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Adam Smith

17.42, Spring 2004

David Art
Preventing the First World War

The historical and political science communities have both shed light on the origins of the

First World War; many papers and books have been published.1 In this paper we will turn to the

question of design. That is, now that we have a good understanding of the dynamics of WWI,

how could they be manipulated to prevent it from occurring?2 In the conclusion, we will have

discovered a host of manipulable causes, some of which are more important than others. The

smaller points of interest include: publishing literature explaining specific dangers of the pre-

WWI situation; and assassinating the members of the Black Hand who would otherwise kill the

Austrian archduke and spawn the July crisis.3 The most critical actions to take are: changing the

“cult of the offensive” paradigm of many European countries’ populations; and evoking the same

change in the European leaderships, probably using assassination instead of relying on


We will step through these manipulable causes, and address how each can be manipulated

as well as what effects those manipulations should have.

Addressing National Misperceptions and Blunders

The single work which will be referenced the most is Military Strategy and the Origins of the First World War, an
International Security Reader which is composed of papers representing a diverse sampling of perspectives. We will
refer to this work as Origins throughout the footnotes.
There is a slight technicality here. If we just wanted to prevent this specific war from happening, i.e. a war
spawned from the July crisis of 1914, there are very simple ways that this could be done. On the contrary, in this
paper we are interested in preventing the main causes of the war from developing, hopefully preventing any
European war around that time period.
As outlined in footnote 2, if we are successful, preventing the archduke’s assassination shouldn’t be necessary. On
the other hand, we include it for thoroughness.
Throughout the time leading up to World War I there were several pervasive misperceptions about

the world which brought countries to take actions which hurt international stability. In order to remedy

this cause, we will publish several pieces of academic literature explaining why these ideas were indeed

misperceptions. Taking the time to publish this literature, would be beneficial for many reasons. These

include generating even more discussion among scholars, to pressure governmental elites into thoroughly

considering their doctrines, to motivate populations to try to understand the dynamics, and most

importantly, to prime populations for a later (more simplistically expressed) information campaign. We

now step through each idea to be expressed in the series of literature, in roughly the same order that they

should be published.4

Security Dilemma and Alliances

How could a limited conflict between Austria and Serbia turn into a war with millions of

casualties? The answer is simple: offensive and defensive alliances. Austria knew that if it went

to war, Germany would back it. Likewise, Serbia was an ally of Russia, who was also allied

with the French.

The chief observation advanced by historians about pre-1914 alliances (i.e. the Triple

Entente and Central Alliance) is that they were “blank checks.” That is to say that, alliances

were unconditional, so any country with many allies could consider its allies’ forces to be on its

side, even if they pick a fight.5

This is in contrast to the vast network of defensive alliances set up by Bismark. It turns

out that Europe was very peaceful during this time.6

The thesis of this discussion should be that offensive alliances are a bad thing for

everyone. This can be easily shown by using security dilemma and spiral model arguments.
Most of these topics are from the list of causes given in Van Evera, p. 69.
More discussion can be found in Van Evera, p. 91-101.
As described in Prof. Van Evera’s lectures.
That is, in the case of security dilemma, as countries gain offensive power they threaten other

countries more. Using the spiral model, we can illustrate that as the other countries are

threatened more, they are likely to respond by making an effort to increase their forces in order

to preserve their own security.

Defensive Advantages of Military Technology

Despite the defensive advantage caused by the current military technology, leaders in

Europe strongly favored offense over defense. Stephen Van Evera writes, “They largely

overlooked the lessons of the American Civil War, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, the Boer

War, and the Russo-Japanese War, which had demonstrated the power of the new defensive

technologies.” 7

This lesson should be apparent to early twentieth century leaders, but is not being taken

into serious consideration. The only thing that we can do here is to distill all of the historical

records into a single paper which describes in detail the lessons we want the readers to learn.

This should lower the energy required to digest these ideas, making them more accessible to

leaders and the masses.

The Dangers of Mobilization

The first point to be made in this paper is that there are not any large payoffs for

mobilizing first, despite the overwhelming opposite view held by military elites. One German

analyst said, with the Schlieffen plan in mind, “A delay of a single day … can scarcely ever be

rectified.”8 This was indeed not true.9

Van Evera, p. 60
Eyre Crowe, on July 27, quoted in Geiss, July 1914, p. 251.
Rationale for this assertion can be found in Van Evera, p. 72-76. The arguments to be presenting in our paper
mirror those presented in this referenced work, specifically addressing the Schlieffen plan.
The second point is that mobilization is a very offensive move, and has security dilemma

repercussions. That is, once any country mobilizes, every other country becomes more likely to

mobilize sooner than it would have otherwise. This effect snowballs as more and more countries

mobilize. This is because the threat posed by any incremental mobilization is added on top of

the previously existing threat, which makes another incremental mobilization more likely. This

cascading effect ultimately undermines stability.

Finally, the third point is that large scale mobilization can not be done in secret. Contrary

to many military leaders’ views10, mobilization required massively public announcements that

could be easily detected by every interested observer.11

The take-home point should be that since mobilization is not urgent, and since it means

war, it should be postponed until after diplomatic discussions have occurred.

Power Balance in Europe

In this paper we primarily describe Britain’s inherent interest in the balance of power in

Europe. It isn’t too difficult to illustrate, so we will skip the discussion of the logic. The

intended outcome is to raise awareness, so that German leaders will more seriously consider

Britain’s potential involvement, and to attempt to motivate Britain into making clear statements

about its policies. For example, at the time that Germany was thinking about launching the First

World War, its military was only thinking about how to out-race the small British Expeditionary

Force12; it did not expect Britain to enter into the war.

Russian leader Sazonov was under the false impression that he could engage in full mobilization without anyone
knowing about it for much longer than possible.
As outlined in Van Evera p. 76-80
See the references in footnote 59 of Sagan.
The second big point is that Germany and Austria should not fear waning power and

missing windows of opportunity.13 In fact, Germany’s relative power was increasing at the time

World War I broke out.

The Ineffectiveness of Colonial Possessions

German elites perceived an upcoming threat to their security; they believed that one

effective way to remedy this was by taking over more land. The Germans believed that holding

more land would allow them to out-produce Russia and other upcoming powers. Jervis notes:

“Because of the perceived advantage of the offense, war was seen as the best route both to

gaining expansion and to avoiding drastic loss of influence. There seemed to be no way for

Germany merely to retain and safeguard her existing position.”

As discussed above, however, in reality there was no advantage of the offense. Thus,

expanding Germany’s boarders was a very hard thing to accomplish. Moreover, it is also

difficult for countries to turn newly acquired lands into productive assets.14

This paper will focus on these topics, in an effort to disprove the war justification that

more land means more security.15

The Cult of the Offensive and Its Security Undermining Properties

Although it is a point disputed by some,16 many people agree that the cult of the offensive

mindset present in both government leaderships and among the populations of each country was

the most dangerous factor present in international relations at the time, and thus was the number

As outlined very well in Van Evera, p. 80-86.
As discussed in Van Evera’s lectures.
More information can be found in Van Evera, p. 67-72
Origins, p. 109-133, “1914 Revisited: Allies, Offense, and Instability,” Scott D Sagan, henceforth referred to as
one cause of the war. 17 Sagan claims that nobody really wanted a war in Europe, but that

brinksmanship and bad organizational operation were two of the prime causes. 18 However,

offense dominance can be easily observed in many historical records from various players.19 The

logical causation of the love for the offense stems from many different sources for each country.

For example, German Secretary of State Jagow, in a message to an ambassador just before the

July crisis, explained a window of opportunity as one cause for an offensive posture: “Russia

will be ready to fight in a few years…I do not desire a preventive war, but if the conflict should

offer itself, we ought not to shirk it.”20, 21 To present another perspective, Belgium officers held

that “To ensure against our being ignored it was essential that we should attack.”22

Unfortunately, to address each country’s incentives for an offensive posture would be

difficult. Even if the resources are available to do this task, an offensive posture might be the

right approach for some countries, but arguments could be made and questions could be raised.

Whether or not such resources are available, this paper should focus on the ends of an offensive

posture. I.e., that believing in offense, and subsequently building up offensive weapons, causes a

security dilemma effect.

Origins, p. 59-108, “The Cult of the Offensive and the Origins of the First World War,” Stephen Van Evera,
henceforth referred to as Van Evera. Also, Origins, p. 20-58, “Civil-Military Relations and the Cult of the
Offensive, 1914 and 1984,” Jack Snyder, henceforth referred to as Snyder.
Sagan, p. 109
As quotes in Van Evera, p. 71, French General de Castelnau: “Give me 700,000 men and I will conquer Europe.”
Also, in Rohl, “Admiral von Muller,” p. 670, the German Admiral von Muller is quoted explaining the atmosphere
in Germany when the war broke out: “The mood is brilliant. The government has succeeded very well in making us
appear as the attacked.”
July 18, quoted in Schmitt, Coming of the War, Vol. 1, p. 321
It is worth noting that different people in each country’s organizations agreed with the cult of the offensive
doctrine to disparate extents. (For example, within a military organization, generals might be more motivated
toward the cult of the offensive than foot soldiers might be.) If we consider the average of this adoption within each
country’s organizations, then each of these organizations (for each country) will exhibit unequal belief in the cult of
the offensive policy. (For example, military organizations within a country are more likely to participate in cult of
the offensive principles than are civil organizations.) Finally, if we look at the average adoption for each country,
we will find that they exhibit lopsided acceptance of the doctrine; it is a commonly held view that Germany was
more hawkish in this sense than any other European country.
Tuchman, Guns of August, pp. 127-131
Rehabilitating National Leadership in Germany

We do not expect that European leaderships will change their objectives and strategies to

reflect the new realizations presented in the series of papers previously outlined. We do not

expect this simply because, based on historical evidence, these organizations do not properly

assimilate and adapt in response to new information. For example, it is unlikely that leaders,

who subscribe to cult of the offensive doctrine, would believe any arguments which posit that

Germany is not a waning power as mentioned in the paper concerning European balance of


The alternative that we will now consider is assassination. This opens a very large bag of

worms, however. The largest obstacle in the way of using this tactic is that if leaders are

assassinated, their people are more likely to become hawkish and regress back to their cult of the

offensive nature. The best solution to use, then, is to make the assassinations appear to be an

accident. The world would become very suspicious if the leaders of every country suddenly

became ill, and thus we limit our regime change efforts to Germany. Since Germany pressures

Austria to make multiple fiat accomplis, their leaderships’ removal from the theatre should have

a net positive impact on the situation.

Unfortunately, a second obstacle now becomes apparent. When we take out this

leadership, we want to make sure that it will not be replaced by a worse leadership. To solve

this, we will position the best person we can find to take over. This should not be too difficult,

however, since we have twenty one years before World War I would otherwise break out. We

should begin the selection and installation immediately.

Changing the Mindsets of the Populations

Now, we turn to the specific problem of how to change the cult of the offensive mindset

pervasive throughout each country’s population, although we are chiefly interested in Germany

since their posture was the most potent in causing the war.

Fortunately, by this point we have replaced the German leadership. Our new puppet

government should then be ready to aide us in invoking a complete reversal of public opinion.

Since the previous government had ambitions which conflicted with ours, along with control

over the media and other information outlets, the new government will be critical to this


In countries other than Germany, where we did not replace the leadership, we will also

launch a campaign. However, because some of the leaderships might not be amiable to our

cause, we do so with low expectations of success. This is acceptable since we are chiefly

interested in Germany, as previously mentioned.

The best way to achieve this operation is through public relations campaigns. Indeed, the

previous German leadership found this to be an effective strategy.23

What information should we feed the masses through our propaganda machine? The

basis of our philosophy will have been established in the series of papers previously outlined.

From there, we should add a few more themes, most of which are intended to counter the aims of

each country’s elites. That is, we should purvey how bad and messy battle truly is, perhaps with

references to the late nineteenth century wars which revealed the horrible nature of modern

warfare. Furthermore, we should try to move the masses from nationalism to a sense of

European cooperation.

For example, the German jubilees of 1913. For a more thorough discussion, see Van Evera p. 70-71.
To get these ideas across, we should use all of the typical advertising mechanisms (e.g.

sensationalism). We should also take advantage of all media outlets available to us, and

encourage public discourse beyond what we publish.

Preventing the July Crisis

Finally, we wish to prevent the July crisis from ever happening. In theory, if we solved

our original problem, this would not be necessary.24 However, if we only reduce the probably

that war would break out, we would like to reduce the number of dice that will be rolled.

To accomplish this, we will arrange for the assassination of every member of the Black

Hand.25 Because we have the ability to see into the future (and in all locations on the face of the

Earth), we can easily identifying them by spying on one of their future meetings. After

identifying the targets, we will hire professionally trained assassins to carry out the operation.

Once again, however, we must deal with possible repercussions. The most dangerous one

here is that Serbs will become enraged and engage in even more terrorist activities. We lower the

probability that this will happen by killing every member of the Black Hand, instead of just the

actual assassins. Unfortunately, we can only mitigate this risk.


In conclusion, we have devised a scheme of systematic approaches to mutate the causes

of the First World War into benign artifacts. We have done this by first publishing a series of

papers which outline why most of the incorrect international relations theories at the time were,

indeed, incorrect. Then, we removed the German leadership and replaced it with a more benign

entity. Next, we motivated the masses of each country (particularly in Germany) to abandon cult
See footnote 2.
The Black Hand is the Serbian terrorist organization that kills the archduke, causing the July crisis.
of the offensive doctrine, in light of propaganda we give them and the papers previously

published. Finally, we prevented the July crisis from ever happening by assassinating those who

would start it.

In a large sense, the First World War was over-determined. This made the problem of this

paper a difficult one, since many facets of the world at that time had to be removed or altered.

By addressing each one, and by taking extra precautions (e.g. preventing the July crisis), we

were able to prevent the First World War.