Primary Documents - Count Czernin on the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, 2 April 1918

Ottokar Czernin Reproduced below is the text of Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Count Czernin's reaction to news of the peace settlements at Brest-Litovsk with (primarily) Russia, Romania and the Ukraine.

Count Czernin strove to illustrate the advantages accrued to Austria-Hungary by each of the three peace settlements, while noting that each were themselves "moderate" and "honourable" in their treatment of the defeated nations.

Count Czernin also noted that civil forces within the Austro-Hungarian Empire - which either agitated for peace or conversely for annexationist policies - were providing moral succour to the enemy powers and therefore extending the war's duration.  Nevertheless, he argued, Austria-Hungary and its allies would yet prevail over "weakening" opposition.

Click here to read the reaction of German Chancellor Count Georg von Hertling to news of the settlement.

Count Czernin on the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, 2 April 2004

With the signing of peace with Rumania the war in the east is ended.  Three treaties of peace have been signed - with Petrograd, Ukraine, and Rumania.

One principal section of the war is thus ended.

Before discussing the separate peaces which have been signed, and before going into details, I wish to return to the statements of the President of the United States wherein he replied to the speech I made before the delegations on January 24th.

In many parts of the world Mr. Wilson's speech was regarded as an attempt to drive a wedge between Vienna and Berlin.  I do not believe that, because I have much too high an opinion of Mr. Wilson's statesmanship to suspect him of such a train of thought.

According to my impressions, Mr. Wilson does not want to separate Vienna from Berlin.  He does not desire that, and knows that it is impossible.

He perhaps thinks, however, that Vienna presents more favourable soil for sowing the seeds of a general peace.  He has perhaps said to himself that the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy has the good fortune to have a monarch who genuinely and honourably desires a general peace, but that this monarch will never be guilty of a breach of faith; that he will never make a shameful peace, and that behind this monarch stand 55,000,000 souls.

I imagine that Mr. Wilson says to himself that this closely knit mass of people represents a force which is not to be disregarded and that this honourable and firm will to peace with which the monarch is imbued and which binds him to the peoples of both States is capable of carrying a great idea in the service of which Mr. Wilson has also placed himself.

President Wilson's four points are a suitable basis upon which to begin negotiating about a general peace.  The question is whether or not Mr. Wilson will succeed in uniting his allies upon this basis.

God is my witness that we have tried everything possible to avoid a new offensive.  The Entente would not have it.  A short time before the beginning of the offensive in the west M. Clemenceau inquired of me whether and upon what basis I was prepared to negotiate.

I immediately replied, in agreement with Berlin, that I was ready to negotiate, and that as regards France I saw no other obstacle for peace than France's desire for Alsace-Lorraine.

The reply from Paris was that France was willing to negotiate only on that basis.  There was then no choice left.

The gigantic struggle in the west has already begun.  Austro-Hungarian and German troops are fighting shoulder to shoulder as they did in Russia, Serbia, Rumania, and Italy.  We are fighting united for the defence of Austria-Hungary and Germany.

Our armies will show the Entente that French and Italian aspirations to portions of our territory are Utopias which will be terribly avenged.

The explanation of this attitude of the Entente Powers, which verges on lunacy, is to a great extent to be sought in certain domestic events here, to which I shall return later.  Whatever may happen, we shall not sacrifice German interests any more than Germany will desert us.  Loyalty on the Danube is not less than German loyalty.

We are not fighting for imperialist or annexationist ends, either for ourselves or for Germany, but we shall act together to the end for our defence, for our political existence and for our future.

The first breach in the determination of our enemies to war has been driven by the peace negotiations with Russia.  That was a breakthrough by the idea of peace.

It is a symptom of childish dilettantism to overlook the close relationship of the various peace signatures with each other.  The constellation of enemy powers in the east was like a net.  When one mesh was cut through the remaining meshes loosened of their own accord.

We first gave international recognition to the separation of Ukraine from Russia, which had to be accomplished as an internal affair of Russia.  Profiting from resultant circumstances which were favourable to our aims, we concluded with the Ukraine the peace sought by that country.

This gave the lead to peace with Petrograd, whereby Rumania was left standing alone, so that she also had to conclude peace.  So one peace brought another, and the desired success, namely, the end of the war in the east, was achieved.

The peace concluded with Rumania, it is calculated, will be the starting point of friendly relations.  The slight frontier rectifications which we receive are not annexations.  Wholly uninhabited regions, they serve solely for military protection.

To those who insist that these rectifications fall under the category of annexations and accuse me of inconsistency, I reply that I have publicly protested against holding out a license to our enemies which would assure them against the dangers of further adventures.

From Russia I did not demand a single metre, but Rumania neglected the favourable moment.  The protection of mercantile shipping in the lower Danube and the guarding of the Iron Gate are guaranteed by the extension of the frontier to the heights of Turnu-Severin, by leasing for thirty years a valuable wharf near this town, together with a strip along the river bank at an annual rental of 1,000 lei, and, finally, by obtaining the leasing rights to the islands of Ostrovo, Marecorbu, and Simearu, and the transfer of the frontier several kilometres southward in the region of the Petroseny coal mine, which better safeguards our possessions in the Szurdok Pass coal basin.

Nagy-Szeben and Fogaras will receive a new security frontier of an average width of from 15 to 18 kilometres at all passes of importance, as, for instance, Predeal, Bodz, Gyimes, Bekas, and Tolgyes.  The new frontier has been so far removed to Rumanian ground as military reasons require.

The rectification east of Czernowitz has protected that city against future attacks.

At the moment when we are successfully endeavouring to renew friendly and neighbourly relations with Rumania, it is unlikely that we would open old wounds, but every one knows the history of Rumania's entrance into the war and will admit that it was my duty to protect the monarchy against future surprises of a similar kind.

I consider the safest guarantee for the future, international agreements to prevent war.  In such agreements, if they are framed in binding form, I should see much stronger guaranties against surprise attacks by neighbours than in frontier rectifications, but thus far, except in the case of President Wilson, I have been unable to discover among any of our enemies serious inclination to accept this idea.

However, despite the small degree of approval this idea receives, I consider that it will be realized.

Calculating the burdens with which the States of the world will emerge from the war, I vainly ask myself how they will cover military expenditures if competition in armaments remains unrestricted.  I do not believe that it will be possible for the States after this war adequately to meet the increased requirements due to the war.

I think, rather, that financial conditions will compel the States to enter into a compromise regarding the limitation of armaments.

This calculation of mine is neither idealistic nor fantastic, but is based upon reality in politics in the most literal sense of the word.  I, for my part, would consider it a great disaster if in the end there should be failure to achieve general agreements regarding the diminution of armaments.

It is obvious that in the peace with Rumania we shall take precautions to have our interests in the questions of grain, food supply, and petroleum fully protected.  We shall further take precautions that the Catholic Church and our schools receive the state of protection they need, and we shall solve the Jewish question.

The Jew shall henceforth be a citizen with equal rights in Rumania.

The Irredentist propaganda, which has produced so much evil in Hungary, will be restrained and, finally, precautions will be taken to obtain indemnification for the injustice innocently suffered by many of our countrymen owing to the war.

We shall strive by means of a new commercial treaty and appropriate settlement of the railway and shipping questions to protect our economic interests in Rumania.

Rumania's future lies in the east.  Large portions of Bessarabia are inhabited by Rumanians, and there are many indications that the Rumanian population there desires close union with Rumania.

If Rumania will adopt a frank, cordial, friendly attitude toward us we will have no objections to meeting those tendencies in Bessarabia.  Rumania can gain much more in Bessarabia than she lost in the war.

In concluding peace with Rumania and Ukraine, it has been my first thought to furnish the monarchy with food-stuffs and raw materials.  Russia did not come into consideration in this connection owing to the disorganization there.

We agreed with Ukraine that the quantity of grain to be delivered to the Central Powers should be at least 1,000,000 tons.  Thirty cars of grain and peas are now en route, 6oo cars are ready to be transported, and these transports will be continued until the imports are organized and can begin regularly.

Larger transports are rendered possible by the peace with Rumania, which enables goods to be sent from Odessa to Danube ports.

We hope during May to undertake the first large transport from Ukraine.  While I admit that the imports from Ukraine are still small and must be increased, nevertheless our food situation would have been considerably worse had this agreement not been concluded.

From Rumania we will obtain a considerable surplus of last year's harvest.  Moreover, about 400,000 tons of grain, peas, beans, and fodder must be transported via the Danube.

Rumania must also immediately provide us with 800,000 sheep and pigs, which will improve our meat supply slightly.

It is clear from this that everything will be done to obtain from the exploitation of the regions which peace has opened for us in the east whatever is obtainable.  The difficulties of obtaining these supplies from Ukraine are still considerable, as no state of order exists there.  But with the goodwill of the Ukrainian Government and our organization we will succeed in overcoming the difficulties.

An immediate general peace would not give us further advantages, as all Europe today is suffering from lack of foodstuffs.  While the lack of cargo space prevents other nations from supplying themselves, the granaries of Ukraine and Rumania remain open to the Central Powers.

The forcible annexation of foreign peoples would place difficulties in the way of a general peace, and such an extension of territories would not strengthen the empire.  On the contrary, considering the grouping of the monarchy, they would weaken us.  What we require are not territorial annexations, but economic safeguards for the future.

We wish to do everything to create in the Balkans a situation of lasting calm.  Not until the collapse of Russia did there cease to exist the factor which hitherto made it impossible for us to bring about a definite state of internal peace in the Balkans.

We know that the desire for peace is very great in Serbia, but Serbia has been prevented by the Entente Powers from concluding it.  Bulgaria must receive from Serbia certain districts inhabited by Bulgarians.  We, however, have no desire to destroy Serbia.  We will enable Serbia to develop, and we would welcome closer economic relations with her.

We do not desire to influence the future relations between the monarchy and Serbia and Montenegro by motives conflicting with friendly, neighbourly relations.  The best state of egoism is to come to terms with a beaten neighbour, which leads to this: My egoism regarding Austria-Hungary is that after being conquered militarily our enemies must be conquered morally.  Only then is victory complete, and in this respect diplomacy must finish the work of the armies.

Since I came into office I have striven only after one aim, namely, to secure an honourable peace for the monarchy and to create a situation which will secure to Austria-Hungary future free development, and, moreover, to do everything possible to insure that this terrible war shall be the last one for time out of mind.

I have never spoken differently.  I do not intend to go begging for peace, or to obtain it by entreaties or lamentations, but to enforce it by our moral right and physical strength.  Any other tactics, I consider, would contribute to the prolongation of the war.

I must say, to my regret, that during the last few weeks and months much has been spoken and done in Austria that prolongs the war.  Those who are prolonging the war are divided into various groups, according to their motives and tactics.

There are, first, those who continuously beg for peace.  They are despicable and foolish.  To endeavour to conclude peace at any price is despicable, for it is unmanly, and it is foolish because it continuously feeds the already dying aggressive spirit of the enemy.

The desire for peace of the great masses is natural as well as comprehensible, but the leaders of the people must consider that certain utterances produce abroad just the opposite effect from what they desire.

Firmly relying on our strength and the justice of our cause, I have already concluded three moderate but honourable peace treaties.  The rest of our enemies also begin to understand that we have no other desire than to secure the future of the monarchy and of our allies, and that we intend to enforce this and can and will enforce it.

I shall unswervingly prosecute this course and join issue with any one who opposes me.

The second group of war prolongers are the annexationists.  It is a distortion of fact to assert that Germany has made conquests in the east.  Lenin's anarchy drove the border people into the arms of Germany.  Is Germany to refuse this involuntary choice of foreign border States?

The German Government has as little desire for oppressions as we, and I am perfectly convinced that neither annexationists nor weaklings can prevent forever a moderate and honourable peace.  They delay it, but they cannot prevent it.

The hopes of our enemies of final victory are not merely based on military expectations and the blockade.  They are based to a great extent on our interior political conditions and on certain political leaders, not forgetting the Czechs.

Recently we were almost on the point of entering into negotiations with the Western Powers, when the wind suddenly veered round and, as we know with certainty, the Entente decided it had better wait, as parliamentary and political events in our country justified the hope that the monarchy would soon be defenceless.

Czech troops are now criminally fighting against their own country, and we must unite against this high treason.  The government is quite ready to proceed to the revision of the Constitution, but this will not be helped by those who hope through the victory of the Entente to gain their ends.

If we expel this poison, a general honourable peace is nearer than the public imagines, but no one has the right to remain aside in this last decisive struggle.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

'Alleyman' was British slang for a German soldier.

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