File No. 763.72/1839
The Italian Ambassador (Macchi di Cellere) to the Secretary of State
[Received May 26.]
Mr. Secretary of State: By order of the King’s Government I have the honor to bring the following to your excellency’s knowledge:
The eminently conservative and defensive character of the Triple Alliance is evidenced by the letter and spirit of the treaty and the intentions clearly manifested and affirmed in their official acts by the ministers who founded the alliance and attended to its renewals with the peaceful purposes that have ever inspired the policy of Italy.
By provoking the European war, by rejecting Servia’s remissory answer which gave Austria-Hungary all the satisfaction that could be legitimately claimed, by refusing to listen to the conciliatory proposals offered by Italy with other powers with the intent to save Europe from a fierce conflict in which blood would be shed and ruin heaped in proportions never before seen [Page 37] or even imagined, Austria-Hungary tore with her own hands the treaty of alliance with Italy which, as long as it had been honestly interpreted as not being an instrument of aggression upon others, had effectively contributed towards averting occasions or composing causes for conflict and for many years insuring to the peoples the invaluable boons of peace.
Article 1 of the treaty embodied the usual and necessary obligation of such pacts—the pledge to exchange views upon any political and economic questions of a general nature that might arise. Pursuant to its terms none of the contracting parties had the right to undertake, without a previous agreement, any step the consequence of which might impose a duty upon the other signatories arising out of the alliance, or which would in any way whatsoever affect their vital interests. This article was violated by Austria-Hungary when she sent to Servia her note dated July 23, 1914, an action taken without the previous assent of Italy.
Thus Austria-Hungary violated beyond doubt one of the fundamental provisions of the treaty. The obligation of Austria-Hungary to come to a previous understanding with Italy was the greater because her obstinate policy against Servia gave rise to a situation which directly tended to the provocation of an European war.
As far back as the beginning of July 1914, the Italian Government, preoccupied by the prevailing feeling in Vienna, caused to be laid before the Austro-Hungarian Government a number of suggestions advising moderation and warning it of the impending danger of an European outbreak. The course adopted by Austria-Hungary against Servia worked moreover direct injury to the general interests of Italy, both political and economical, in the Balkan Peninsula. Austria-Hungary had no right to imagine that Italy could remain indifferent while Servian independence was curtailed. There was no lack of warnings to that effect. On a number of occasions Italy gave Austria to understand, in friendly but clear terms, that the independence of Servia was considered by Italy as essential to Balkan equilibrium and that Italy could never permit that equilibrium to be disturbed to her prejudice. This warning had been conveyed not only by her diplomats in private conversations but was proclaimed publicly by her statesmen on the floor of Parliament.
So that Austria, in assailing Servia with an ultimatum served, in defiance of every usage, without previous diplomatic action with us and prepared in the dark with so jealous a care to keep it hidden from Italy that it had knowledge of it, at the same time as the public, through the news agencies before getting it through diplomatic channels, not only stepped out of the alliance with Italy but assumed an attitude inimical to Italian interests. Indeed the Italian Government had obtained trustworthy information that the complex program of Austria-Hungary’s action in the Balkans was bent on most seriously impairing Italy’s economical and political influence, because such was the direct and indirect outcome of Servia’s subjugation, the political and territorial isolation of Montenegro, and the isolation and political decadence of Roumania.
This disparagement of Italy in the Balkans would have come about even if it be granted that Austria-Hungary had no intention of making further territorial acquisitions. It is well to remark that the Austro-Hungarian Government was explicitly pledged to prior consultation with Italy as required by the special provisions of Article 7 of the treaty of the Triple Alliance which, in addition to the obligation of previous agreement, recognized the right of compensation among the Allies in case one should occupy temporarily or permanently any section of the Balkans.
To this end the Italian Government approached the Austro-Hungarian Government immediately upon the inauguration of Austro-Hungarian hostilities against Servia, and succeeded in attaining reluctant acquiescence in the Italian representations. Conversations were initiated immediately after July 23 for the purpose of giving a new lease of life to the treaty which had been violated and thereby annulled by the act of Austria-Hungary. This object could be attained only by the conclusion of new agreements.
The conversations were renewed to a more precise purpose in December 1914. The Italian Ambassador at Vienna at that time was given instruction to inform Berchtold [the Austro-Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs] that the Italian Government considered it necessary to proceed without delay to an exchange of views, and consequently to concrete negotiations with the Austro-Hungarian Government concerning the complex situation arising out of the conflict which that Government had provoked. Count Berchtold at first refused. He declared that the time had not arrived for negotiations.[Page 38]
Subsequently, upon our rejoinder, in which the German Government united, Count Berchtold announced his readiness to exchange views, as suggested. We promptly declared, as one of our fundamental objects, that the compensation on which the agreement should be based should relate to territories at the time under the dominion of Austria-Hungary.
The discussion continued for months, from the first days of December to March, and it was not until the end of March that Baron Burian offered a zone of territory comprised within a line running slightly north of the city of Trent. In exchange for this cession the Austro-Hungarian Government wanted of us a number of pledges in its favor including entire liberty of action in the Balkans. Note should be made of the fact that the cession of the territory around Trent was not intended to be immediately effective, as we demanded, but was to be made only upon the termination of the European war. We replied that the offer was not acceptable, and then presented the minimum concessions which could meet in part our national aspirations and strengthen in an equitable manner our strategic position in the Adriatic.
These demands comprised: The extension of the boundary in Trentino, a new boundary on the Isonzo, special provision for Trieste, the cession of certain islands of the Curzola Archipelago, the abandonment of Austrian claims in Albania and the recognition of our possession of Avalona and the Dodecanneso.
At first our demands were categorically rejected. It was not until another month of conversation that Austria-Hungary was induced to increase the zone of territory she was prepared to cede in the Trentino, and then only as far as Mezzo Lombardo, thereby excluding the territory inhabited by people of the Italian race, such as the Valle del Noce, Val di Fassa and Val di Ampezzo, thus leaving us with a boundary of no strategical value. In addition, the Austro-Hungarian Government maintained its determination not to make the cession effective before the end of the war.
The repeated refusals of Austria-Hungary were expressly confirmed in a conversation between Baron Burian and the Italian Ambassador at Vienna on April 29. While admitting the possibility of recognizing some of our interests in Avalona and granting the above-mentioned territorial cession in the Trentino, the Austro-Hungarian Government persisted in its opposition to all our other demands, especially those regarding the boundary of the Isonzo, Trieste, and the islands.
The attitude assumed by Austria-Hungary from the beginning of December until the end of April made it evident that she was attempting to temporize without coming to a practical conclusion. Under such circumstances Italy was confronted by the danger of losing forever the opportunity of realizing her aspirations based upon tradition, nationality, and her desire for a safe position in the Adriatic, while other contingencies in the European conflict menaced her main interests in other seas. Hence Italy faced the necessity and duty of recovering that liberty of action to which she was entitled and of seeking protection for her interests apart from the negotiations which had been carried on uselessly for five months and without reference to the treaty of alliance which had virtually lapsed since July 1914 by the act of Austria-Hungary.
It will not be out of place to observe that the alliance having terminated, and the reason for the acquiescence that a sincere desire for peace had for so many years won from the Italian people having come to an end, the grievances, so long repressed, for the treatment to which the Italian populations were subjected in Austria, were now revived against Austria-Hungary.
While the treaty of alliance contained no formal agreement for the protection of the Italian language, tradition, and civilization in the parts of the Monarchy inhabited by subjects of our nationality, if it were sincerely intended to make the alliance an instrument of peace and harmony, it clearly placed our ally under the moral obligation to pay due regard and scrupulously to respect all that constitutes one of the most vital interests of Italy.
Instead, the constant policy of the Austro-Hungarian Government aimed for years to destroy Italian nationality and Italian civilization all along the coast of the Adriatic. A brief statement of the facts and of the tendencies but too well known to all will suffice: The gradual substitution of officials of another nationality for Italian officials; artificial immigration of hundreds of families of a different nationality; replacement of Italian by other labor; the Hohenlohe decrees tending to exclude from the townships and industries of Trieste employees from the Kingdom; denationalization of the judicial administration: [Page 39] question of the university which formed the subject of diplomatic negotiations; denationalization of navigation companies; police activity and political prosecutions tending to encourage other nationalities to the detriment of the Italian; and the methodical and unjustifiable expulsion of Italians in ever-increasing numbers.
This persistent policy of the Austro-Hungarian Government toward its Italian subjects was not only due to internal conditions brought about by the competition of the different nationalities within its territory, but appeared to be inspired in great part by a deep sentiment of hostility and aversion toward Italy, which prevailed in some quarters closest to the Austro-Hungarian Government, which exercised a decided influence over its decisions. Of the many instances Which could be cited, it is enough to say that in 1911, while Italy was engaged in war with Turkey, the General Staff at Vienna was actively engaged in preparing an attack upon us and the military party prosecuted energetically a political intrigue designed to drag in the other responsible elements of the Monarchy.
Armaments along our frontier simultaneously assumed a plainly aggressive character. The crisis was settled pacifically through the influence, presumably, of outside factors; but since that time we have been constantly under the apprehension of a possible sudden attack whenever the party opposed to us would get the upper hand in Vienna.
All of this was known in Italy, but, as above stated, the sincere desire for peace prevailed among the Italian people under the newly created circumstances. Italy for that reason sought to find whether and how far a firmer foundation and more lasting guarantees could be given to her treaty with Austria-Hungary, but her efforts, exerted for months with the unflagging support of Germany which thus recognized the justice of the negotiations, came to nothing. Therefore, Italy found herself compelled in the course of events to seek other solutions.
Inasmuch as the treaty of alliance with Austria-Hungary had ceased virtually to exist and served only to cloak continual friction and daily suspicion, the Italian Ambassador at Vienna was instructed to declare to the Austro-Hungarian Government that the Italian Government considered itself released from the ties arising out of the treaty of the Triple Alliance, in so far as Austria-Hungary was concerned. This communication was delivered in Vienna on May 4.
Subsequently to this declaration, and after we had been obliged to take steps for the protection of our interests, the Austro-Hungarian Government submitted new concessions, which, however, were intrinsically insufficient and did not even meet our former minimum demands. These offers could not, any way, be entertained by us any more.
The Italian Government, taking into consideration what has been stated above, and supported by the vote of Parliament and the solemn manifestation of the country, came to the decision to put a stop to further delay and on this day (May 23) it declared, in the name of the King, to the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador at Rome that beginning to-morrow, May 24, it will consider itself in a state of war with Austria-Hungary. Orders to this effect also were telegraphed yesterday to the Italian Ambassador at Vienna.
Be pleased [etc.]