SEPTEMBER 14: REVIEW OF BETHMANN HOLLWEG’S WAR AIMS

Theobald_von_Bethmann-Hollweg[1]

On September 9, German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg laid out their aims for the war. While part of this was a reaction to the increasing possibility that the German military might not be able to force a French surrender (a possibility that was realized within the weeks surrounding the promulgation of the war aims), another major element of the war aims was an attempt by the military to get a sense of what the German elite wanted out of the war.

Interestingly, the war aims for the non-military Germans remained generally the same throughout the conflict: they wanted some land concessions, especially the lands rich with resources which they had overrun early in the war. What’s most notable about this earliest edition of German war aims, however, is the confidence it assumes: Germany could never successfully demand that France become economically dependent upon Germany unless a German victory in the war had become inevitable.

A translation of the full text follows below.

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The general aim of the war is security for the German Reich in west and east for all imaginable time. For this purpose France must be so weakened as to make her revival as a great power impossible for all time. Russia must be thrust back as far as possible from Germany’s eastern frontier and her domination over the non-Russian vassal peoples broken.

  1. France. The military to decide whether we should demand cession of Belfort and western slopes of the Vosges, razing of fortresses and cession of coastal strip from Dunkirk to Boulogne.

The ore-field of Briey, which is necessary for the supply of ore for our industry, to be ceded in any case. Further, a war indemnity, to be paid in instalments; it must be high enough to prevent France from spending any considerable sums on armaments in the next 15-20 years.

Furthermore: a commercial treaty which makes France economically dependent on Germany, secures the French market for our exports and makes it possible to exclude British commerce from France. This treaty must secure for us financial and industrial freedom of movement in France in such fashion that German enterprises can no longer receive different treatment from French.

  1. Belgium. Liége and Verviers to be attached to Prussia, a frontier strip of the province of Luxemburg to Luxemburg.

Question whether Antwerp, with a corridor to Liége, should also be annexed remains open.

At any rate Belgium, even it allowed to continue to exist as a state, must be reduced to a vassal state, must allow us to occupy any militarily important ports, must place her coast at our disposal in military respects, must become economically a German province. Given such a solution, which offers the advantages of annexation without its inescapable domestic political disadvantages, French Flanders with Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne, where most of the population is Flemish, can without danger be attached to this unaltered Belgium. The competent quarters will have to judge the military value of this position against England.

  1. Luxemburg. Will become a German federal state and will receive a strip of the present Belgian province of Luxemburg and perhaps the corner of Longwy.
  2. We must create a central European economic association through common customs treaties, to include France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Austria-Hungary, Poland “sic”, and perhaps Italy, Sweden and Norway. This association will not have any common constitutional supreme authority and all its members will be normally equal, but in practice will be under German leadership and must stabilise Germany’s economic dominance over Mitteleuropa.
  3. The question of colonial acquisitions, where the first aim is the creation of a continuous Central African colonial empire, will be considered later, as will that of the aims to be realised vis-à-vis Russia.
  4. A short provisional formula suitable for a possible preliminary peace to be found for a basis for the economic agreements to be concluded with France and Belgium.
  5. Holland. It will have to be considered by what means and methods Holland can be brought into closer relationship with the German Empire.

In view of the Dutch character, this closer relationship must leave them free of any feeling of compulsion, must alter nothing in the Dutch way of life, and must also subject them to no new military obligations. Holland, then, must be left independent in externals, but be made internally dependent on us. Possibly one might consider an offensive and defensive alliance, to cover the colonies; in any case a close customs association, perhaps the cession of Antwerp to Holland in return for the right to keep a German garrison in the fortress of Antwerp and at the mouth of the Scheldt.
From Fritz Fischer, Germany’s Aims in the First World War, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1967.

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