Primary Documents - Italian Declaration of Neutrality, 2 August 1914
With war brewing in Europe towards the close of July 1914 both the Entente Powers (Britain, France and Russia) and the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) were keen to secure an alliance with Italy.
Matters were somewhat complicated by Italy's having committed itself to two apparently conflicting alliances. The first, with Germany and Austria-Hungary - the Triple Alliance of 1882 - was publicly known and understood; the second, with France, was a secret alliance.
In the event Italy formally announced a policy of neutrality on 2 August. Her reason was straightforward: her alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary only provided for military support in the event of a defensive war: whereas Austria-Hungary's stance with regard to Serbia was clearly offensive. More to the point however Italy regarded Austria-Hungary's influence in the Balkans with deep suspicion and had long regarded the Austro-Hungarians as potential enemies.
Her alliance with France ultimately led to Italy's entrance into the war, on 23 May 1915, on the side of the Entente Powers against Germany and Austria-Hungary.
Telegram from Austro-Hungarian Ambassador at Rome to Count Berchtold
30 July 1914
Minister of Foreign Affairs spontaneously brought up today the question of Italian attitude in the event of a European war.
As the character of the Triple Alliance is purely defensive; as our measures against Serbia may precipitate a European conflagration; and finally, as we had not previously consulted this government, Italy would not be bound to join us in the war.
This, however, does not preclude the alternative that Italy might, in such an event, have to decide for herself whether her interests would best be served by taking sides with us in military operations or by remaining neutral.
Personally he feels more inclined to favour the first solution, which appears to him as the more likely one, provided that Italy's interests in the Balkan Peninsula are safeguarded and that we do not seek changes likely to give us a predominance detrimental to Italy's interests in the Balkans.
Telegram from German Ambassador at Rome to the German Foreign Office in Berlin
31 July 1914
The local Government has discussed, at the Ministerial Council held today, the question of Italy's attitude in the war.
Marquis San Giuliano told me that the Italian Government had considered the question thoroughly, and had again come to the conclusion that Austria's procedure against Serbia must be regarded as an act of aggression, and that consequently a casus foederis, according to the terms of the Triple Alliance treaty, did not exist
Therefore Italy would have to declare herself neutral. Upon my violently opposing this point of view, the Minister went on to state that since Italy had not been informed in advance of Austria's procedure against Serbia, she could with less reason be expected to take part in the war, as Italian interests were being directly injured by the Austrian proceeding.
All that he could say to me now was that the local Government reserved the right to determine whether it might be possible for Italy to intervene later in behalf of the allies, if, at the time of doing so, Italian interests should be satisfactorily protected.
The Minister, who was in a state of great excitement, said in explanation that the entire Ministerial Council, with the exception of himself, had shown a distinct dislike for Austria.
It had been all the more difficult for him to contest this feeling, because Austria, as I myself knew, was continuing so persistently with a recognized injury to Italian interests, as to violate Article 7 of the Triple Alliance treaty, and because she was declining to give a guaranty for the independence and integrity of Serbia.
He regretted that the Imperial Government had not done more to intervene in this connection to persuade Austria to a timely compliance. I have the impression that it is not yet necessary to give up all hope for the future here, if the Italians should be met halfway with regard to the demands mentioned above, or in other words, if compensation should be offered them.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the attitude England has assumed has decidedly diminished prospects of Italian participation in our favour.
In the meanwhile, I pointed out to the Minister in the plainest manner possible the extremely regrettable impression which such an attitude would make on us, and then called to his attention the consequences which might develop for Italy in the future as a result.
Telegram from French Ambassador at Rome to French Prime Minister Rene Viviani
1 August 1914
I went to see the Marquis di San Giuliano this morning at half-past eight, in order to get precise information from him as to the attitude of Italy in view of the provocative acts of Germany and the results which they may have.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs answered that he had seen the German Ambassador yesterday evening. Herr von Flotow had said to him that Germany had requested the Russian Government to suspend mobilisation, and the French Government to inform them as to their intentions. Germany had given France a time limit of eighteen hours and Russia a time limit of twelve hours.
Herr von Flotow as a result of this communication asked what were the intentions of the Italian Government.
The Marquis di San Giuliano answered that as the war undertaken by Austria was aggressive and did not fall within the purely defensive character of the Triple Alliance, particularly in view of the consequences which might result from it according to the declaration of the German Ambassador, Italy could take part in the war.
By 1918 the percentage of women to men working in Britain had risen to 37% from 24% at the start of the war.
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