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 preWWI 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 transformation. 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. 2 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. 3 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.
4 5

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. 6 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
7 8

Van Evera, p. 60 Eyre Crowe, on July 27, quoted in Geiss, July 1914, p. 251. 9 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. 11 As outlined in Van Evera p. 76-80 12 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
13 14

As outlined very well in Van Evera, p. 80-86. As discussed in Van Evera’s lectures. 15 More information can be found in Van Evera, p. 67-72 16 Origins, p. 109-133, “1914 Revisited: Allies, Offense, and Instability,” Scott D Sagan, henceforth referred to as Sagan.

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. 18 Sagan, p. 109 19 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.” 20 July 18, quoted in Schmitt, Coming of the War, Vol. 1, p. 321 21 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. 22 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 power. 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 operation. 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
24 25

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.