IS AUSTRIA WEAK ?
MR. GLADSTONE, in the ill-judged letter which he has addressed to Mr. Bonham-Carter—ill-judged because it connects British action in Eastern Europe too closely with our party disputes—makes incidentally the remark that Austria is a much " weaker" Power than either Germany or Russia. In so saying he expresses, we believe, the usual opinion of this country, which judges States rather too much by their temporary success in battle, and which is always under the illusion that the Hapsburg Empire is a kind of political mosaic which will speedily break under the hammer ; but we doubt greatly whether his view is accurate. There is, of course, as the late Mr. Freeman passed his life in asserting, no such Empire as " Austria ; " but the Hapsburg dynasty, which is Austria, is a living entity, and possesses very large resources for war. Its supply of men is as large as that of Germany, and all its men, apart from their organisation, are admirable soldiers. There are no better fighters in the world than South Germans—witness the feats of General Von der Tann's Bavarian corps d'armee in 1870—the Croats have high military reputation ; that Wallachs will fight was shown by King Charles of Roumania in 1877; and all the races of Hungary, Magyar or Slav, have fought for the last three centuries with high credit, and when well commanded, as under the Archduke Charles, with reasonable success. The excellence of the Austrian cavalry in particular is admitted even by the Prussian Staff ; while the Roumanian Army, which would in any probable war be at the Hapsburg's disposal, defeated the Ottomans at Plevna, and enabled the Russians to dictate the Treaty of San Stefano. The officers, it is true, are not so good as those of Germany, because Austria does not possess the same class of proud but poverty-stricken squires, accustomed to regard soldiering as their only profession, and drilled for generations in the great art of taking trouble about details. They are, however, much better educated in their work than they were in 1866 ; the excessive favouritism for men of high birth has at all events been diminished; and there is no reason whatever why Austria, which is excep- tionally hospitable to foreign military ability, should not throw up a Commander-in-Chief of genius. The difficulties of race which so hamper the civil administration are but little felt within the Army, which is carefully taught to consider itself a brotherhood, and now that the Italians have returned to their proper nationality, there is no division about whose loyalty on the field the Emperor would entertain serious doubts. The civil departments of the Army, the commissariat in particular, are in much better order than they were in the campaign against Napoleon III., when whole brigades were left half-fed, the two national Treasuries having recovered themselves, while the whole country is fuller of munitions, supplies, and means of transport than it has ever been before. The house of Austria, no doubt, has been unfortunate in battle, but to declare that a dynasty which controls at three days' notice half a million of such troops as the Austrian, and at a month's notice quite three half- millions more, is even comparatively a weak Power, seems to us, who by no means approve Austrian policy, rather a rash opinion.
It is especially rash just now, when the Hapsburgs, if driven to act at all—a contingency which the Emperor Francis Joseph obviously avoids with even too much solicitude—would be compelled to strike to the East instead of to the West. The Hapsburgs have just now two possible enemies, the Romanoffs and the Ottomans, and as against either of them their geographical position is a most formidable one. Everybody is assuming just now, we fear with too much truth, that the physical power to turn the Turks out of Thessaly does not exist ; but if the Hapsburgs made up their minds to that course they could, and we do not doubt would, crush Edhem Pasha in a fortnight. There is nothing except his army to stop them till they reach Salonica, which they could attack by sea almost as easily as we could, though, of course, with smaller squadrons. Even if they could not call out the Bulgarian Army to fall on Edhem's com- munications—and Austria once in movement could offer the Bulgarians high terms—they could attack Edhem from Novi Bazar with a stronger army than his own, supported by an efficient fleet, which he does not possess. We believe this is thoroughly understood at Constanti- nople, where Austria is classed in Palace opinion as "always dangerous." Even as against Russia and in defence of Turkey, the Hapsburgs have an amazingly strong position. The Russians cannot really reach Constan- tinople by a march along the Asiatic side of the Black Sea, for the route is too long, and crossing an army from Odessa into Bulgaria by sea would, even if Bulgaria were friendly. which is doubtful, be a most expensive and difficult opera- tion in the teeth of the Austrian fleet, to which the Dardanelles would in such a contingency be freely opened. The Russians must, in fact, march by the old road across the Danube and through the Balkans, and that march, with the huge Austrian and the smaller Roumanian Army ready to attack them in flank and destroy their communications, would, as able members of the Russian Staff have long since acknowledged, be a most dangerous operation. One of them at least declared in a most convincing paper that Russia must conquer Austria first, or she might suffer a ruinous defeat, the Austrian soldiery being at least the equals of the Russian. That this was the conviction of the Emperor Alexander II. in 1877 is clear, for under no other circumstances would he have signified to the Hapsburgs, as he did in an auto- graph letter, that they might make a " military occupa- tion" of Bosnia-Herzegovina without opposition from him. The occupation was afterwards approved by Europe, but it originated in an offer from the Russian Court, dictated by the certainty that if the Hapsburgs declared War, the Russian armies could. never reach the Balkan passes in safety. We write without the smallest feeling of friendship for Austria, which is just now shielding Turkey, and deferring to an extent we hardly understand to the German Emperor. We can remember too much of the quarrel with Hungary to believe in the genuine liberalism of the dynasty, and we dislike both its Ultramontane proclivities and the " Olympian pride," as the Germans call it, of which always in his diplomacy, and sometimes in his internal administration, even this experienced Emperor never gets finally rid. But it is not wise when con- sidering international affairs to condemn a Power as weak because we dislike its action—that is just the blunder all Europe has been making about the Ottomans—or to for- get that every Power which has existed for hundreds of years must possess somehow and somewhere an inner source of strength. The Hapsburg dynasty rules a con- glomerate of nations ; but it has contrived to convince them that they would not be safer if they parted, it has pacified the active elements in the populations, and it has evolved in the Army a spirit of devotion towards itself which, if it is not loyalty, is at all events an effective working substitute. Moreover, though the conglomerate character of the population included within the Empire is a source of weakness, it is also a source of strength, every nationality in Eastern Europe knowing that if absorbed within the Hapsburg dominion it will continue to exist as a separate entity; and that no effort will bernade to impose on it a foreign language, a foreign creed, or a foreign social system. That conviction is the first secret of the success of Baron de Kallay in Bosnia, though the second is, no doubt, that 'he is one of the men who know how to rule. There are very grave persons still in Europe who think that this tendency to tolerate Federalism may yet place the crown of Byzantium upon a Hapsburg, and without endorsing that rather wild dream, it is certain that the tolerance constantly diminishes resistance, and there- fore, as rulers need only ask acquiescence from their subjects, increases Austrian power. There will be plenty to think about in Eastern Europe in the next few months, and we may as well have the broad data tolerably right.