3:43 am

  3. The trouble was much more with Kaiser Billy II, who was a bundle of issues (Maybe people won’t notice my arm if I have a huge fleet and global colonies. Maybe gramma Vicky up in heaven will love me more than Uncle Eddie if I have more battleships than he does.). And Tirpitz played him like Bach played the organ. The Chinese government have none of that, so Im afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere for the military enemy you want so badly.

    Comment by rkka — October 18, 2010 @ 6:51 am

  4. Communist China seems much more nasty than was Wilhelmine Germany. I would say that the comparison is not insulting of China, but a smear against pre-World War I Germany which did not use mass slave labor of political prisoners, didn’t forcibly abort children before killing their mother in order to circumvent laws against executing preganant women, etc. It was a relatively civilized place that produced nice art, science and literature, had a more or less normal legal system, etc.

    Comment by AP — October 18, 2010 @ 9:11 am

  5. @AP. Don’t overreact. The comparison related to one thing, and one thing only: foreign policy attitudes/behavior. I didn’t push the comparison beyond that, and never would. I detest the Chinese regime and system, and recognize that it is monstrous in comparison with pre-WWI Germany. But the latter’s foreign policy mindset, which today’s China mirrors, were disastrous enough, given that they were the primary cause of WWI, the most tragic and disruptive event of the 20th century. Add foreign policy obstreperousness to a truly malign domestic system and you have something that deserves far more attention than it is getting, particularly from this administration.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 18, 2010 @ 10:20 am

  6. “given that they were the primary cause of WWI, the most tragic and disruptive event of the 20th century.” Not if you read Niall “America Should Be an Empire – and six years later the empire is falling” Ferguson’s the Pity of War.

    Comment by Mr. X — October 18, 2010 @ 1:07 pm

  7. @the Professor, I agree with every part of your response with the single exception of your statement that Germany was the primary cause of WWI. It seems to have been neither more nor less responsible than any of the other great powers for that tragedy.

    Comment by AP — October 18, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

  8. It’s wrong to claim that Germany was neither more nor less responsible than the other powers to start WWI. Other countries certainly contributed to it, and Germany did not plan to start a war (unlike Germany in WWII), but it does share a greater blame than others.

    First, Germany was clearly challenging the existing international order (lead by Great Britain, and to a lesser degree France). It wouldn’t accept second place, and clearly wanted its “place in the sun.” It did a lot of actions that destabilized the situation, instead of trying to integrate its new status with the existing order (which would have taken time and patience, but was not impossible). Second, it backed Austria-Hungary in its unreasonable demands to the Serbs. Third, after the decision for war against Serbia was made, it choose to escalate the conflict by invading Belgium and France – it might have limited the war to only against Russia and Serbia.

    These decisions were not done with the intention of leading to a catclysmic war, but the Germans at the time did have a greater role in starting the tragedy than others.

    Comment by Chris Durnell — October 18, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

  9. I would say that the comparison is not insulting of China, but a smear against pre-World War I Germany which did not use mass slave labor of political prisoners, didn’t forcibly abort children before killing their mother in order to circumvent laws against executing preganant women, etc.

    It doesn’t do the former, and what’s wrong with the latter?

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — October 18, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

  10. I would wonder why the US should bother at all about losing its hull count in the China seas. Whats wrong with the Ron Paul of withdrawing from expensive foreign wars and military spending? May be the subtle point is that by doing so, American corporations might lose out on sweet deals. Thus a robust military influence is essential for successful commerce….perhaps.

    Comment by Surya — October 18, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

  11. Regarding the immediate causes of World War I – Austria’s crown prince and his wife were murdered by a terrorist linked to Serbia (this link was proven after the war – Serrbia’s interior minister was behind the Black Hand). If, say, the US president-elect and his wife were assasinated by a terrorist who was traced to, say, Syria or some other country it seems that the US would have the right to make the same sort of demands or ultimatums towards that country that Austria-Hungary made towards Serbia. Germany supported Austria-Hungary because due to blunders over the previous decades Austria-Hungary was its only ally. Russia then supported Serbia apparently for religious/cultural ties and rivalry over the Balkans (ironic, given its subsequent history of regicide) and France supported Russia because it alone could never hope to defeat Germany and this would be its chance to avenge the Franco-Prussian war. Germany, stuck in a two-front war, could only defeat France by sweeping through Belgium. The Germans, from what I understand, begged the Belgians for right-of-transit but Belgiun was encouraged by Britain not to allow it. The subsequent invasion of Belgium brought Britain into the war. Britain’s motivation seems to have purely in order to prevent a singly country from dominating Europe.

    I don’t see how Germany is the principal aggressor here, nor how it was immediately responsible for the war.

    With respect to longterm factors, yes, if Germany had not become united and had remained a bunch of small weak states then the war wouldn’t have happened. In this case, one can blame Germany for uniting. On the other hand, an argument can also be made that the other powers can be blamed for refusing to accept Germany’s unification and wishing to wage a world war war rather than allowing the status quo, brought about by the 30 years’ war, to change.

    Comment by AP — October 18, 2010 @ 7:50 pm

  12. @S/O – China does use a sort of “gulag lite” system for criminals, including political ones. They don’t seem to be freezing to death in large numbers but are basically slaves. And you don’t find forced abortions before killing the mothers to be outrageous? Incidentally, I would be interested to know where so-called pro-life politicians stand with respect to relations with China.

    Comment by AP — October 18, 2010 @ 8:06 pm

  13. Of course not, since I’m pro-choice and not anti-death penalty;.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — October 18, 2010 @ 8:58 pm

  14. … and pro-population control.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — October 18, 2010 @ 9:00 pm

  15. AP – you ignore that Austria-Hungary never expected Serbia to accept the July Ultimatum. The ultimatum was given not to correct an injustice, but to serve as a pretext for war for issues not related to the actual assassination. In the event, Serbia did accept 9 of 10 conditions, objecting only to foreign involvement in its internal judicial proceedings. Furthermore, you ignore that Germany supported Austria-hungary not just because it was its major ally, but because Germany thought a war in 1914 would benefit it as the Russian military reorganization was due to complete in 1917 by which point Germany could not automatically assume victory in a war with Russia.

    Germany could have easily insisted on a diplomatic solution that would have achieved most of its aims. Instead, it choose to throw the dice on a major European war because it felt it could win decisively. Germany was wrong.

    Comment by Chris Durnell — October 19, 2010 @ 5:38 pm

  16. Chris, the same arguments against Austria-Hungary could be made about the US ultimatums to the Taliban government following 9-11 and preceding the invasion. Yes, Germany could have restrained Austria, and Russia could have not supported Serbia, the state whose interior minister was behind the assasination that triggered the entire mess, and France could declared its nuetrality (as Italy would do) whoch would have made the war purely and Eastern conflict, and Britain could have advised Belgium to let the German troops pass which would have meant the war would have ended years earleir, etc.

    My point wasn’t that Germany was an innocent victim or less at fault than anyone else, rather that in that entire 1914 mess I don’t see how Germany was the one primarily at fault.

    Comment by AP — October 19, 2010 @ 6:39 pm

  17. Professor,

    Why are the Anglo navies having so much trouble churning out surface hulls (subs, IMO, seem harder, yet no problems there)? It seems like the East Asian (yes, including China) shipyards are the only ones to deliver on time and on money.

    Comment by So? — October 19, 2010 @ 7:40 pm

  18. @So? Very good question. Part of it is the decline in competition in (naval) shipbuilding. Part of it is a dysfunctional procurement process. Part of it is constantly evolving designs, with myriad design changes when building is in progress. The San Antonio fiasco is a classic example. I suggest reading Information Dissemination for some inside baseball analyses of the shipbuilding mess.

    @AP. We could go on for years re culpability for WWI. You focus on the events of June-August, 1914. There is a pretty broad agreement among historians that during that period, Germany’s giving Austria-Hungary a blank check in dealing with Serbia allowed things to spin out of control: Germany’s errors were more of omission than commission. As Chris Durnell notes, Germany could have forced the Austrians into a more realistic policy. After all, the Austrians needed Germany far more than Germany needed Austria.

    The deeper problems start well before that, and indeed, you mention one–German diplomatic blundering that left it bereft of allies, except for the wheezing Austro-Hungarian empire, more of a liability than an asset, and which left it surrounded by enemies, including countries that historically had been at odds. Indeed, that’s the essence of Mead’s analysis. Add to that Wilhelm II’s/Tirpitz’s insane naval policy which succeeded in driving Britain closer to its historical foe France (a strategic disaster for Germany), cost huge amounts of money but which did not really enhance German military power, and which, in the event, turned out to be a complete waste. A wonderful fleet that ventured out once, gave a good account of itself but to no strategic result, and then returned to rust at anchor in port for two years. The greatest contribution of the Kaiserliche Marine to the outcome of WWI was as an incubator of revolution. Those are the fruits of the Kaiser’s policies.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 19, 2010 @ 9:35 pm

  19. The recent consensus, at least according to the Euro history class and textbook when I was an undergraduate in the 90’s as well as, for example, Norman Davies’ excellent Europe: a History, is that all parties were about equally to blame for the mess in 1914 which resulted in the actual war. Yes, Germany could have forced Austria-Hungary to behave differently. But similarly, Russia could have forced Serbia to behave differently, France could have declared its nuetrality (making it either a limited Russia-Austria-Germany war or no war at all), etc. Certain forces within all of those countries were hoping that they would stumble into war, which they did.

    I agree with you that Germamy’s various blunders set up a situation that made war more likely – although one can speculate how much of a difference they made. At any rate, placing a drink too close to the edge of a table is not the same as knocking the glass over.

    Comment by AP — October 19, 2010 @ 11:38 pm

  20. Various people have ben warning about the rise of China’s blue water navy for at least 15 years. At least, that’s about the time I first read about the potential threat of Chinese naval power. In fifteen years what has been done about it? Nothing. I doubt anything will be done.

    Comment by Matt — October 21, 2010 @ 12:13 am

  21. Well, you do need to be careful with some revisionist historians regards who started WW1. Saying “nobody was to blame” is all part of the EU touchy feely approach that causes so many problems in actually resolving disputes.

    I suggest AP, that you read any of the books by Fritz Fischer:

    After World War II, Fischer re-evaluated his previous beliefs, and decided that the popular explanations of National Socialism offered by such historians as Friedrich Meinecke in which Adolf Hitler was just a Betriebsunfall (occupational accident) of history were unacceptable. In 1949, at the first post-war German Historians’ Congress in Munich, Fischer strongly criticized the Lutheran tradition in German life, accusing the Lutheran church of glorifying the state at the expense of individual liberties and thus helping to bring about Nazi Germany. Fischer complained that the Lutheran church had for too long gloried the state as divinely sanctioned institution that could do no wrong, and thus paved the way for National Socialism. Fischer rejected the then popular arguments in Germany that Nazi Germany had been the result of the Treaty of Versailles, and instead argued that the origins of Nazi Germany predated 1914, and were the result of long-standing ambitions of the German power elite.
    In the 1950s, Fischer was the first historian who examined all of the Imperial German government archives in their entirety, and as a result as the American Klaus Epstein noted, when Fischer published his findings in 1961, he instantly rendered obsolete every book previously published on the subject of responsibility for the First World War, and German aims in that war.
    By 1961, Fischer, who had risen to the rank of full professor at the University of Hamburg, rocked the history profession with his first postwar book, Griff nach der Weltmacht: Die Kriegzielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland 1914–1918 (published in English as Germany’s Aims in the First World War), in which he argued that Germany had deliberately instigated the First World War in an attempt to become a world power. In this book, which was primarily concerned with the role played in the formation of German foreign policy by domestic pressure groups, Fischer argued that various pressure groups within German society had ambitions for aggressive imperialist policy in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. In Fischer’s opinion, the “September Program” of September 1914 calling for the annexation of most of Europe and Africa was an attempt at compromise between the various demands of the lobbying groups within German society for wide-ranging territorial expansion. Fischer argued that the German government deliberately and consciously used the crisis occasioned by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the summer of 1914 to execute already preformulated plans for a war against France and Russia in order to create Mitteleuropa, a German-dominated Europe and Mittelafrika, a German-dominated Africa. Though Fischer argued that the German government did not want a war with Britain at that moment, they were fully preparded to run the risk in pursuit of Mitteleuropa and Mittelafrika.
    The book was preceded by Fischer’s groundbreaking 1959 article in Historische Zeitschrift in which he first published the arguments that he expanded upon in his 1961 book. In The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History, Philip Bobbitt has written that after Fischer published it became, “Impossible to maintain” that World War I had been some sort of “ghastly mistake” rather than a deliberate and intentional German policy.
    For most Germans, it was acceptable to believe that Germany had caused World War Two, but not World War One, which was still widely regarded as a war forced upon Germany. Fischer was the first German historian to publish documents showing that the German chancellor Dr. Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg had developed plans in 1914 to annex all of Belgium, part of France and part of European Russia. Fischer suggested that there was continuity in German foreign policy from 1900 to the Second World War, implying that Germany was responsible for both world wars. These ideas were expanded in his later books Krieg der Illusionen (War of Illusions), Bündnis der Eliten (From Kaiserreich to Third Reich) and Hitler war kein Betriebsunfall (Hitler Was No Chance Accident). Though Fischer was an expert in the Imperial era, his work was important in the debate about the foreign policy of the Third Reich.
    In his 1969 book Krieg der Illusionen, Fischer offered a detailed study of German politics from 1911 to 1914, in which he offered a Primat der Innenpolitik (Primacy of Domestic Politics) analysis of German foreign policy. In Fischer’s view, the Imperial German state saw itself under siege by rising demands for democracy at home and looked to distract democratic strivings through a policy of aggressive expansionism abroad.
    Fischer was the first German historian to support the negative version of the “Sonderweg” or “special path”‘ interpretation of German history, which holds that the way German culture and society developed from the Reformation onwards (or from a later time, such as the establishment of the German Reich of 1871) inexorably culminated in the Third Reich. In Fischer’s view, while 19th century German society moved forwards economically and industrially, it did not do so politically. For Fischer, German foreign policy before 1914 was largely motivated by the efforts of the reactionary German elite to distract the public from casting their votes for the Social Democrats and to make Germany the world’s greatest power at the expense of France, Britain, and Russia. The German elite that caused World War One also caused the failure of the Weimar Republic and ushered in the Third Reich. This traditional German elite, in Fischer’s analysis, was dominated by a racist, imperialist and capitalist ideology that was no different from the beliefs of the Nazis. For this reason, Fischer called Bethmann-Hollweg the “Hitler of 1914.” Fischer’s claims set off the so-called “Fischer Controversy” of the early 1960s when German historians led by Gerhard Ritter attempted to rebut Fischer but as the Australian historian John Moses noted in 1999, the documentary evidence introduced by Fischer is extremely persuasive in arguing that Germany was responsible for World War I. In 1990, The Economist advised its readers to examine Fischer’s “well documented” book to examine why people in Eastern Europe feared the prospect of German unification.
    Fischer with his analytical model caused a revolution in German historiography. Fischer’s Primat der Innenpolitik heuristic, with its examination of the “inputs” into German foreign policy by domestic pressure groups and their interaction with the imperialist ideas of the German elite, forced a reevaluation of German foreign policy in the Imperial era. In addition, Fischer’s discovery of Imperial German government documents calling for a war aim the ethnic cleansing of Russian Poland and the subsequent German colonization in order to provide Germany with Lebensraum (living space) led many to argue that similar schemes pursued by the Nazis in World War II were not due solely to Adolf Hitler’s ideas but rather reflected the widely held German aspirations that long pre-dated Hitler.Many German historians in the 1960s such as Gerhard Ritter who liked to argue that Hitler was just a betriebsunfall (industrial accident) of history with no real connection to German history were outraged by Fischer’s publication of these documents and attacked Fischer for “anti-German” work.

    Comment by Andrew — October 21, 2010 @ 4:58 am

  22. Hi Andrew,

    Nice cut and paste job from Wikipedia about a self-hating former Nazi, trying to share the blame the sins of his generation with the one before. You forgot to post this part, though, from the same article:

    Some critics contend that Fischer placed Germany outside the proper historical context. Germany was not uniquely aggressive amongst European nations of the early 20th century, a time when Darwinian ideals of struggle were popular throughout European governing circles. Fischer’s timetable has also been criticized as inaccurate. Hollweg’s Septemberprogramm outlining German war aims, was not produced until after the war had begun and was still going well for Germany. At the same time, other powers had been harboring similarly grandiose plans.


    While we’re cutting and pasting from wikipedia, here is more:

    The situation in France was quite different from Germany, but with the same results. More than a century after the French Revolution, there was still a fierce struggle between the left-wing French government and its right-wing opponents, including monarchists and “Bonapartists.” A “good old war” was seen by both sides (with the exception of Jean Jaurès) as a way to solve this crisis thanks to a nationalistic reflex. For example, on July 29, after he had returned from the summit in St. Petersburg, President Poincaré was asked if war could be avoided. He is reported to have replied: “It would be a great pity. We should never again find conditions better.”[18]

    The left-wing government thought it would be an opportunity to implement social reforms[citation needed] (income tax was implemented in July 1914) and the right-wing politicians hoped that their connections with the army’s leaders could give them the opportunity to regain power.[citation needed] Russian bribery under Poincaré’s careful direction of the French press from July 1912 to 1914 played a role in creating the proper French political environment for the war.[19] Prime Minister and then President Poincaré was a strong hawk. In 1913 Poincaré predicted war for 1914.[20] In 1920 at the University of Paris, thinking back to his own student days, Poincaré remarked “I have not been able to see any reason for my generation living, except the hope of recovering our lost provinces (Alsace-Lorraine; Poincaré was born in Lorraine).” [21]

    Comment by AP — October 21, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

  23. Face it AP, Germany wanted the war in no uncertain terms, there is plenty of documentary evidence as produced by Fischer and others.

    France wanted revenge for it’s defeat in 1870, no doubt.

    But the majority of the blame lies with Germany and Austria-Hungary.

    The criticisms of Fischer do not overcome the overwhelming weight of evidence he provided.

    You don’t have to like it, but historical facts are historical facts.

    Comment by Andrew — October 22, 2010 @ 1:07 am

  24. I have to agree with Andrew here. *cringes*

    Really, it was Germany that declared war on Russia on August 1 and on France on August 3, shortly after entering Belgium and violating its neutrality. From the legal point of view, it was certainly the initial aggressor.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — October 22, 2010 @ 2:03 am

  25. @Andrew – there was plenty of documentary evidence that everyone involved (or at least significant, powerful factions within each country) wanted war. As SWP correctly stated, one can argue for years about whose fault it was in 1914. A case can be made that it was Germany’s, someone else can blame Russia, another can blame Austria, or France. The fact that one can make legitimate arguments about each country means there is no unambiguous aggressor as far as the events of 1914 are concerned.

    @S/O Russia began mobilization before Germany declared war on Russia. Russia also made its intentions clear that it would support Austria-Hungary, Germany’s ally, and refused Germany’s request to halt mobilization. Germany’s situation was such that if it waited until troops actually crossed its border, it would be overtaken. Only when it saw that both Russia and France were mobilizing on both sides of its borders, and after Russia refused Germany’s request to halt its mobilization, did Germany declare war on Russia.

    Comment by AP — October 22, 2010 @ 5:29 pm

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