Solid Strategy, Limited Vision

Metternich: Strategist and Visionary by Wolfram Siemann; Translated by Daniel Steuer; Belknap Press, Harvard University; 928 pp., $39.95


All states need a strategy, however rudimentary, in order to survive. Great powers need much more: a viable grand strategy for war and peace is called for to endure in the never-ending struggle for power, land, and resources. As A.J.P. Taylor noted in The Struggle for Mastery in Europe (1954), though individuals had never lived in the state of nature imagined by Thomas Hobbes, “the Great Powers of Europe have always done so.”

This was notably the case with the unevenly developed, ethnically mixed, and constitutionally complex lands of the junior Habsburg branch. They were spread from Lombardy to Transylvania and from Galicia to the Adriatic, with detached possessions on the Rhine and in the Low Countries. Its heartland enjoyed solid internal lines of communication along the Danube and its navigable tributaries, but its edges were vulnerable.

The challenges to Austria, after its failed bid for imperial hegemony in the Thirty Years War, seemed almost permanent from at least one of the points along its extended frontiers. After the loss of Lorraine in 1733, and especially after the loss of Silesia in 1742, its continued status as a great power became contingent on the careful matching of means and...

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