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The Grand Strategy of the Habsburg Empire$
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A. Wess Mitchell

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691196442

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691196442.001.0001

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Between Hammer and Anvil

Between Hammer and Anvil

Eclipse of the Habsburg Monarchy

(p.256) 9 Between Hammer and Anvil
The Grand Strategy of the Habsburg Empire

A. Wess Mitchell

Princeton University Press

This chapter traces the breakdown of the Metternichian system, from the time of the revolution of 1848 and Crimean War to the debilitating defeats by Italy in 1859 and Prussia in 1866. In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the Habsburg Monarchy suffered defeats in a series of short, sharp wars that would bring an end to the Metternich system and pave the way for Austria’s demise as a Great Power. These changes occurred not primarily because of economic decay or the empire’s internal complexity but instead because Austria lost the tools that it had used in the past to manage the sequencing and duration of its wars. This was the result of both structural changes beyond its leaders’ control and avoidable errors and a deviation from the principles that had formerly shaped its past statecraft. Specifically, Austria’s leaders abandoned the flexible statecraft that had allowed them to control conflict sequencing and avoid isolation; rivals adopted new technologies that denied the monarchy’s armies the ability to use attrition and terrain to prolong conflict and outlast stronger militaries; and nationalism trumped treaty rights as a source of territorial legitimacy, allowing hostile polities to form in the areas that had previously served as the monarchy’s buffer zones. Deprived of its traditional strategic toolbox, Austria was forced by its strongest rival to accept cohabitation with its strongest ethnic minority and for the first time had to absorb the full costs of managing a 360-degree defensive position.

Keywords:   Crimean War, Habsburg Monarchy, Metternich system, Austria, statecraft, nationalism, territorial legitimacy, buffer zones, polities, ethnic minority

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