Friday, May 20, 2016

The Triple Alliance

It was today in 1882 that the German Empire, the Kingdom of Italy and Austria-Hungary joined in the "Triple Alliance". Ever since, the Kingdom of Italy has been frequently criticized for failing to follow her allies into the First World War, however, very few understand the details of the agreement made by the representatives of Kaiser Wilhelm I, King Umberto I and Kaiser Franz Joseph I. It was, from the start, intended to be a defensive alliance of monarchs. Germany feared French or Russian actions against them, the Austrians feared Balkan unrest, Russian support for them and did not want to have to worry about a war with Italy at the same time as such a threat. Italy had also recently been outraged by the French annexation of Tunisia. Italians had thought that by refraining from the rush to grab colonies, Italy would gain the moral high ground and the respect of the world. Instead, Italy gained nothing and had Tunisia snatched out from under them by the French Republic. So, it was hoped that the Triple Alliance would deter foreign aggression against Italy and give Italy support, at least from Germany, in the competition for colonial expansion.

Today, all too often, Italy is portrayed in a negative light as never being genuinely committed to the Triple Alliance but this is extremely unfair as it implies that Germany and Austria were. In fact, the Germans never supported Italy in any subsequent colonial venture and the Austrians continued to plan for an attack on their "ally" Italy right up to the outbreak of World War I. In other words, every country continued to look out for their own interests and not those of their allies, which is nothing unique or unusual. In such a situation, it is extremely hypocritical to criticize Italy for doing the same. One should also keep in mind that the details of the agreement was, in fact, violated prior to the First World War and the Kingdom of Italy was NOT the guilty party.

One of the most significant points of the agreement, widely ignored today, was the stipulation that if there was to be any change to the status quo in the Balkans, Austria would consult with Italy before taking action and that if Austria gained any territory in the Balkans, Italy was to be compensated with Austrian territory that was historically and demographically Italian. Austria never honored these promises, never consulting Italy at all about efforts made in the Balkans and refusing to discuss any territorial concessions to Italy after the Austrian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Add to this the fact that, in 1914, the Chief of Staff of the Austrian army was a man who had advocated launching an unprovoked invasion of Italy, their ally, and the slain heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, had never made much of an effort to hide his strident bigotry toward all Italians. To a lesser degree, German Kaiser Wilhelm II had not impressed many people with his insulting antics towards the King of Italy during a state visit to Rome (he purposely brought his tallest soldiers so as to make the short Italian monarch seem tiny in comparison -a petty and juvenile antic).

It should, therefore, be no great surprise that when war came, Italians were not rushing to arms to fight alongside Germany and Austria. It is also worth repeating that the Triple Alliance was always a defensive alliance and, while there were certainly circumstances involved, when the fighting actually began it was with the Germans and Austrians being the ones on offensive rather than the defensive. The Triple Alliance, it is true, was not a successful pact as it did not prevent war and did not endure beyond the Austro-German ethnic core (the Hungarians were not in favor of war in 1914 either). However, to portray Italy as the false partner, to portray Italy as the one who treacherously betrayed "faithful" allies, is preposterous and totally untrue.


  1. The Austrian Treason, 1904-1915: Austrian Betrayal and Aggression Against Italy

    Sometimes people accuse Italy of committing a supposed and unfounded "betrayal" against the alliance with Austria-Hungary by entering the First World War, when in reality nothing of the sort happened. It is necessary to know and understand what happened in the years before 1915, otherwise Italy's entry into the conflict will be incomprehensible.

    In a nutshell, at the end of the nineteenth century Italy had accepted the alliance with Austria for two fundamental reasons: the first was the hope of mitigating the work of systematic denationalization (a true cultural genocide) that was taking place against the Italian population in Trentino, Julian Venetia and Dalmatia by the Austrian imperial authorities; the second, related to the first, was the hop of obtaining the unredeemed Italian territories, or at least some of them, through diplomatic channels.

    In fact, one of the articles of the Triple Alliance, Article VII, stipulated that Italy was entitled to territorial compensation by the Habsburg Empire in the case that it expanded in the Balkans. Not only were both of these hopes disregarded, but Austria repeatedly and seriously violated the rules of the treaty of alliance, with actions that can be considered as true acts of war against Italy.

    1) On October 13, 1904 Aehrenthal, the Hapsburg ambassador to St. Petersburg, and Lamsdorf, the Tsarist Foreign Minister, signed a secret treaty, which committed the two countries to continue their political collaboration based on the desire to preserve the status quo in the Balkans and a commitment to maintain absolute neutrality in the event that one of the two parties found itself in a conflict with a third power.

    This secret pact with Russia was not reported to Italy by Austria, but only to Germany, because, as Franz Joseph explained in a letter to Wilhelm II on November 1, 1904, the secret pact had an anti-Italian objective.

    This constituted the first violation of the rules of the Triple Alliance.

  2. The Austrian Treason, 1904-1915: Austrian Betrayal and Aggression Against Italy [Part 2]

    2) The Chief of Staff of the Habsburg Empire, Conrad von Hötzendorf, twice requested a surprise attack and treason against Italy, their ally, namely after the Messina earthquake of 1908 (the first time) and during the Italo-Turkish War in 1911 (the second time).

    Conrad admitted these plans in his memoirs: Feldmarschall Conrad, “Aus meiner Dienstzeit”, Vienna-Berlin, 1921. Infamous is the note sent by Conrad to Aehrenthal on September 24, 1911, in which he proposed that the Habsburg Empire branch out into a treacherous war against Italy by taking advantage of the Italo-Turkish conflict (which they knew was coming: it was proclaimed on the 29th of the same month), or, alternatively, attack Serbia or conduct a conquest of some other Balkan territories.

    The reason why this high official planned this was because of the revolt in Trieste in 2902, which was crushed by the imposition of martial law and a large number of deaths by the military authorities under the supervision of von Hötzendorf. He stated and expressed in dozens of reports, letters etc. his personal conviction that the massive demonstration of workers, to which the imperial authorities responded by shooting at eye level and charging with bayonets, had the support of the Italian irredentists. His opinion was so strong, that the bloody repression of the Trieste strike was considered by him a turning point in his political and strategic ideas. Conrad von Hötzendorf from that moment became an avid supporter of an offensive war against Italy, without declaration, even though Italy was Austria's ally. Von Hötzendorf was not the only one to draw such conclusions from the uprising of Trieste in 1902, because many others within the high military hierarchy and Habsburg political class were convinced that the only way for the empire to survive was to attack and destroy Italy and Serbia. The strike of Trieste in 1902 thus became one of the underlying causes of the first conflict, since it strengthened the Habsburg Empire's bellicose tendencies and the attempt on the part of its ruling oligarchy to preserve their power, shaken by the national will of its subjected peoples, through the use of force.

    Conrad von Hötzendorf urged an attack on Italy for the entire period of 1906-1914, and gained the support and backing of Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne (which now constituted de facto the vertex of the Empire, considering the late age of Franz Joseph), the support of the Habsburg court and General Staff, in addition to having the consent of a large part of public opinion.

    Von Hötzendorf is defined as an “italophobe” in a biography written by Lawrence Sondhaus, probably the greatest living American military historian on the subject of Austria-Hungary. In his book “Franz Conrad Von Hötzendorf: Architect of the Apocalypse” Sondhaus recounts how both von Hötzendorf and Franz Ferdinand had “italophobia”, adding that they were not the only ones who thought this way.

    General Hötzendorf was also obsessed by the idea of a war of aggression, which he deemed "preventive", also against Serbia, which he proposed in 1906, 1908, 1912, 1913 and again in 1914. If Austria did not attack Italy by surprise in a supreme act of betrayal after the Messina earthquake or after the Italo-Turkish War, it was only because Germany was consulted about it and prevented it from happening.

  3. The Austrian Treason, 1904-1915: Austrian Betrayal and Aggression Against Italy [Part 3]

    3) The international crisis caused by the unilateral decision of Austria-Hungary to annex Bosnia, which became a protectorate (not a direct possession) in 1878, with the obligation signed by Austria to not annex it, has been the subject of several comprehensive studies, among which we can mention Albertini, Duce and Tommasini among the Italians, and Nincic and Schmitt among the non-Italians.

    The crisis began with the Habsburgs' decision to annex what had only been a protectorate (which, moreover, had resisted the imperial invasion in 1878), contrary to the international commitments made by Austria during the occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

    Austria came close to a war with Serbia and Russia, but in the end the latter two backed away due to threats from Germany, which forced them to accept the annexation (the crisis lasted from October 1908 to March 1909).

    The annexation of the protectorate of Bosnia constituted a breach of the commitments made by the Hapsburg Empire in 1878 with Russia and Serbia, which provided that this region would not be annexed.

    Moreover it also constituted a breach of the agreements with Italy.

    In 1904 the Habsburg Minister of Foreign Affairs, Goluchowski, met with his Italian counterpart in Abbazia, in the Quarnero, to come to an agreement between the two governments in order to prevent tensions concerning the Balkans.

    Tittoni assured Goluchowski that Italy did not intend to intervene in the Balkans, and the Habsburg Minister of Foreign Affairs did the same for him, ensuring that Austria would not change the status quo, including the status of Bosnia, which would remain a protectorate, but would not be annexed. Goluchowski assured him that the only change that could happen might be an occupation of Sanjak of Novi Pazar, but not an annexation of Bosnia.

    However, as regards the Triple Alliance, Article VII stipulated that Italy was entitled to territorial compensation from Austria in the case that it expanded in the Balkans, which had taken place with the unilateral annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

    Guicciardini, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, therefore contacted his counterparts from Austria and Germany; on January 2, 1910 he met with the Austrian ambassador Lützow, reminding him that it was necessary to apply and specify the content of Article VII; then he spoke directly with the new German chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, reminding him that it was necessary to proceed with Article VII, following the Austrian annexation of Bosnia.

    The German Chancellor admitted that this was just, arguing, however, that before considering those territories Austria should first determine how many territories they had occupied (sic).

    Subsequently, the new Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Antonio di San Giuliano, met with the new Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria, Merey.

    He too, just like the German Chancellor, admitted that according to Article VII of the Triple Alliance, Austria should have, after having annexed Bosnia, yielded its territories to Italy as compensation, however he asked that it be postponed until the next renewal of the Treaty.

    In short, both Germany and Austria acknowledged that under Article VII, after the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Italy should have been entitled to territorial compensation, but refused to proceed in this direction, looking for excuses and and loopholes.

  4. The Austrian Treason, 1904-1915: Austrian Betrayal and Aggression Against Italy [Part 4]

    4) In the years before the the conflict, the Habsburg Empire was responsible for at least three genuine acts of war against Italy, made in ways that today would be defined as a “dirty war”, in an indirect way and as secretly as possible.

    I) During the Italo-Turkish war Austria not only planned to treacherously attack their Italian ally without any motive (which did not happen only because of the intervention of Germany), but secretly gave political and military support to Turkey, inciting Istanbul to continue the conflict and providing them with weapons and funding.

    Furthermore, Austria not only betrayed the Triple Alliance and performed acts of war against Italy well before 1914, but also in the months prior to the decision of the war, when Austria was still seeking an agreement, Austria performed a series of acts of war against Italy.

    II) In Albania, Austria secretly sent arms and money, instigating local insurrections.

    III) In Abyssinia, Austria again carried out a campaign of fierce incitement of the Negus Lij Iyasu (with whom they were on good terms with) against the Italians, urging him to invade Italian Eritrea and providing him with artillery.

    IV) In Libya, Germany both directly and indirectly, with its secret agents and officials, sent military instructors, weapons and gold via Turkey, in order to feed the guerrilla war against Italy and arouse insurgency, making use of submarines.

    These were only the most serious cases, but there were many others perpetrated by the Austro-Germans in the period of neutrality that were in any case contrary to international law and detrimental to Italian national sovereignty.

    These were acts of war, which placed Austria and Germany in a state of de facto war, although undeclared, with Italy, while Italy was still neutral and there were still ongoing diplomatic negotiations. Even if it was Italy who formally declared war on Austria and Germany, it was in fact these two empires who initiated it, treacherously attacking the Italian state.

    It should be added that Austrian behavior was far from proper in many other respects towards an allied country like Italy. For example, the Austrian Imperial Navy had spread mines in the Adriatic Sea without taking the necessary insurance against their displacement and diffusion, with the result that they sometimes ended up in Italian territorial waters, causing the sinking of Italian ships and the death of the crews. Austria remained inert even after the official protest of the Italian government, continuing with actions that were a violation of the rules of international maritime law. Meanwhile Austrian and German spy networks were operating in northern Italy and in Rome.

  5. The Austrian Treason, 1904-1915: Austrian Betrayal and Aggression Against Italy [Part 5]

    5) To all this must be added the scheme of de facto war carried out by the Habsburg Empire as far back as 1866, not against the Italian state but against the Italian nation, as a result of the very serious persecutory measures against the Italian subjects of the Emperor living in Dalmatia, Julian Venetia and Trentino, with the purpose (on the part of the Empire) of erasing their cultural existence and national identity.

    These harsh measures against the Italians almost completely destroyed the Italian community in Dalmatia, an ancient community over 2,000 years old, and also gravely endangered that of Julian Venetia and Trentino.

    The ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Empire was certainly among the causes of Italy's entrance into the war. It is usually neglected by historians when listing the reasons for the conflict. Yet at the time, there was awareness both in Italian public opinion and in the ruling class about what was happening in Trentino, Julian Venetia and Dalmatia, which weighed heavily in the final decision to go to war.

    An official testimony, and at the highest level, is the very declaration of war on the Dual Monarchy, which lists the reasons for the decision, including also the denationalization suffered by the Italians due to the policy of the Hapsburg Empire:

    "It will not be inappropriate to observe that once the alliance had come to an end there was no longer any reason for the Italian people to maintain the attitude of acquiescence which had been dictated by their sincere desire for peace nor to repress any longer—as they had so long forced themselves to do—the indignation caused by the treatment to which the Italian population in Austria was subjected. It is true the treaty contained no formal provision for safeguarding the Italian language, traditions, or civilization in the regions inhabited by our compatriots in Austria-Hungary. But since it was sought to give to the alliance an appearance of sincere peace and harmony, it is obvious that there was a moral obligation on the part of our ally to pay strict regard to and scrupulously to respect the vital interests involved for us in the racial distribution on the Adriatic coast. As a matter of fact, the constant policy of the Austro-Hungarian Government aimed for many years at the destruction of Italian nationality and civilization along the coast of the Adriatic. It will only be necessary to give a few short instances of facts and tendencies already too well known to everyone: systematic substitution for officials of Italian nationality of officials of other nationalities; the importation of hundreds of families of different nationality; the creation at Trieste of cooperative societies of foreign workmen; the Hohenlohe decrees which aimed at excluding all Italian officials from the public life of Trieste; the denationalization of the judicial administration; the question of the university, which formed the subject of diplomatic negotiations; the denationalization of the steamship companies; the action of the police and political trials tending to favor other nationalities at the expense of the Italians; the systematic expulsion of Italians, wholly unjustified and constantly increasing in number. The unchanging policy of the Imperial and Royal Government toward the subject Italian population was not solely inspired by internal motives due to the existence of contending nationalities within the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, but appears, on the contrary, to have been caused in great part by a deep-rooted sentiment of hostility and aversion for Italy, which prevails in certain circles which are in close touch with the Austro-Hungarian Government, and which have a dominating influence on its decisions."

  6. The Austrian Treason, 1904-1915: Austrian Betrayal and Aggression Against Italy [Part 6]

    As can be observed, the government and the parliament officially and precisely indicated among the causes of the conflict the denationalization suffered by Italians, which in truth was much more serious than it appears in the brief description presented in the declaration of war.

    But there are many other written data suggesting that this ethnic cleansing weighed heavily on the final decision of the Italian state, starting with the widespread public dissemination of numerous journalistic investigations on the conditions of the Italians living in Austria-Hungary, written between September 1914 and the summer of 1915 by Luigi Barzini and Virginio Gayda, the correspondent of “La Stampa” from Vienna. These lengthy and detailed reports were added to the many articles that many newspapers had published in previous years about the ethnic cleansing of the Italian population, raising the animosity of a very large part of the Italian public against Austria.

    These were all violations of the Triple Alliance by Austria, and took place well before 1915, and as such constituted a genuine betrayal.

    Additionally, the acts of war committed in secret by Austria in Albania, Libya and Ethiopia demonstrates the intention of Austria to attack Italy, not openly but in a subtle way. Austria feared and disliked Italy and acted with authentic malice (etymologically “lack of loyalty”) in various ways, repeatedly betraying the covenant clauses and perpetrating further acts of war and aggression against the Italian state and its armed forces, for many years, well before the Italian declaration of war.

    Italian intervention in the war in 1915 was made virtually inevitable by the continuous imperial aggression and by the constant threat from Vienna to the existence of the Italian state and the Italian people.

    There can be no doubt, therefore, who betrayed the covenant of the Triple Alliance: the Habsburg Empire.