«Domestic Commitment as a War Choice of the Minor Powers» - Great Essay Sample

«Domestic Commitment as a War Choice of the Minor Powers»

When a nation faces a war, it may be no option to choose. It was the case of Serbia in the First World War; the Austria-Hungarian Empire did not live much of a choice to the little country and declared war on it. Regardless of its initial intentions, Serbia was involved in the military conflict. In order to ensure its survival and independence, the citizens had to demonstrate a high level of domestic commitment as the country could not boast of the advanced technology and military preparedness. On the example of Serbia, one can see that, despite heavy financial loads such as associated debts and heavy taxation, as well as mass conscriptions and manpower losses, the minor powers meekly accept the war and demonstrate domestic commitment because they consider it as an opportunity cost, in other words – a price paid for freedom.

After the Balkan Wars, a number of the Balkan states gained independence. Being one of them, Serbia’s active even aggressive behavior was frightening the powerful neighboring states, which did not want a disruption of peace and redistribution of the territories. To be more exact, no country would refuse additional territories but it did not mean that any state would agree to party with their lands. Moreover, as a Slavic country, Serbia could have beguiled the other Slavic nations to riot against the ruling monarchies.

In this regard, the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary was afraid of being threatened by Serbia while Germany had a years-old fear of Russia that, due to its vast territories and mysterious souls, was rather complicated for a straightforward Teutonic mindset. As long as the Austria-Hungarian heir, Franz Ferdinand, was alive, he had been restraining the hot tempers of the Austrian politicians, who wanted to deal with Serbia quickly and efficiently. After his assassination, even the peaceful nature of the emperor Franz Joseph was persuaded by the bellicose intentions of his advisors to get the upper hand.

Serbia rose to prominence after it gained independence in 1877 but Austria-Hungary began to be aware of it in 1903 when Belgrade changed orientation from being “Austria’s satellite to [being] Russia’s ally” after their coup d’état (Fromkin, 2004, p. 267). In 1908, the Dual Monarchy had appropriated Bosnia-Herzegovina, and now, Serbia became interested in the Austrian lands (Fromkin, 2004, p. 71). Serbia’s reaction frightened the Empire; it decided that Serbia could try to annex some of their territories in response. Inasmuch as Serbia was on good terms with Russia, Germany realized that in the case of the war aggression against Serbia, Russia would come to the rescue of its ally. Being long-term nemeses, Berlin saw its chance to deal with Russia. Germany concocted a plot, according to which Austria was to go against Serbia under a specious pretext of revenging for the assassination of the heir; Serbia would respond together with Russia as its Slavic ally, and Austria and Germany would have a good opportunity to deal with both their enemies at once (Fromkin, 2004, p. 71).

In such a manner, Serbia received the ultimatum, which could not have been answered in a positive way. In fact, Serbia’s answer did not matter at all because Austria was intended to start a war against this little country. As a small and proud nation, the Serbians wanted to retain their independence and initially, were ready to enter the war. However, upon considering the matter for short 48 hours, the Serbians realized that Russia was too weakened after the Russo-Japanese war so that it could not enter another war, even for the Slavic and Orthodox people. Therefore, Serbia accepted the Austrian humiliating ultimatum with some reservations. Despite Serbia’s more or less favorable response, Austria waged a war against it. The Austria-Hungarian ambassador left Sarajevo, and Serbia had nothing to do but defend itself (Fromkin, 2004, p. 185).

Any war burdens civilian population with additional commitment in the form of the growing debts, taxes, a decline in the level of living, and a “shift of resources from peace and civilian resources to war” (Magagna, 2015). In the post-assassination period, the Serbian society did neither feel nor demonstrate any remorse for the murder even knowing that the payback should be given sooner or later (Fromkin, 2004, p. 186). At that period, Serbia held elections; its re-elected Prime Minister, Nikola Pašić, knew that the public expected him to choose an anti-Austrian politics. Meanwhile, Pašić realized that it was dangerous and unwise at the moment. Therefore, for the general population, a war against the Austria-Hungarian Empire was not a matter that should have been avoided. The Serbians readily accepted the news about the war and were ready to pay the price.

Although many historians regard Austria’s attack on Serbia treacherous, Serbia nourished certain terroristic groups and, therefore, cannot be considered innocent. Even though Gavrila Princip, who assassinated the Archduke, was nominally an Austrian subject, he was ssisted by the secret societies of Sarajevo. One of them, the Black Hand, was supported by the Serbian nationalists. There is no evidence that the Black Hand was connected with Russia’s financial support, but there were the rumors of it. David Fromkin (2003) reports, “The Black Hand, in turn, called on the support of low-level Serbian government officials and on the resources of the Serbian nationalist cultural organization Narodna Odbrana” (261). In the Serbian government, there were some members of the Serbian nationalist secret societies undercover. That is the reason for why the population wanted the authorities to act despite what the Prime Minister deemed necessary.

With these nationalistic moods, Serbia met the Dual Monarchy’s declaration of war. The nationalistic spirit allowed Serbians to stand against a more powerful adversary. A civil population of Serbia regarded their level of commitment as an opportunity cost. The country was caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, even though Serbia would prefer to stay independent and boldly intended to fight back, it was impossible as Russia stayed indifferent and did not offer its help. On the other hand, the Dual Monarchy was not going to take “No” for an answer and prepared the ultimatum in the most humiliating and unacceptable wording and conditions making it hardly possible for Serbia to accept it. Thus, Serbia found itself dragged into a military conflict with a stronger opponent. Having nothing left, Serbia entered the war viewing it as “an opportunity cost – the cost of opportunities foregone” (Magagna, 2015). To this effect, domestic commitment was Serbia’s price for independence.

According to the warfare theory, in peaceful times, minimum commitment can be assessed by calculating “the average cost the median subject or citizen of a given state will pay to wage war” (Magagna, 2015). These levels are not supposed to be reduced no matter how hard the conditions of war are. From the financial point of view, domestic commitment includes taxes and debts; from the military point of view, it includes mass mobilization and military preparedness of the existing army (Magagna, 2015).

However, with the progress of time, the minimum commitment level goes up. If compared with the previous wars, the military costs tend to rise. The difference between the wars of the sixteenth century and the nineteenth century is huge. In the twentieth century, the war costs grew even bigger. Additionally, with the development of technology, the Industrial Revolution brought advanced weaponry able to kill more people. Thus, manpower losses and damages to property significantly increased while the wars became more prolonged (Magagna, 2015).

Taking into consideration all the information said above, it seems obvious for people to want to avoid war. Even when politicians consider it necessary, domestic commitment requires the consent of the population to bear several years of hardships for the dimly specified future. It is where the paradox of domestic commitment comes to the forefront. Where the increased costs of war should have made way for people’s reluctance to support the government’s action that plunged the country into bloody conflict, a reverse tendency is seen. The population demonstrates “an increase in the willingness to accept the costs of war” (Magagna, 2015). According to the warfare theory, in some cases, the population resists the imposed war but usually such behavior is not favored by the majority, “In most states, the long term costs of war are accepted even if a specific war is rejected” (Magagna, 2015).

For the Serbians in 1914, the Austrian war was imminent (Fromkin, 2004, p. 277). Inasmuch as the Dual Monarchy viewed them as a threat to their empire, it attacked the small country based on this reason. In turn, the Serbians simply fought back. Their reasons were to preserve their independence and even existence because the enemy, with the support of the Hapsburg Empire, intended to wipe off Serbia from the map. Therefore, the Serbian population was prepared to pay the price of domestic commitment and agreeably provided resource mobilization (Fromkin, 2004, p. 280).

However, as of 1914, Serbia had not yet recovered from the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. Therefore, the country was limited in both financial and manpower resources. A war imposes “the logistics constraint on the production and distribution of the means of warfare” (Magagna, 2015). As a former monarchy, Serbia no longer could externalize the costs of war and gain profits. Being not a democracy yet, it was not able to push over the cost to the enemy, as it is done in the modern conditions (Magagna, 2015).

On July 26, 1914, Serbia ordered a mobilization (Fromkin, 2004, p. 207). Around that time, Russia just ordered pre-mobilization, and neither could nor intended to help Serbia in the combat until the last weeks of August. Being poorly equipped but in an optimistic mood, the Serbian forces won a battle with the powerful Austrian army. After that event, the Austria-Serbian war was forgotten, and all eyes were turned to the unraveling Great War (Fromkin, 2004, p. 301).

According to the warfare theory, in order to ensure domestic commitment, the government and citizens should see clear aims. In the case of the Austria-Serbian war, the aims of Serbia were its independence and existence. Even though, the Austrian Empire declared its aggression as a lesson to be taught to a haughty little state, the manner, in which Austria had proceeded, revealed its true intentions. Count Leopold von Berchtold, the foreign minister of Austria and Hungary, and Helmuth von Moltke, the Chief of the German General Staff, had dreamed of crushing Serbia for long before the conflict. Therefore, their fussing with the ultimatum and wasting time instead of a quick revenge manifested that their intentions were other than what they declared. Besides, there were rumors about Berchtold’s ultimate goal to erase Serbia, which was confirmed by the unacceptable conditions of the Austria’s note (Fromkin, 2004, p. 190). Thus, both the Serbian authorities and population had a clear aim of survival and intended to assist their state to go on.

Despite having a weaker army, Serbia managed to outfight the Austrians. Apart from a high patriotic fervor of the Serbians, the reason for Austria’s loss was the fact that the Dual Monarchy and its ally, the Hapsburg Empire, had different and mutually exclusive purposes. Almost simultaneously with Austria’s declaration of war on Serbia, Germany declared war on Russia (Fromkin 2004, p. 284). Therefore, when the Austrian government expected support from the German army, it was getting busy at the other front fighting the Russians and French.

In the wartime, all domestic resources should be mobilized in order to ensure participation in the war and subsequent victory. The country bears the logistics constraint, in other words – the necessity to equip and provide its army with food and ammunition. To some extent, Serbia relied on the allies in the costs of war but both Russia and France also had problems with ammunition and food provision; therefore, assistance was not sufficient. Serbia had many losses during the First World War, but it managed to sustain people’s spirit and nationalism.

Furthermore, during a war, the state and citizens are involved in bargaining. The authorities offer some bargains to the subjects. If, in the earlier times, the rulers used to fight for the new lands and quell discontent in the existing ones, today, authorities wage the wars for economic privileges and improvement of living. The two World Wars probably were among the last ones fought for the new territories. To the First World War, the hypothesis of Asset Binding can be applied (Magagna, 2015). The Serbians realized that they could perish together with their state. Even if they had not, their citizenship would have been transformed by the war into an asset value. Thus, “the underlying bargain transforms subjects and citizens into stakeholders who have an incentive to support their states in war” (Magagna, 2015). This understanding makes people more likely to support the war and, thus, ensure their state’s survival.

Depending on the country, the level of commitment is different. Thus, the same war can exhibit adversaries with different levels of domestic commitment. It is logical that a higher level of domestic commitment is, the better the state is ready for any military conflict and able to wage offensive. However, it is indicative that in the case of one belligerent party being stronger (the so-called asymmetric wars), the victory can go to a weaker state with a high level of domestic commitment. These counter-intuitive outcomes can be explained by the fact that a lack of technology and ammunition can be helped out by the high levels of domestic commitment. On the whole, “domestic commitment levels have increased across time and all systems” (Magagna, 2015).

In the cases a war is imposed on a country, domestic commitment can be the only way to ensure its survival and independence. In the case of military aggression, the state and the population depend on each other. The state offers citizenship an asset value, while the population pays for it with constrictions, taxes, and supporting the state even in the time of war. As a minor power, Serbia was significantly weaker than the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Being weakened by the two Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, Serbia had fewer mobilization resources and less ammunition. However, the patriotic spirit of its population contributed to the victory. In order to ensure the country’s survival and independence, the Serbians had to demonstrate a high level of domestic commitment in the form of financial loads such as debts, taxation, and other associated costs, as well as mass conscriptions and manpower losses. When a country could not boast of advanced technology and military preparedness, diligent domestic commitment can help win even against a more powerful adversary.


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