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Aloys Leopold Johann Baptist Graf Lexa
von Aehrenthal
Aloys Graf Lexa von Aehrenthal was born on 27 September 1854, at Groß-Skal in Bohemia.

Aehrenthal began his career in the k.u.k. foreign service as attaché in Paris in 1877.  Thereafter, he was appointed diplomatic counselor to Russia in 1888, ambassador to Bucharest in 1895, and finally Austria's ambassador to St. Petersburg in 1899.  Aehrenthal replaced long-serving Graf Goluchowski as foreign minister in 1906.  His mission was clear from the start.  He intended to revive the flagging foreign policy of Austria-Hungary and have the Empire take a more active role as a great power in Europe. 

Thanks to the defeat of Russia in their war against Japan in 1904-1905, the Austrias' vast neighbour was once again looking to the Balkans for political salvation.  Vienna could not allow the Russians to gain an upper hand in this sensitive area.  Already in 1905, Aehrenthal devised a method for raising Austria's stock in the region by pressuring Serbia. 

A War Involving Pigs

Once the Obrenovic dynasty under King Alexander was removed in a bath of blood, the Karadjordjevic dynsty replaced it, and took an immediately anti-Austrian stance, for the Obrenovic kings had been virtual clients of Austria ever since an alliance was signed in 1881.  Aehrenthal was appalled by the turn of events in Serbia, and therefore instituted a boycot of all Serbian pigs.  Thus, the "Pig War" was begun and lasted until 1909.  As Austria purchased the vast majority of Serbian pigs, Aehrethal believed he could force the Serbians into signing special concessions over to him or face ruin.  However, the Serbians were able to find many other clients to buy their pigs, including Egypt.  Thus, the Pig War had no effect on Serbia except to enflame the Serbian press against the Empire and cause nationalists to consider the Austrians their chief enemy after the Turks.

The Russians at first were not interested in giving support to the Serbians.  King Alexander Obrenovic was a close friend of Tsar Nicholas and the Russian autocrat was even at the wedding of Alexander and his consort, Draga.  Therefore, suspicion and loathing for the Serbians was felt at St. Petersburg.  The Russians were more interested in the Bulgarians at this time.  Thus, when in July 1908 the Young Turks staged a revolution in Constantinople, established a constitutional government, and inaugurated a reform program, the Austrian foreign minister resolved to annex Bosnia-Herzegovina before the new Turkish regime attempted to legally regain control over them and found in Russia a willing accomplice.

When Empires Plot

The Russian Foreign Minister, Alexander Izvolski, met secretly with Aehrenthal in the 16 September 1908 at
Graf Leopold Berchtold's estate of Buchlau.  The extent of Russia's lack of interest in Serbia was evident by the agreement made between Aehrenthal and Izvolski.  In this agreement, Izvolski promised that Russia would not oppose Austria's annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (occupied and administered ever since 1878), and Izvolski even reaffirmed Tsar Alexander II's  recognition of Austria's right to annex the territories without calling a Great Powers conference.  In return, Aehrenthal promised that Austria-Hungary would not oppose an effort by St. Petersburg to open the Straits to Russian warships, providing the same was allowed for other Black Sea nations, and that Constantinople would never be brought under the guns of Russia.  To this, Izvolski gave a heartily affirmation.  In reality, Aehrenthal had taken the cake and left Izvolski with nothing substantive in the least. 

Unleashing the Secret

Izvolski returned to St. Petersburg and immediately began the process for opening the Straits.  Before he had gotten anywhere with the Turks, the British vetoed the scheme, claiming it breached every Great Power conference and all international laws.  Izvolski could not turn to Aehrenthal, because nothing the latter had signed offered any support to Russia in the event of opposition from another Great Power.  Thus, Izvolski was left holding the bag and not a little discredited.

Meanwhile, the Young Turks had called forth new parliament members from all provinces of the Ottoman Empire, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, which were still de jure territories of the Sultan.  This action threatened Vienna's claim to the two pronvicnes and so by a rescript of 7 October 1908, Austria-Hungary formally annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina.  The reaction of the Great Powers was like dynamite.  Both the King of England and the German Kaiser were shocked that they had not been informed ahead of time.   France was indignant.  Italy expected it, and immediately demanded compensation for Austria's aggrandisement.  Only Russia knew it would happen, but Izvolski was so outraged by Aehrenthal's trickery at Buchlau that he denied the agreement and raised the threat of war, claiming solidarity with the Serbians who were the first to denounce the annexation, even before the Turks.

Containing the Crisis

Thus began a Great Power crisis that was to have enormous repercussions on the future of peace in the world.  Russia chose to support the Serbians because its own interests in the Straits and therefore Bulgaria were cut off by the British.  Izvolski led the violent charge against the Austrians.  However, Aehrenthal relied on the Triple Alliance clause that bound Germany to come to Austria's defense in the event of a Russian attack.  Therefore, to head off any possible activation of this clause, Germany's Chancellor, Graf Bülow, sent to Izvolski a virtual ultimatum, demanding Russian acceptance of the fiat accompli and to cease supporting Serbia. 
In March 1909, Izvolsky notified Germany that Russia accepted Austria's annexation.  Serbia was exposed to an Austrian invasion, as the Russians back down, but all excuses for war with Serbia were gone.  In retrospect, this was the freest opportunity Austria had for dealing with the pan-Serbian activities of the Serbian military, but Aehrenthal wanted no war and therefore advised
Kaiser Franz Josef to restrain Chief of Staff Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf and his sabre-rattling.

Aehrenthal finally ironed out differences with the Ottoman Empire, which was insulted by the annexation.  The Foreign Minister managed to buy them off by paying two million Turkish Pounds.  Although the crisis was resolved without immediate warfare, the affair embittered relations between Serbia and Austria-Hungary and set the stage for future conflict.

The assertive course of Aehrenthal's foreign policy also led to a cooling of relations with Germany.  For his part, Bülow secured plenty of emnity from all sides for his unconditional support of Austria.  The Germans had not forgotten that Vienna had nearly started a world war and had done so without even consulting her faithful ally in Berlin.

What to Do with Italy?

Aehrenthal was definitely against the Empire's involvement in war.  First he opposed war against Serbia in 1909 even though the monarchy had a green light from Germany and Russia, and later he opposed suggestions of preventive war against Italy and Russia herself.   He sought to reestablish good relations with Italy, Austria's nominal ally, by nodding to Italian imperialist ambitions in Tripoli in 1911.   Italy's Foreign Minister, the Marchese di San Giuliano, decided to play his foreign policy game according to the expected rules, and he received permission from the Great Powers before pressing Italy's claims in Tripoli with military force. 

Aehrenthal was glad to turn Italy's ambitions away from the Balkans, especially since Rome had demanded compensation for the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.  But, Aehrenthal had argued their claims away based on the 30 years of occupation and the millions of Crowns invested in the two provinces.  This latter excuse was used by Italy as an excuse to occupy Tripoli, and Rome even claimed to only occupy Tripoli, not annex it.  The Young Turks were in no mood for another Bosnia-Herzegovina, and resolved to fight for their distant African provinces. 

The Italians soon bogged down amidst indecisive desert warfare.  So, they intended to open new theatres of war against the Turks.  They had already enflamed an Albanian uprising in early 1912, by secretly arming the Catholic Mallisori tribe.  When the Turks attempted to disarm them, a rebellion broke out, and many massacres happened.  The Italians prepared to "liberate" the Malissori, but Aehrenthal saw through San Giuliano's ruse and vetoed any Italian prosecution of war on the European mainland. 

Rome therefore announced it would open a new war theatre near the Straits and in the Aegean Sea.  Thus, in summer 1912 they occupied the Dodecanese Islands.  Also, the Malissori rebellion spread to most other Albanian tribes, and the Turks lost control of the situation.  Huge concessions were granted to the Albanian nationalists, which enraged the Balkans states, particularly Bulgaria, whose government entered into negotiations with the Russians over a possible war against the Turks.  The Balkan Wars soon followed, and the fall of the Ottoman Empire in Europe exposed Austria-Hungary as the main target of pan-Serbian expansion. 

But Aehrenthal had died on 17 February 1912 in Vienna.  He missed witnessing the fruits of his cunning yet dangerous foreign policy.  Aehrenthal had many vocal critics, yet he enjoyed unwavering support from Kaiser Franz Josef, who never lost faith in his Foreign Minister's cleverness and abilities.

GWS, 5/01