Pivotal Deterrence in the
Eastern Crisis, 1875-78:
WHY BISMARCK HAD IT EASY
I have two powerful dogs by their collars . . . I am holding them apart: first to keep them from tearing each other to pieces; second to keep them from coming to an understanding at our expense. I believe I am performing a service not only to each of them, but also to Germany and Europe.
Otto von Bismarck, September 1875
Bismarck has never before held in his hands so much power for good or evil . . . if any country can thus save the world from a tremendous war, it is Germany.
The Times (London), October 16, 1876
Imperial Chancellor of Germany Otto von Bismarck steered his country through wars of unification in 1864, 1866, and 1870. He then began twenty years of conservative diplomacy seeking to keep the peace in Europe, and with it, Germany's favorable position. His two preeminent goals were to isolate France so it could not wage a war of revenge and to prevent Austria and Russia from fighting in the Balkans. A war between them would force Germany to choose sides and would give France the ally it could not wage war without. To this day, debates continue over whether World War I was the logical consequence of Bismarck's policy of realpolitik or of his political demise and replacement by “lesser” German statesmen who lacked “his sure touch and almost artistic sensitivity” in international politics. 1 But few would argue that his diplomacy was not an important cause of peace in Europe between 1871 and 1890.