War and Diplomacy

War and Diplomacy, the two tactics of different nations through the ages have been used very effectively throughout history. While some people felt that Diplomacy was the best means to avoid war, some statesmen felt that was war was the only solution to settling disputes with other countries. Otto Von Bismarck – 1815 – 1898, the Prime Minister of Prussia and the First Chancellor of Germany.

The paper discusses his famous quote, “The great questions of the time are not decided by speeches and majority decisions…but by iron and blood” that was made by General Otto Von Bismarck at the Prussian Diet. The paper is based on the work by Kissinger Henry (1994) and discusses the role that war and Diplomacy have to play in the politics of a nation.

It must be noted that after Bismarck made his statement, he again went to the podium and clarified that “must protest that I would never seek foreign conflicts just to get over domestic difficulties; that would be frivolous. I was speaking of conflicts that we could not avoid, even though we do not seek them” (Kissinger, p. 108).

The thesis statement is, ‘though Bismarck used war to settle disputes, he went to war only after all avenues of negotiation and diplomacy were exhausted.’

According to Kissinger (p. 94), Germany was one of the last countries in Europe to obtain a unified political structure. There were 39 states in Germany of 1815 that were independent, and these states ranged from the Alps in the north to the Baltic Sea in the south and from Russia in the east to the Rhine river in the west.

At that time, Austria and Prussia were regarded as the ones with the most power among the German states. By the year 1871, all the German states except Austria and Switzerland had united to form one nation. The main reason as to why Bismarck attained famed was the role he played in the unification of the German states.

Rich (p. 220) argues that Bismarck was a true Prussian at heart, and he initially opposed the unification of Germany as he felt that this action would weaken and dilute the power of Prussia. Some important points of the politics that was prevalent in those times are briefly discussed. Later the paper examines how Bismarck used Diplomacy and finally war to attain the unification of Germany.

Again Rich (p. 223) suggests that there were many stakeholders in the European politics of the 1800s, and some powers were Britain, France, Austria, Denmark, Russia, Italy, and other nations. After Napoleon was placed in exile in 1814, the congress of Vienna continued to bring peace to Europe.

Prince Von Metternich was the Austrian negotiator, while Prince Von Hardenberg was the negotiator for Prussia, and Talleyrand represented France while Tsar Alexander I represented Russia. These five people managed to bring peace to Europe, and for forty years, there was no war among the great European powers.

Rich (p. 231) has pointed out that the peace that was brought in by the confederation was broken by the Crimean war in 1854, and other than this, there were no other major wars. Austria had given up war and was trying to control central Europe after the Thirty Years War, but it was still determined to maintain its hegemony among the other Germanic states, including Prussia.

Austria felt a need to exert control and make its power felt after Fredrick the Great and captured Silesia, and it felt that its power and importance was being challenged by Prussia. Prussia, on the other hand, used ruthless Diplomacy and discipline to assert its position against the might of the Austrians. Since the borders of Prussia were highly fragmented, there was an increased urgency to protect its borders from Austria and other nations.

Kissinger (p. 81) has argued that the prospect of a unified Germany had always haunted its neighbors since such a move would create a nation with ample resources in the form of army and industry and the neighboring countries such as France, Italy and Netherlands were interested in keeping the nation fragmented since a fragmented Germany provided for easy pickings.

The attempts by France to colonize India and other Asian countries had not met with much success since these regions were dominated by Britain. Kissinger comments that “historically, has been either too weak or too strong for the peace of Europe and Germany, which is it was entirely subject to one monarchy would be terrible to all the rest.”

Rich (p. 253) reports that by forming the German Confederation, the Congress of Vienna ensured that while the Germanic states such as Bavaria, Saxony, Wurttemberg, and others were consolidated, they were not united and thus the unification of Germany was stopped, Various power centers were created with Austria and Prussia as the leading states while other states managed to be combined to form a union.

The confederation balanced Prussia’s superior military strength against Austria’s superior prestige and legitimacy. The purpose of the confederation was to forestall German unity on a national basis to preserve the thrones of various German princes and monarchs and to forestall French aggression.

Rich says (p. 254) that the part that Bismarck used diplomacy began in 1845 when he was elected as the representative of Prussia. In 1849, Bismarck was elected to the Landtag, the lower house of the new Prussian legislature. At this time, he was opposed to the unification of Germany and argued that Prussia would lose its independence.

He accepted his appointment as one of Prussia’s representatives at the Erfurt Parliament, an assembly of German states that met to discuss plans for the union, but he only joined because he could oppose that body’s proposals. The Parliament failed to bring about unification since it did not have the support of Prussia and Austria. The largest of the German states, Prussia, had a well-organized government and a strong economy.

Political power in Prussia lay in the hands of aristocratic landowners called Junkers, but rising business classes demanded a share of political power. To reduce trade barriers among German lands, the Prussian Junkers called for a Zollverein or economic union.

Formed in 1834, the Zollverein reduced tariffs and other trade barriers between most of the 39 states, resulting in lower and more uniform prices of goods throughout the confederation. The Zollverein also standardized systems of currency, weights, and measures and strengthened the business classes

Kissinger (p. 83) reports that in 1851, Frederick William appointed Bismarck as Prussia’s envoy to the Diet of the German Confederation in Frankfurt. His eight years in Frankfurt were marked by changes in his political opinions. No longer under the influence of his ultraconservative Prussian friends, Bismarck became less reactionary and more moderate.

He became convinced that Prussia would have to ally itself with other German states in order to countervail Austria’s growing influence. Thus, he grew more accepting of the notion of a united German nation. Bismarck used both diplomacy and the Prussian military to achieve unification. He excluded Austria from unified Germany, for he sought to make Prussia the most powerful and dominant component of the nation.

According to Rich (p. 218), the first instance of the use of Diplomacy and war occurred when Bismarck faced a diplomatic crisis when Frederick VII of Denmark died in November 1863. Succession to the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein was disputed; they were claimed by Christian IX (Frederick VII’s heir as King) and by Frederick von Augustenburg (a German duke).

Prussian public opinion strongly favored Augustenburg’s claim. Bismarck took an unpopular step by insisting that the territories legally belonged to the Danish monarch under the London Protocol signed a decade earlier. Bismarck did denounce Christian’s decision to annex the duchy of Schleswig to Denmark property.

With support from Austria, he issued an ultimatum for Christian IX to return Schleswig to its former status; when Denmark refused, Austria and Prussia invaded, commencing the Second war of Schleswig and Denmark was forced to cede both duchies.

Originally, it was proposed that the Diet of the German Confederation (in which all the states of Germany were represented) should determine the fate of the duchies; but before this scheme could be effected, Bismarck induced Austria to agree to the Gastein Convention. Under this agreement signed on August 20, 1865, Prussia received Schleswig, while Austria received Holstein. In that year, he was made Graf von Bismarck-Schönhausen (p. 220).

Speaking further, Rich (p. 256) points out that the other event where Bismarck used Diplomacy and then occurred when Austria reneged on the prior agreement by demanding that the Diet determine the Schleswig-Holstein issue. Bismarck used this as an excuse to start a war with Austria by charging that the Austrians had violated the Convention of Gastein.

Bismarck sent Prussian troops to occupy Holstein. Provoked, Austria called for the aid of other German states, who quickly became involved in the Austro-Prussian War. With the aid of Albrecht von Roon’s army reorganization, the Prussian army was nearly equal in numbers to the Austrian army.

With the organizational genius of Helmuth von Moltke, the Elder, the Prussian army fought battles it was able to win. Bismarck had also made a secret alliance with Italy, who desired Austrian-controlled Venetia. Italy’s entry into the war forced the Austrians to divide their forces. To the surprise of the rest of Europe, Prussia quickly defeated Austria and its allies, in a crushing victory at the Battle of Königgrätz (aka “Battle of Sadowa”).

As a result of the Peace of Prague (1866), the German Confederation was dissolved; Prussia annexed Schleswig, Holstein, Frankfurt, Hanover, Hesse-Kassel, and Nassau; and Austria promised not to intervene in German affairs.

To solidify Prussian hegemony, Prussia and several other North German states joined the North German Confederation in 1867; King Wilhelm I served as its President and Bismarck as its Chancellor. From this point on begins what historians refer to as “The Misery of Austria,” in which Austria served as a mere vassal to superior Germany, a relationship that was to shape history up to the two World Wars (p. 257).

Kissinger (p. 99) has commented that military success brought Bismarck tremendous political support in Prussia. In the elections to the House of Deputies in 1866, liberals suffered a major defeat, losing their large majority.

The new, largely conservative House was on much better terms with Bismarck than previous bodies; at the Minister-President’s request, it retroactively approved the budgets of the past four years, which had been implemented without parliamentary consent. Hence, Bismarck is considered one of the most talented statesmen in history.

Rich comments (p. 259) that Diplomacy and war were further effectively used by Bismarck when he realized that a strong France would threaten Germany. Prussia’s victory over Austria increased tensions with France. The French Emperor, Napoleon III, feared that a powerful Germany would change the balance of power in Europe. Bismarck, at the same time, did not avoid war with France.

He believed that if the German states perceived France as the aggressor, they would unite behind the King of Prussia. A suitable premise for war arose in 1870 when the German Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was offered the Spanish throne, which had been vacant since a revolution in 1868. France blocked the candidacy and demanded assurances that no member of the House of Hohenzollern become King of Spain.

To provoke France into declaring war with Germany, Bismarck on July 14 (Bastille Day) published in Paris the Ems Dispatch, a carefully edited version of a conversation between King Wilhelm and the French ambassador to Prussia, Count Benedetti. France mobilized and declared war on July 19 (five days later). It was seen as the aggressor and German states, swept up by nationalism and patriotic zeal, rallied to Prussia’s side and provided troops.

The Bismarck family contributed its two sons to the Prussian cavalry. The Franco-Prussian War (1870) was a great success for Prussia. The German army, commanded by Helmuth von Moltke, the Elder, won victory after victory. The major battles were all fought in one month (August 7 till September 1), the French were defeated in every battle.

The remainder of the war featured very careful German operations and massive confusion on the part of the French. In the end, France was asked to surrender Alsace and part of Lorraine, because Moltke and his generals insisted that it was needed to keep France defensive. Bismarck opposed the annexation because he did not wish to make a permanent enemy of France (Rich. p. 260).

According to Rich (p. 261), Bismarck acted immediately to secure the unification of Germany. He negotiated with representatives of southern German states, offering special concessions if they agreed to unification.

The negotiations succeeded; King Wilhelm was proclaimed “German Emperor” on January 18, 1871, in the Hall of Mirrors in the Château de Versailles (thereby further humiliating France). The new German Empire was a federation: each of its 25 constituent states (kingdoms, grand duchies, duchies, principalities, and free cities) retained some autonomy.

The paper has discussed the politics of Europe with special reference to Germany and has discussed how Bismarck managed to unite the German states, leaving out the then powerful Austria. The paper has also proved that war was the last resort, and Bismarck first used Diplomacy and politics to settle disputes and negotiate deals.


Kissinger Henry. 1994. Diplomacy. Simon & Schuster, New York. Chapter 4.

Rich Norman. February 1992. Great Power Diplomacy. McGraw-Hill Humanities Social. Chapters 1, 2, 12 and 13.

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