Extended Essay in History
Research Question: Did the Bosnia Crisis of 1908 - 1909 strengthen the Triple Entente between Russia, Britain and France?
This essay investigates the impact that the Bosnia Crisis, resulting from the decision of Austria-Hungary to annex Bosnia-Herzegovina in contravention of international treaties in 1908, had on the “Triple Entente”, a collection of agreements between Russia, Britain and France, in order to answer the question: “Did the Bosnia Crisis of 1908 strengthen the “Triple Entente” between Russia, Britain and France?”. In the process, it will challenge commonplace assumptions about the nature and role of the “Triple Entente” in the events leading to the “Great War”.
The research in this paper is qualitative, originating from a selection of primary and secondary sources. Given the volume of sources for the First World War, primary sources have been limited to memoirs and relevant treaties and agreements, whilst secondary sources are either specific to the Bosnia Crisis or address the broader origins of the war. To compensate for the limit on the extent of sources that it is possible to consult, documents from differing time periods and national perspectives are considered. An additional dimension is given to the analysis by the application of certain concepts from international relations theory.
The essay will argue that the conventional assumption that the “Triple Entente” as a well-developed and cohesive unit in 1908 does not reflect the real nature of the “Entente” whose bonds were not as strong as is often supposed. The analysis will show that the effects of the Bosnia crisis on the “Triple Entente” varied in function of the different agreements amongst the partners. Further, detailed examination of France, Britain and Russia’s behaviour during and after the crisis will demonstrate that there is no overwhelming evidence to suggest a strengthening of the alignment between 1908 and 1909. In fact the opposite seems more likely.
Word Count: 289
Nearing the Centenary of the First World War, the publication of influential works by two prominent academics, the Canadian Margaret MacMillan and the Australian Christopher Clark have invigorated the debate on the causes of the cataclysm of 1914 - 1918. With perspectives from opposite sides of the globe, both historians devote considerable discussion to the role of alliances throughout the crisis-ridden years of the early 20th century. The Bosnia Crisis from October 1908 to February 1909 is situated at the very beginning of a time period often characterised as being dominated by a rigid alliance system, meaning it is of great significance in analysing the nature and development of the “Triple Entente” between Russia, France and Britain. The crisis resulted from the failed endeavour of Austro-Hungary’s and Russia’s Foreign Ministers to carry through a secret agreement on the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary and free passage though the Dardanelles for Russia. As this bargain constituted a breach of the Treaty of Berlin, Austria-Hungary and Russia’s decisions had wide-reaching consequences for the harmony of Europe. Nonetheless, there remains controversy about the significance of the Bosnia Crisis for the “Triple Entente”. Whilst in the words of Robert Frank and Catherine Horel, in the preface of a recent French study on the event, “la crise de 1908 joue le role de révélateur, voire catalyseur”, and according to MacMillan the crisis had the consequence of proving the strength of the “newly formed” “Triple Entente”, Clark does not assign it any such role, arguing it had no clear influence on the development of the “Triple Entente”. This raises the central question: Was the “Triple Entente” strengthened by the Bosnia Crisis?
The investigation of both the crisis and its effect on the “Triple Entente”, as a component of the alliance system, is valuable for various reasons. Firstly, the remarkable similarities with the July Crisis in 1914 have led it to be named the “Dress Rehearsal”. Examining the role played by alignments between the Great Powers, specifically the “Triple Entente”, not only sheds light on the outbreak of the First World War but may also have implications for the way we view and handle today’s international political crises. Furthermore, although one might reflect that the study of “old diplomacy”, as typified by the Bosnia Crisis, is no longer important in the context of twenty-first century politics, where “new diplomacy” institutions, such as the United Nations, attempt to replace the anarchy of the international order with international cooperation, nonetheless concepts such as “balance of power” and “balance of threat” still seem relevant to current events, such as the crisis in the Ukraine. Finally, detailed investigation of the diplomatic developments between the great powers in the context of the Bosnia Crisis gives the lie to the textbook interpretation of the alignments in the final years before the war as “two armed camps”. It is vital to understand that the triple Alliance was not a “cohesive”  entity, comparable to the “Triple Alliance” but a collection of very different agreements between three powers that were simultaneously making agreements with other exterior states.
This essay will address the question “Did the Bosnia Crisis of 1908 strengthen the “Triple Entente” between France, Britain and Russia?” in three steps.
Firstly, a selection of primary sources such as memoirs and legal treaty documents, as well as secondary sources, such as historical works focused specifically on the event and broader historiographical analysis of the origins of the First World War, will be used to establish the historical fact of the crisis.
Secondly, the validity of the principal views on the effects of the Bosnia Crisis on the “Triple Entente” as expressed by MacMillan and Clark, will be evaluated by analysing the reactions of the three countries concerned during and after the crisis. To add depth to this analysis, elements of International Relations theory, such as the differences between alliances and ententes, will also be considered.
Finally, based on the first two steps, conclusions will be drawn about whether the Bosnia Crisis strengthened the “Triple Entente”.
Evaluation of Sources
Given the limitations of time and space available for this essay compared to the legendary extent and diversity of source material available on this period of history,  it is impossible to ensure a comprehensive survey of all the evidence, meaning it is imperative to make a selection.
To this end, use of primary sources has been restricted to: memoirs and official treaties. Memoirs by the French Taube, British Nicolson and Russian Miliukov, written within 30 years of the crisis by participants in the event, are valuable as they constitute first hand evidence and they paint a picture of the mood and views of the time from the perspective of the three principal countries involved. However, as their purpose is not to inform readers objectively, but to portray the authors and their countries in a positive light as self-justification, this limits their value to this research and requires that they be cross-referenced with other sources. The texts of treaties and alliances, although having the advantages of presenting official policies are also limited, as they do not provide any facts about the reasons behind them or their success in implementation.
As far as secondary sources are concerned, an attempt has been made to mitigate the necessity of selection and ensuring breadth and objectivity by choosing works from different time periods, from different national perspectives and in different languages.
Some of these sources, focusing specifically on the Bosnia Crisis, aim to understand the issue in a detailed and unbiased way, meaning that the information they provide is relevant to the question and more objective. However, as such a focused approach might constrain the knowledge about the broader context, this could be considered a limitation.
Broader works, such as the recently published writings of MacMillan and Clark, the latter received with great appreciation here in Germany, offer recognised arguments and reliable synthesis of many primary sources. Therefore they have value in this essay as the views of relevant academics. Nonetheless one could claim that as popular historians these authors would attempt to create a book pleasing to the public, perhaps through over-dramatization, as well as to focus primarily on supporting their “theory” by employing events such as the Bosnia Crisis as a means to an end in proving their point.
Before attempting to understand the Bosnia Crisis of 1908, it is important to comprehend the framework of international relations at the time: the European alliance system.
In 1882 Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy joined in the Triple Alliance and in 1887 Russo-German collaboration was formed through the defensive Reinsurance Treaty. At the time Britain was only loosely tied in to the European alliance system via the Mediterranean Agreement with Italy to check France and Russia in the Balkans and Mediterranean. Following the German refusal to renew the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia in 1890 the European system began to shift, and in 1894 France and Russia were able to form an alliance which committed each to the provision of military aid to the other in the case of a mobilisation by any member of the Triple Alliance. The Entente Cordiale between France and Britain was signed on 8th April 1904 to settle colonial disputes in North Africa. Lastly, the Anglo-Russian Convention regarding the limits of Russian influence in Persia, Afghanistan and Tibet was signed on 31st August 1907. From this stage onwards, the term “Triple Entente” is frequently employed in describing the triangle of agreements linking France, Russia and Great Britain.
Although she does highlight scepticism of this concept amongst certain politicians and draws attention to its looseness through Russia’s new agreement with Germany concerning the Baltic, MacMillan argues that in 1907, the “Triple Entente” was underway to becoming a fully-fledged “armed bloc”. Britain’s hope for improved security, France’s enthusiasm for the building up a of stronger military alliance and soon Russia’s firm decision to stand on the side of Britain and France all go to support Macmillan’s “classical” view of pre-war Europe. However, if one allows for the fact that the First World War influences our view of the pre-war years because, to quote Clark, it seems “to command the horizons of the preceding decade”, the “Triple Entente” at this time system appears more as a “loose network”  of alignments.
In addition to the alliances described above, two agreements governed international politics in South-East Europe. With the Treaty of Berlin in 1878, Austria-Hungary received the right to occupy and administer the Ottoman Province of Bosnia-Herzegovina and to maintain garrisons in the Sandjak of Novi Bazar. The treaty also concluded that the Dardanelles should be closed to all warships in times of war. In another treaty between Austria-Hungary and Russia in 1897, both states agreed to recognise the autonomous development of the Balkans, dismissing any notion of territorial acquisition in the area.
Two factors are generally accepted as the main causes for changes in Austro-Russian relations in the Balkans: Firstly, having been defeated in the Russo-Japanese war in 1905, Russian foreign policy had been redirected toward the Balkans and the Dardanelles. Secondly the gradual disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in Europe increased Austro-Hungarian concern with security along its southern borders. As a result both powers were keen to find ways to effect changes to the status quo established under the Berlin Treaty in 1878.
Diplomatic exchanges between the Foreign Ministers of the two countries, Izvolsky and Aehrental, were carried on through the summer of 1908. Austria-Hungary proposed that its annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina would be offset by its withdrawal from the Sanjak, Izvolsky that Russian acceptance for annexation should be in return for Austro-Hungarian support for the opening of the Dardanelles to Russian ships. Negotiations were concluded secretly at Buchlau Castle in Germany on 16th September 1908. Izvolsky assumed there was enough time to secure support from the “Entente” partners on the Dardanelles issue. However, subsequent to the Bulgarian declaration of independence on 5th October 1908, on 6th October Emperor Franz Ferdinand announced the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary, noting Russia’s “friendly agreement”.
There was general outrage among other European states,  at these acts, which in addition to the Treaty of Berlin, also infringed the London Convention of 1871 on the sanctity of treaties. Demands for a conference to allow the European powers to agree on compensation for states whose interests were affected, were rejected by Austria-Hungary, which, with German backing, maintained it had the right to settle the issue bilaterally.  The crisis went on for six months during which the armies of five countries were at least partially mobilised, until it was brought to an abrupt end in March 1919 by a German ultimatum to Russia to accept the annexation.
The significance of this crisis, according to MacMillan, is a considerable strengthening of the already consisting “Triple Entente” as it strained the alignment without seriously damaging it. She contends that having withstood the first international crisis, the “entente” was drawn closer together in cooperation meaning it was one step nearer to the situation in July 1914, where the partners would’ go through thick and thin for each other”.  On the other hand, Clark presents the very different view that, although it might be tempting to consider the upheavals of the Bosnia Crisis as the birth of the “Triple Entente”, it was still far from clear that the new “alliances” would take Europe to war. In order to evaluate the validity of these conclusions, this essay will now analyse, with the additional help of some concepts from international relations theory, the behaviour of the three members of the “Triple Entente”, France Britain and Russia, during and after the crisis.
As the “Triple Entente” consisted of both ententes and an alliance, it is first essential to understand the differences in the nature of these two types of alignment.
An alliance is defined by political scientist A. Wolfer as “a promise of mutual military assistance between two or more sovereign states”. An entente on the other hand, according to Austro-American historian R. Kann, is “a flexible agreement of cooperation between two sovereign powers”. Kann argues that the “airtight commitment” typical of an alliance will encourage a “centrifugal” tendency - whereby he claims that partners attempt to minimise their obligations – whereas in an entente, “where no firm commitments exist”, there is a “centripetal” tendency – whereby partners tend to seek a greater level of commitment.
The concept of “Balance of Power”, developed by political scientist K. Waltz, is defined as the allying of one state with another to balance out the greater power of another state or alliance, which builds on the view put forward by Morgenthau that such alliances are means to maintaining equilibrium. This concept is contrasted with the “Balance of Threat” theory established by Harvard professor of International Relations Stephen Walt, whereby states form alliances to balance not against power alone but against “threat” which is affected by geographic proximity, offensive capabilities and perceived intentions.
These concepts will now be applied in the analysis of the reactions of the individual states to the crisis.
When the announcement was made on 6th October, French Prime Minister Clémenceau denounced the annexation calling for a conference. However France’s commitment to Russia did not reach beyond this mild diplomatic involvement. As the crisis deepened and Russia sought her military support, France stated clearly that she was not prepared to intervene in this way. According to Henri Soutou of the Sorbonne, this unresponsiveness toward her ally on France’s part could be traced back to the concept of “intérês vitaux” established within the Franco-Russian alliance. Thus France’s denial of military aid against Austria-Hungary was justified by the fact that France did not consider that Russia’s vital interests were at stake. Ralph Menning, writing in the “Journal of the Historical Society”, emphasises the financial issues influencing France’s decision to withhold itself from the crisis and deny military support to Russia. He contends that since French banks owned 75% of Serbian, Bulgarian and Ottoman Empire debt, as well as having to refinance Russian 5-year bonds from the Russo-Japanese War, France’s main objective was to avoid a war in the Balkans involving Russia. Yet another reason for Frances distraction from the crisis was provided by the Casablanca incident on the 25th of September 1908, which saw a renewal of tensions between France and Germany over Morocco.  Menning argues that Germany’s willingness to conclude an agreement with France in February 1909 recognising French economic supremacy in Morocco was a deliberate ploy of Germanys to draw French support away from Russia in the crisis, leading to French Foreign Minister Pichon’s assurance to Germany that France would take all means to avoid a war in the Balkans.
France’s reaction appears to support the notion of the centrifugal nature of alliances explained by Kann. It can be argued that the Bosnia Crisis caused France to seek to minimise its commitments to Russia, which Kann describes as behaviour characteristic of an alliance. Further, as argued by G. Miller, the concept of “Balance of Power” may apply here as France sought out diplomatic rapprochement with Germany, which would have had the effect of balancing against the greater combined power of Britain and Russia. These theories help distinguish the forces that lead to the apparent weakening of the Franco-Russian Alliance during the Bosnia Crisis.
Like France, Britain rejected the annexation, on the ground that it infringed upon international treaties, and called for a conference. On 13th October, Foreign Secretary Grey and Izvolsky produced a nine points programme for a conference on the crisis. This programme demanded compensation for Serbia and did not mention the Dardanelles, despite the fact that in 1907 in London, Sir Edward Grey had encouraged this Russian interest with Izvolsky. The crisis set Britain in a complicated position forcing it to support Russia diplomatically with the bid for a conference, although it was in no way encouraging of Russian freedom of the seas in the opening of the Dardanelles. In addition, as Macmillan points out, the crisis came at a bad time for Britain coinciding as it did with the “Naval Scare”, which had begun in April 1908 and emphasised the sense of German threat to Britain. This sense of threat was increased by Germany’s use of an “ultimatum” to force Russian acceptance of the annexation on 22nd March 1909. Despite Russia’s capitulation, Britain stuck to its course and demanded that Austria-Hungary also obtain Serbian acceptance of the annexation before Britain herself would acknowledge it.
Britain’s behaviour toward its “entente” partner Russia supports Kann’s analysis of the centripetal tendency of ententes, as there was closer cooperation between the two states in the crisis, although Britain would only support Russia as far as those actions would concur with her own interests, as is for instance seen with the Dardanelles question. Concerning the concept of balance, it seems that Britain’s behaviour points in the direction of the “Balance of Threat” theory, as it was aligning itself against the “German threat” , as perceived both in the naval scare and in the German “Ultimatum” to Russia. It is clear, that although Britain and Russia cooperated closely over the crisis, as Macmillan claims, Britain was in no way prepared to go to war for Russia. The Bosnia Crisis does therefore not seem to have seriously affected the “Entente”, at least from Britain’s perspective, as Britain’s commitment to Russia does not seem to have increased or decreased through the crisis.
The Austro-Hungarian decision to go ahead with their share of the “Buchlau Bargain” by annexing Bosnia-Herzegovina provoked sharp reactions with Russia. Not only was the Russian public outraged at this appropriation of territory aspired to by their fellow slavy in Serbia, but also the government was unprepared, as Izvolsky had been acting almost independently.  After obtaining support for a conference in Paris and London, Izvolsky visited Berlin on 24th of October 1908 but Chancellor Bülow made it clear to him that if faced with demands from France, Britain and Russia together, Germany had no choice but to support its ally Austria-Hungary. It was then Germany’s “ultimatum”, sent in March 1909, which forced Russia to accept the annexation or else face the possibility of an armed conflict with Austria-Hungary which it had neither the internal resources nor the external support – from its allies – to contemplate. Not only had Russia suffered diplomatic defeat, it had also been confronted with its own military weakness.
Russian realisation of its impotence to intervene militarily caused a whole scale modification of its army organisation. As a result Russia “launched a major programme of military investment”. In addition, according to McDonald, a further factor played on Russia’s foreign policy decisions, namely the conviction that war would fuel domestic unrest, as it did in 1905. As Prime Minister Stolypin stated in an interview in April 1909, “Russia needs twenty years of peace”.
In addition to these steps to strengthen itself, Russia also attempted to improve its relations with members of the “Triple Alliance”. On 24th September 1909 at Racconigi Russia signed an agreement with Italy concerning influence in the eastern Mediterranean. In November 1910 Russia began discussions on the Potsdam Accord with Germany, settling issues on the Baghdad Railway.
If these relations are considered from the theoretical angle, it seems difficult to apply the concept of centrifugal or centripetal force to Russian behaviour as it affected both and alliance (with France) and an entente (with England). However, considering the theories of balance, it does seem that “Balance of Power” is applicable as Russian perceptions of support from its partners had weakened, meaning it sought to balance the European system by allying with central powers such as Germany and Italy. This would support the conclusion that the Bosnia Crisis had the effect of loosening Russia’s position within the “Triple Entente”.
The nation-specific analysis of reactions to the Bosnia Crisis shows that the “Triple Entente” cannot be considered a homogenous alignment. When France, Britain and Russia have been are analysed separately, this reveals different reactions by each to the events, along with differing effects on the various parts of the “Entente”.
In the crisis, France showed that it was prepared to let its financial concerns and agreements with other foreign powers take precedence over its alliance with Russia, hence remaining largely uninvolved. This proved equivalent to a loosening of the oldest and only true alliance in the “Triple Entente”. Britain showed stronger support for its newly found partner as it gave strong diplomatic support to Russia although no European treaty obligations linked both states. Nonetheless, British backing did not encompass military assistance nor did it extend beyond the sphere of British interest, as was clear with the Dardanelles. The fact that Russia reacted to the exposure of its military weakness on the one hand by rearmament and reorganisation and on the other by seeking new agreements outside of the “Entente”, shows a loss of confidence in its partners, reflecting a weakening of the “Triple Entente”.
This essay has attempted to address the question “Did the Bosnia Crisis of 1908 strengthen the “Triple Entente” between Russia, Britain and France?”
An examination of the evidence has led to a first conclusion, in demonstrating that at the time of the Bosnia Crisis, the “Triple Entente” was not, as is often assumed, a closely linked alignment, but actually made up of very different agreements between states with varying degrees of commitment. This directed the exploration towards an analysis of the behaviour of each member within the “Triple Entente” during and as a consequence of the crisis. In this process, the concepts of “alliances” and “ententes” and balance theories from international relations proved a useful aid in distinguishing and explaining how the different states reacted. The analysis by country revealed different dynamics in each case. Thus, while France’s commitment to Russia appears to weaken as a result of the crisis, the mixture in British interactions between strong support and reticence amounts on balance to a relatively unchanged level of commitment. For her part Russia is found to have experienced a waning of her reliance on Britain and France as a result of the crisis.
The results of this analysis are limited by the issue of the extent of the sources in relation to the scope of the essay. Firstly, the sheer volume of primary and secondary sources meant that it was for all practical purposes impossible for the research to include all the potential evidence, thus exposing the resulting examination to the risk of bias and subjectivity. Further, it should be noted that this essay has concentrated on the relations within the “Triple Entente” that related to Russia, as a primary participant, meaning that the “Entente Cordiale” between Britain and France, which would have involved a whole new set of sources, is not covered. Finally, this investigation has focussed solely on evaluating the level of commitment demonstrated by the different states as a measure of the strengthening or weakening of the “Entente”, excluding factors such as changes in military power, economic development or social attributes which would have required extensive quantitative analysis.
Notwithstanding these limitations, the fact that the analysis by country demonstrates only maintenance of or reduction in the level of commitment leads to the conclusion that there is no overwhelming evidence to suggest that the “Triple Entente” was strengthened by the Bosnia Crisis. The hypothesis that it was actually weakened by the crisis seems more convincing. Combined with the conclusion that in 1908 the “Entente” was not a cohesive unit, but a varied collection of alignments, the implication is that in 1909 it was still far too early to consider this “Entente”, as suggested by MacMillan, as a “bloc” of states that would go to war for each other. This point is nicely reflected in a British Foreign Office circular from April 1909 asking British representatives to refrain from using the expression “Triple Entente” in case it could be assumed to have “some special official meaning”.
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 see for example MacMillan (2014) p. 437- 438; Clark (2013) p. 166- 167
 See for example Stieve (1927) p. 75 – 101; Schmitt (1971) p. 67 - 115
 <>Treaty of Berlin 1878; Seton–Watson (1931) p. 30
 “the crisis of 1908 played a revealing, or even catalyzing role”, Frank (1911) p. 10
 MacMillan (2014) p. 437
 Clark (2013) p. 167
 Menning (2012) p. 1
 Géraud (1945) p. 1
 Trueland (2004) p. 15-17; Simpson (2000) p. 403
 Tomaszewsky (1999) p. 363
 See Clark (2013) xxi – xxv, who maintains that the “First World War origins’ literature has assumed such vast dimensions that no single historian […] could hope to read it in a lifetime”
 Augenstein (2014) p. 7
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 Schmitt (1971) p. 35
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 Stieve (1927) p. 180-181
 <>Entente cordiale, 1904; Taylor (1971) p. 415
 <>Anglo-Russian Convention, 1907; Clark (2013) p. 87
 MacMillan (2014) p. 211
 Clark (2013) p. 166 - 167
 Albertini (1952) p. 22-23
 Ibid. p. 13 n.1
 Carlgren (1955) p. 16
 Clark (2012) p. 84
 Bridge (1972) p. 306 - 307
 McDonald (1992) p. 128 - 129
 Cooper (1964) p. 265
 MacMillan (2014) p. 421
 ibid. p. 423
 Lee (1974) p. 189
 Sweet (1977) p. 178
 Miliukov (1967) p. 183; McDonald (1992) p. 127; Cooper (1964) p. 267
 see for example Nintchitch (1937) pp. 337 – 338; Churchill (1923) p. 34; MacDonald (1992) p. 127
 Cooper (1964) p. 267
 Nicolson (1930) p. 322
 Schmitt (1937) p. 125-229
 Cooper (1964) p. 275
 Miliukov (1967) p. 184); Stieve (1927) p. 87; Bridge (1992) p. 319
 MacMillan (2014) p. 436
 ibid. p. 438
 Clark (2013) p. 166
 Wolfer (1968) p. 268
 Kann (1976) p.611 n. 2
 ibid. p. 611
 ibid. p. 612
 Berridge (1989) p 251.
 Dwivedi (2012) p.224
 Waltz (1979) pp. 102-109
 Morgenthau (1973) p. 188
 Walt (1990) Kindle pos. 208
 Williamson (1991) p. 70; Lee (1974) p. 192
 Nintchitch (1937) pp. 356-357
 “vital interests”
 Soutou (2011) p. 32
 Menning (2012) p. 8
 ibid. p. 9-10
 Lee (1979) p. 192
 Silberstein (1976) pp. 336 - 338
 Menning (2012) p. 15
 Miller (2012) Kindle pos. 3705
 Lee (1979) p. 193
 ibid. p. 195
 Clark (2013) p. 188
 Afflerbach (2002) pp. 634-635
 MacMillan (2014) p. 127
 Menning (2012) p. 5
 Lee (1979) p. 204
 Miller (2012) Kindle pos. 3822 & 3831
 Lee (1979) p. 193; Clark (2013) p. 188; MacMillan (2014) p. 425
 Nintchich (1937) p. 337 - 338
 Ardeev (1937) p. 63
 Lee (1979) p. 195
 Afflerbach (2011) p. 72
 Taube (1928) p. 229
 Clark (2013) p. 87; Churchill (1923) p.36; Miller (2012) Kindle pos. 3777
 McDonald (1992) p. 151
 ibid. p. 159
 <>Racconigi Agreement, 1909; Albertini (1952) p. 364
 <>Postdam Accord, 1910; Clark (2013) p. 189; Menning (2012) p. 22
 Miller (2012) Kindle pos. 3770
 Menning (2012) p.20