France and the Western Frontier
This chapter traces the contest with France, from the wars of Louis XIV to the bitter life-or-death struggle with the revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte. More advanced than the Ottomans and bigger than Prussia, France was capable of fielding large modern armies and elaborate alliances to threaten the Erblände from multiple sides. In conflicts with France, Austria was not able to count on the military-technological advantage that it enjoyed against the Turks, or the greater size and resources that gave it an edge against Prussia. Instead, Austria learned over time to contain French power through the defensive use of space, building extensive buffer zones to offset France’s advantages in offensive capabilities. Habsburg strategy on the western frontier evolved through three phases. In wars with the Bourbon kings, successive Habsburg monarchs cultivated the smaller states of the German Reich and northern Italy as clients, committed to sharing the burden of defense through local armies and tutelary fortresses in wartime. Against Napoleon, these buffers collapsed, forcing Austria to use strategies of delay and accommodation similar to those employed against Frederick II to wear down and outlast a stronger military opponent. And in the peace that followed, Austria restored and expanded its traditional western security system, using confederated buffers and frontier fortresses to deter renewed French revisionism.
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