The Great War
From Origins to Settlement
THE READER WHO HAS PROGRESSED to this point in the tangled history of Eastern Europe does not need to be convinced that the area had enormous potential for provoking conflict, both internal and external. The various national quarrels which separated the peoples of Eastern Europe were vastly more important than any unifying factors--indeed it is hard to find any integrative forces, real or theoretical. To this pervasive internal tension one must add the further stress of the great power rivalries in which the East European peoples were often pawns. Thus, before discussing the specific events that led to war, a brief survey of the major powers and their relations to each other and to Eastern Europe is necessary.
There were five nations that had active status as great powers just before the war: Austria-Hungary, Britain, France, Germany, and Russia. Two others which might be included, the United States and the Ottoman Empire, are excluded because the former had the strength but lacked the inclination, while the latter, "the sick man of Europe," owed whatever status it had to traditional courtesy rather than to any real influence. Italy was a factor, but a decidedly secondary one, and Japan had not yet begun to reach out beyond her distant power base.
It is noteworthy that of the five great powers, only two, Britain and France, were not physically involved in Eastern Europe. Yet even these states had important interests in the area. The British had a long-standing fear of Russian naval potential and had chosen to provide strong support for the Ottoman Empire. The leaders in London, with remarkable consistency, had concluded that the end of the rule of sultans in Istanbul would give Russia access to year-round warm water ports (the Black Sea