The French Revolution
"Not until statesmen had at last grasped the nature of the forces that had emerged in France and had grasped that new political conditions now obtained in Europe, could they foresee the broad effects all this would have on war."
— Carl von Clausewitz
In this chapter I explore relations between revolutionary France and the other European powers from 1789 to 1799, with particular emphasis on the wars of the First and Second Coalitions. The period illustrates the link between revolution and war in an especially vivid way and provides strong support for the arguments advanced in the previous chapter.
First, as balance-of-threat theory would suggest, the French Revolution made war more likely by altering the balance of power. France's apparent weakness invited other states to seek gains either at French expense or in other areas, because they believed France could not oppose them effectively. Although neither Prussia nor Austria was strongly committed to overthrowing the new French leaders, the two states' desire to exploit the power vacuum created by the revolution helped place them both on a collision course with the new regime.
Second, the drive to war was fueled by the effects of the revolution on each state's intentions and by the ways that these intentions were perceived by others. The revolution altered French foreign policy objectives (both for ideological reasons and because competing factions within France used foreign policy to challenge their internal opponents), and it also distorted other states' perceptions of French intentions in especially dangerous ways.
Third, these fears were exacerbated by each side's belief that its opponents might be able to impose their will with relatively little effort, either through subversion, propaganda, or a rapid military campaign. French leaders were preoccupied with the danger of counterrevolution—based on suspicions of treason, rumors of aristocratic plots, and the possibility of foreign interference—while foreign leaders came to worry that the revolution in France would spread to their own societies. As we shall see, both sides'