Journal Article

‘A Barometer of National Confidence’: a British Assessment of the Role of Insecurity in the Formulation of German Military Policy before the First World War

Matthew S. Seligmann

in The English Historical Review

Volume 117, issue 471, pages 333-355
Published in print April 2002 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online April 2002 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ehr/117.471.333
‘A Barometer of National Confidence’: a British Assessment of the Role of Insecurity in the Formulation of German Military Policy before the First World War

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Many recent examinations into the origins of the First World War have concluded that it was owing to a distorted threat perception that the German government opted for conflict in 1914. It is said that, despite all the indications to the contrary, Germany's leaders believed that their country's strategic position was becoming untenable and that something drastic needed to be done to remedy this. Ultimately, military action was felt to be the only solution. This essay offers corroborative support for this theory through an analysis of the intelligence sent to Whitehall in the years 1910 to 1914 by the British military attaché in Berlin, Lieutenant‐Colonel the Honorable Alexander Russell. From his observations of the German national scene, as well as from his discussions with the Reich's military leaders, Russell concluded that, by 1911, a profound sense of insecurity had emerged as the guiding force behind German military policy. He argued that this emotion, which was becoming ever stronger with the passage of time and the unfolding of various crises in the Balkans, increased the likelihood of Germany launching a war. It is the contention of this essay that Russell's conclusions, by mirroring the opinions prevalent in the current historiography, act both as a persuasive source of corroboration for the recent analyses and as an indicator of the quality of British intelligence on Germany before 1914.

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Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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