Austro-Serbian crisis
Catalogue reference: FO 371/2159

[This Document is the Property of His Britannic Majesty's Government.]
[July 27.]
                           No. 1.
Sir E. Grey to Sir M. de Bunsen.
(No. 124.)
Foreign Office, July 27, 1914.
     COUNT MENSDORFF told me by instruction to-day that the Servian Government had not accepted the demands which the Austrian Government were obliged to address to them in order to secure permanently the most vital Austrian interest. Servia showed that she did not intend to abandon her subversive aims, tending towards continuous disorder in the Austrian frontier territories and their final disruption from the Austrian Monarchy. Very reluctantly, and against their wish, the Austrian Government were compelled to take more severe measures to enforce a fundamental change of the attitude of enmity pursued up to now by Servia. As the British Government knew, the Austrian Government had for many years endeavoured to find a way to get on with their turbulent neighbour, though this had been made very difficult for them by the continuous provocations of Servia. The Sarajevo murder had made clear to every one what appalling consequences the Servian propaganda had already produced, and what a permanent threat to Austria it involved. We would understand that the Austrian Government must at last consider that the moment had arrived to obtain, by means of the strongest pressure, guarantees for the definite suppression of the Servian aspirations and for the security of peace and order on the south-eastern frontier of Austria. As the peaceable means to this effect were exhausted, the Austrian Government must at last appeal to force. They had not taken this decision without reluctance. Their action, which had no sort of aggressive tendency, could not be represented otherwise than as an act of self-defence. Also they thought that they would serve a European interest if they prevented Servia from being henceforth an element of general unrest such as she had been for the last ten years. The high sense of justice of the British nation and of British statesmen could not blame the Austrian Government if the latter defended by the sword what was theirs, and cleared up their position with a country whose hostile policy had forced upon them for years measures so costly as to have gravely injured Austrian national prosperity. Finally, the Austrian Government, confiding in their amicable relations with us, felt that they could count on our sympathy in a fight that was forced on them, and on our assistance in localising the fight, if necessary.
     Count Mensdorff added on his own account that, as long as Servia was confronted with Turkey, Austria never took very severe steps because of her adherence to the policy of the free development of the Balkan States, but that, now that Servia had doubled her territory and population without any Austrian interference, the repression of Servian subversive aims was a matter of self-defence and self-preservation on Austria's part. He reiterated that Austria had no intention of taking Servian territory or aggressive designs against Servian territory.
     I said that I could not understand the construction put by the Austrian Government upon the Servian reply, and I told Count Mensdorff the substance of the conversation that I had had with the German Ambassador this morning about that reply.
     Count Mensdorff admitted that, on paper, the Servian reply might seem to be satisfactory; but the Servians had refused the one thing - the co-operation of Austrian officials and police - which would be a real guarantee that in practice the Servians would not carry on their subversive campaign against Austria.
     I said that it seemed to me as if the Austrian Government believed that, even after the Servian reply, they could make war upon Servia anyhow, without risk of bringing Russia into the dispute. If they could make war on Servia and at the same time satisfy Russia, well and good; I could take a holiday to-morrow; but, if not, the consequences would be incalculable. I pointed out to him that I quoted this phrase from an expression of the views of the German Government. I feared that it would be expected in St. Petersburgh that the Servian reply would diminish the tension, and now, when Russia found that there was increased tension, the situation would become increasingly serious. Already the effect on Europe was one of anxiety. I pointed out that our fleet was to have dispersed to-day, but we had felt unable to let it disperse. We should not think of calling up reserves at this moment, and there was no menace in what we had done about our fleet; but, owing to the possibility of a European conflagration, it was impossible for us to disperse our forces at this moment. I gave this as an illustration of the anxiety that was felt. It seemed to me that the Servian reply already involved the greatest humiliation to Servia that I had ever seen a country undergo, and it was very disappointing to me that the reply was treated by the Austrian Government as if it were as unsatisfactory as a blank negative.
I am, &c.

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